April 13, 2010

Kurt Brokaw's "Art & Copy"


"MAD MEN" has barely started its third season, and Don Draper is again demo-ing his inept copywriting abilities. Trying to sandwich in saving the London Fog account between bedding an airline stewardess and comforting his pregnant wife, Don's new storyboard fantasy has a naked male opening his London Fog and flashing the world. "Limit Your Exposure" is Don's numbing line, courtesy of writer Matthew Weiner. (Weiner may or may not have seen last year's Tribeca Film Festival theme spot (via Ogilvy), "You haven't Seen It All..." with a dopey office guy in a trenchcoat flashing two Manhattan gals, one of whom is actually attracted to him.) In 60s real life, London Fog had some of the most brilliant advertising of the era, created by Gilbert Advertising's Dick Gilbert, who cross-platformed the brand with marketers like VW and Morton Salt, creating the iconic ad of a businessman in his raincoat inside the Morton Salt box under the delightful line "When It Pours, We Reign."


Dick Gilbert didn't make the first team of "11 People You've Never Met That Affect Your Life, " which is the theme of Doug Pray's documentary "Art and Copy," but he's emblematic of the better-known industry veterans we all know-- legends like Lee Clow, Mary Wells, George Lois, Dan Wieden and the late Hal Riney. "Art & Copy," a production of the awards pioneer The One Club, is an unconcealed how to 20th century awards winners in traditional media. Because it's entirely focused on television and print, it has the wistful feel of a history lesson, of an era that's slowly fading into extinction just as Sterling Cooper is falling to the Creative Revolution ignited by top talents like Lois and Doyle Dane Bernbach's Phyllis Robinson in the early 60s.


You've probably heard or read that one of "Art and Copy's" singular sensations is Dan Wieden's reference to The New York Times' front page story on convicted killer Gary Gilmore's last words before his execution, "let's do it," which Wieden adapted into "Just Do It" for Nike. Neither that bizarre steal nor Riney's recollections of creating Ronald Reagan's reelection campaign while boozing it up in a bar near his agency do much to enhance our appreciation of the creative process.


The one mini- mini case history Doug Pray gives us is Tommy Hilfiger's preemptive positioning by Lois with his initials TH next to those of Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and Perry Ellis. This was in '86 when Hilfiger was just starting to build his fashion star. Hilfiger, one of the few marketers recruited as a talking head in "Art & Copy," speaks of his discomfort and even embarrassment at being positioned at the top, though he admits (a bit disingenuously) that it forced him to work his hardest to live up to the boast.


Apart from Wells and Robinson, the agency talent bench is entirely male and entirely white. This is a serious limitation, because it tends to reinforce the stereotypes of "Mad Men" that 60s Madison Avenue had few female execs and no professionals of color or agency creatives living an unconcealed gay life. But there were many. This writer knew the late Caroline Jones at J. Walter Thompson who'd open and run a major African-American agency, another African-American, Roy Eaton, who was Benton & Bowles" music director and whose piano alone was bigger than my entire office, as well as David Leddick, a superb creative director at Grey and a beloved elder today in the LGBT community (his life is documented in Stoli's recent "Be Real" documentary).


Mary Wells and George Lois attended the industry premiere of "Art & Copy" earlier this year in New York. They both liked it, and Mary predicted a new, golden age of creativity. Jim Durfee, one of Mike Tesch's copy powerhouses at Ally & Gargano, also attended (he's not in the film), and was less optimistic, lamenting the "keyboard creativity" littering our non-traditional ad landscape. One thing's for sure--choosing the Best Facebook App out of some 50,000 fighting to attract a thicket of niche audiences today won't be easy. The One Club may have anticipated this, as one of the key judges of their new Los Angeles-based entertainment awards categories is--wouldn't you know-- that Mad Man himself, Matthew Weiner.


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