About Me

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Paso Robles, California, United States
Novelist, poet, songwriter, and journalist, I bring over four decades of experience to the written page. I just finished Mental Hygiene, a coming of age novel set in Fort Jackson, SC circa 1967-68.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Mad Men & Me - the Shortest Success in Advertising

The other night on Mad Men Don Draper won a CLIO, the world’s most recognized global awards competition for advertising and design.
I should have been more impressed.  Draper out does me in almost every department, good and bad.  I couldn't be as good looking as he is if I had the guys from Nip/Tuck all over me.  But Don and I have one thing in common.  We both enjoyed success in the advertising business, although he did it for way more seasons.
In the spring of 1980, I was pursuing my songwriting career by writing as little as I could and drinking as much as possible.  It seemed to be working.  My publisher and sometime songwriting partner, Jack, was still paying me advances. It wasn't a lot of money, but I was becoming used to living low.  That's when I heard from my friend Kaye in the Ad Biz.
"You've been bugging me for years to do a jingle, so here's your chance," she said over the phone.  "It's a local radio spot for Gribin Von Dyl Realtors.  You cannot fuck this up," she added.  "You have a week to come up with something."
I write fast, even faster then.  Still, there was lots of disgraceful behavior between me and the deadline.  I was Don Draper with the bottle and without the suit  The week staggered by and I got another phone call before I knew it.  I lied and told Kaye that the jingle was done and I could deliver the next day.  She made an appointment for 5:00 PM at her high rise LA office.
I called Jack, who hadn't been clued in yet.  He had a jingle to crank out! At first he said, "Sorry.  I've got to take my wife out for dinner, so you're on your own."  I told him that the whole thing would take him fifteen minutes and I'd leave the lyrics under his front door mat.  He grunted and hung up.
Driving from my hovel to Jack's house in the canyon took about a half hour, which was just long enough to write what I would probably have forgotten by morning.  Having scrawled it out on the back of a receipt I found on the floor of my van, I felt confident..... and successful!  I went to Martoni's in Hollywood and got drunk.
Around 10 AM the next morning Jack called, waking me up, and told me that he had gotten really drunk over dinner with his wife, pissed her off, and written the melody in about fifteen minutes before passing out on the couch.  Luckily, he had made a cassette copy of it or else he wouldn't remember what he wrote.  His rough version would have to do for our appointment. 
"They'll get it.  They're Ad guys," I replied.
At 5:00 sharp we got off the elevator and stepped through the double glass doors of advertising.  Kaye took a look at our casual attire and shook her head.  "Come with me," she said drearily.
We were shown into a conference room where there were a few real live Mad Men.  None of them were smiling or drinking.  Bummer.  The two partners of the firm sat at one end of a large conference table and we at the other.  Kaye took the cassette and put it in the player.  I hadn't heard it yet but I was ready for a quick exit.
They played it, rewound it, played it, rewound it, and by the third time through were applauding it.  Don't get me wrong, it was catchy, and very "Carpenters/We've Only Just Begun," but they went crazy.  They ended the meeting with a quick thanks and a promise to run over to the realtor an play it the very next morning.  Honestly, I felt a little like a Martian.  Jack was stunned.  What had we gotten away with?
The next day by noon the ad agency secretary called us and told us to be back in their office by 4:00 PM.  She didn't or wouldn't tell us why.  Upon arriving, she led us back into the same conference room and asked if we'd like a drink.  I asked for a beer and she gave me a diet coke.
The same guys, including Kaye and one of the partners of the agency, marched in with smiles and warm greetings.  Things were definitely looking good.  "Well, boys," Mr. Partner began.  "They loved your little jingle over at Gribin Von Dyl.  We played it for Gribin and then he called in everybody in the office and announced that the firm had a great new jingle.  They all listened and danced around the room in joy.  I've never seen anything like it!" 
I was forced to believe him but it still sounded like some kind of joke.  Mr. Partner went on.  "We have contracts drawn up, boys."  What was the "boys" all about?  "We're going to give you $500 each for your hard work.  What do ya think?"
Jack sat there mute.  I was thinking, what?  For a tip?  I cleared my throat.  "Well, sir."  Heavy on the "sir".  "We were thinking more about $5000 apiece."
He looked at us like we were aliens landed in his conference room.  "Are you crazy?"  he asked softly, poised as if he were going to jump to his feet any second.  "$500 is the normal rate."
"Is it normal to show the work to the client before making a deal with the creators of the work?" I asked in my most casual manner.
Mr. Partner stood and said to his entourage, "Take care of these assholes," and stalked out of the room.
Jack and I dickered back and forth with the minions for a while.  Kaye said nothing, just glared.  They eventually gave in and we walked away with the money.  It was fun being in the Ad business.  I didn't notice that smoldering bridge I'd just walked across.
The commercial hit the airwaves shortly afterward.  I heard it twice but there was nobody in my van to hear my comment.  Several weeks later, the agency called again and asked us to try another jingle, but it didn't work out.  We all ended up shouting at each other in their office, and Mr. Partner said something to the effect that we'd never work in advertising again.  Jack told him to stick a diet soda up his ass as we got on the elevator.  I figured that my ad career was pretty much over.
Several months later I figured that Kaye might speak to me again, so I called her at the office.  The receptionist informed me that the entire office was out at the CLIO awards luncheon.  She asked for my name, and when I gave it she said, "Oh!  Do you know that your jingle is up for a CLIO?  It's the biggest award in advertising!" .
CLIO; it sounded like the name of a dog.  I asked her to call me if I won.  An hour or so later, she called to say I had.
I didn't misplace my statuette like Don Draper.  I did get drunk later in the day, but over something entirely different. I never heard from the advertising agency and many years later my wife had to prove to the CLIO folks that I deserved my trophy.  It seems that the agency had left my name off the winners' list.
My CLIO sits in an inconspicuous spot in the living room.  I looked over at it when Don Draper was accepting his the other night.  Carry on, Don.  Catch me if you can! 


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