April 13, 2010

Keith: Destruction, Creation & the Revolution, Part Five.



It's been an incredible week!

Special thanks to Pat Sloan and Aline Pulley of DDB Worldwide for helping coordinate the Last Man Man project. A loud shout-out of appreciation to John Cecil of Innovate Media for sponsoring our efforts to bring it to you.

Thank you as well to all of our readers who sent us their feedback on the series. One of those letters is below. It's from Steven Marrs, CEO of Branded Pictures.

And most of all, on behalf of everyone at the MadAve Journal, special thanks to the Last Mad Man himself, Mr. Keith Reinhard, for the support, interest and time he lent us to bring it to you!

From Steven Marrs: "If the current industry is built on jargon and handles, Keith is one of the truly extraordinary individuals who not only had a clear vision of what he thought the advertising world should look like, but a determined and disciplined way of inspiring other to join in his cause. He lives what he preaches and leads by example. His constant quest for knowledge and always wanting to understand what's next is a refreshing departure from a business that is more interested in its past than its future.

My favorite inspiration for how I conducted business at Tribal, and truthfully apply it in my current capacity, is Keith's Four Freedoms. But in particular, the Freedom to Fail stands out. In a creative business, failure is a given but providing a framework for risk taking is nothing short of genius. It is his unique insights, yearning for knowledge and firm grasp of the creative dynamic that makes Keith special. It is also his compassion and passion that is inspirational. He has had a profound impact on me both personally and professionally and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to apprentice in his shadow for a short period of time."

Tim: We've covered a lot. What seminal moments have you had in your life that you can talk to us about?

Keith: Well, I think growing up in a small, Midwestern, Mennonite community has been important. I'm no longer a Mennonite obviously, because Mennonites wouldn't let us watch television. We weren't allowed to watch television. (laughs). They do now.

Tim: Sure, times have changed.

Keith: Also from learning from the merchants. My grandfather was a great salesman and a county office holder when the Democrats were the majority. Usually they weren't in office, so he started selling Ford automobiles and then he sold farms and became an auctioneer, which was combination showbiz and salesman. I've learned so much from him. He knew every Chevy owner in the county, I think. He knew how old the cars were. So on a rainy day he'd take a new Ford out to some farmer and say "You know, I saw you going through town the other day and there are quite a few rattles in that old Chevy. I knew you'd be sitting here because it is too wet to plough today. Why don't you pop in this, we'll take it out on a two lane and see what you think." He knew how to create sales.

Tim: They trusted him too.

Keith: Right, but it was also about understanding what the customer needs, understanding what the customer wants, and knowing what the customer wants.

Tim: Right.

Keith: Stanley Marcus was also a mentor of mine. He was the genius behind Neiman Marcus. He's the one who turned a store catalog into a spectacular event. Every year everybody wondered what's going to be the big gift in the Neiman Marcus catalog. Things like "his and her giraffes", outrageous things that reinforced the one-of-a-kind nature of his company. He was a genius at marketing and he taught me so much about selling and about merchandising. Years ago I was reading his book called "Quest for the Best" and I found myself underlining so many parts, I decided to do something. I sent it to him, the underlined copy and I said, "I wonder if anybody has ever sent you what a reader thinks is important. But please send it back, because otherwise I've got to do it all again!" He called me and we got to be friends. He was very much around when we did the merger, to sort of help counsel and guide.

Tim: That's great!

Keith: There have been so many role models and so many teachers and tutors along the way, some living and some who have passed on.

Tim: Who for example?

Keith: What we learn from Picasso was directly applicable to creating DDB Worldwide.


Tim: How's that?

Keith: The first act of creation is destruction.

Tim: How did it apply to DDB?

Keith: We had to destroy two cultures, save the foundation, and build a new culture on that. As I mentioned, we also had to establish the leadership and the Bernbach principles.

Tim: I never thought of it that way. Here's a question. Is technology going to change human nature? Is that a stupid question?

Keith: Well... what I believe is that we need to be concentrating more on unchanging man, as Bill said, than on changing man. That since time began and as far out as we can imagine, basic human drives will continue to sustain. The obsession to succeed, however you define that, the drive to survive and the drive to be admired, the drive to take care of your own - whether it's your Chihuahua or your daughter or your job. I think there is a basic drive to be, if not happy, certainly satisfied. There's the drive for companionship and friendship, and so forth. Those don't change. Bill understood that and appealed to those in various ways with the tools he had available. But he understood and appreciated and respected people and their drives.

Tim: How about new media?

Keith: Engagement is not a new thing. It's just that we have tools now. Also consumer-created content is not new. People have been writing poems, writing songs and painting pictures, forever. It's just that all of a sudden now, today they are on our screens. What changes in terms of our business, we can also be pretty clear about. After having said that there are some things that don't change, like the power of an idea or a brand.

Tim: What do you think has changed?

Keith: There are all sorts of changes, some large and some small.

Tim: Give me an example.

Keith: Okay, we used to set the time of appointments. If you want to see 'Friends' (the TV show) you'd have to be there in front of your TV, and we'd be there with our commercials, of course. Now it's different. Now you set the time, the place, you decide when, where, how, whether to engage with a brand at all. That's a big change. Going with that though are some other changes which are difficult for traditional creative people to get. We grew up in a one-way mode--"Let me entertain you, let me make you smile, I'm very versatile." It was all about me to you. Then you either liked it, laughed, cried, whatever. Now it's what do we do together? You can invent Lara Croft but the engagement is not complete until someone plays Tomb Raider.


Tim: Interesting.

Keith: So it's a two-way thing and that is really tough. Another thing that is changing is - and this is related to technology - is that more and more brand decisions would be based not on what's in the product, but what the brand stands for, and that's influenced by the blogosphere, the transparency and the democratization of information.

Tim: Right.

Keith: If you misbehave in terms of environment or human rights or other social issues, I'll know about it and I won't buy your brand. As consumers become more educated and more knowledgeable about these things, and as parity becomes the norm in products and services, then the difference would be what a brand stands for. So it's up to us to make sure that we can communicate those values which are imported into a brand. We used to talk about what's in the brand. Secret ingredients make us different. No, not anymore. It's what we import and attach. And it better not be just cosmetic because the blogosphere will get you. It better be real. So those are some of the changes. Will it change people? That's a really good question.

Tim: Next question. Bill is from New York, right?

Keith: Yes.

Tim: He had a gift. Was he born with it? How did he get that gift? Did New York culture influence him?

Keith: He was street savvy.

Tim: Okay.

Keith: He was street savvy and a very philosophical person. All you have to do is read the "Bill said" quotes and you'll see what I mean. He was the creator of the first Jewish ad agency. He was very comfortable people working with people from a wide range of cultures and ethnic backgrounds, Greek copywriters, Italian Art Directors and all that whole mélange.

Tim: So he didn't look at the person's outside. He looked at what was inside.

Keith: One of his quotations about the kind of people we hire was, "You have to be talented and nice". We use that as a basis for DDB Worldwide too; we don't have room for superstars. One could argue that he made a few mistakes along the way, but that was a philosophy. I think it was that combination of being the street savvy New Yorker as well as a student of human nature and of philosophy. It was a rare combination. A friend of mine said, he was a visionary and a worrier And that's a tough combination. But I think most visionaries may be worriers.


Tim: How has this affected you?

Keith: I don't classify myself as a visionary, but I am a worrier. My board meetings were always praising what had been accomplished. But I learned from Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonalds who also had a great influence too. In his high-pitched voice he was always saying, "What we're doing, we can do better." There was always that.

Tim: There is a business factor.

Keith: In the context of Madison Avenue. If you go back to the film, "The Hucksters" with Sidney Greenstreet and Clark Gable, the message was, "Hit them over the head and repeat the message over and over. The high priests of advertising, in those days really believed in those rules.

Tim: Great film.

Keith: And then Bill came along and said, "That's not the way to do it." He said, "Wait a minute. We can engage people." Instead of doing that with Alka Seltzer, which was a big brand at the time, he came up with the "Spicy Meatball" campaign. Somebody who was putting together an advertising museum of the greatest ads and asked me to select what to me was the most important ad. You only had one." And I said, "No question. It was the Cat and a hat Ohrbach's ad." It was like one of the first things Doyle Dane Bernbach for them.

Tim: What was it?

Keith: The illustration is a cat with a long cigarette holder and a jaunty hat. The headline was "I found out about Joan." It is super catty and tells the story about how someone saw Joan, a mutual acquaintance walk out of Ohrbach's, a discount department store, dressed like a million bucks.

Tim: Gossip.

Keith: Right. And it was way before "Lemon." It was the first time where somebody actually branded the consumer as being super-smart, versus many other ads that branded the store or the merchandise. That was one of the reasons that I selected it.

Tim: What's the other one?

Keith: The other reason was that it was the ad that Volkswagen America saw when they were about to import the Beetle into this country. They saw the ad and said, "I want that agency to work on our business."

Tim: Wow, I didn't know that!

Keith: And that led to real revolution. (Laughs)

Tim: Full circle. Keith, thank you so much. This was great.

Keith: You are welcome, Tim.


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