In 1970 I wrote a book called From Those Wonderful Folks Who Brought You Pearl Harbor. The title came from a slogan I once suggested for Panasonic. The book did well and it actually made The New York Times Best Seller List for all of one week. There are those who feel that my book inspired a lot of the characters and scenes in the wonderful hit show about advertising, Mad Men. (I do bear an amazing resemblance to Don Draper, the show’s sexy hero.)
So 40 years later, thanks to the great success of Mad Men, my book is being reprinted in the U.S. by Simon & Schuster and in the U.K. by Canongate Publishing and it will be hitting the bookstores in a few days. If you should pick up a copy and you are terminally politically correct, don’t get the vapors on me. Please remember the language is the language of 1970. The term “gay” did not exist as a description of homosexuals and, yes, I am well aware no one calls women “chicks” anymore.
What follows is part of the forward I just wrote to make the book more relevant today.
The original Mad Men are all dead. Ironically, they died from consuming the products they sold with such gusto: Their lungs went from the cigarettes they sold and smoked by the carton. Their livers melted from all the scotch, gin and vodka they sold and the three-martini lunches they enjoyed in the process.
I came into the advertising business in the 1950s at the age of 16, as a delivery boy for a stuffy, old-line agency named Ruthruff and Ryan, which could have served as the setting for the Mad Men television series without moving a desk.
Advertising agencies in those days were broken down among ethnic lines. The Mad Men flourished in large Protestant ad agencies like J. Walter Thompson and N.W. Ayer, BBDO and Ted Bates. These agencies had a monopoly on every large advertising account—cars, food, cigarettes, soft drinks, beer. All the other tiny accounts—dress manufacturers, shoes, underwear, small retail stores—were regulated to tiny “Jewish” ad agencies. By 1950 only one agency whose founders were Jewish had managed to win packaged goods, cigarette, liquor and car accounts. They did so by naming their agency after the color of the walls in their office and avoiding using their Jewish names on their masthead. Thus, Grey Advertising was born.
Needless to say, it was a difficult business to break into, especially for a teenager with a limited education. In 1956, I took my portfolio of sample creative work to J. Walter Thompson, the world’s largest advertising agency. They had a position open for a junior writer of sales promotion on the Ford Truck account. Ford, at the time, was J. Walter Thompson’s largest account.
The copy chief on the account looked at my work and said, “This is very good, but I can’t suggest you for the job.”
“Why?” I asked. His answer, delivered with a nervous smile, was, “Because this is Ford and they don’t want your kind working on their business.” It took me years to figure out what “your kind” meant.
Then, in the mid 1950s, a “Jewish” advertising agency broke through the ethnic barrier. Doyle Dane Bernbach’s campaign for advertisers like Volkswagen (“Think Small,” “Lemon”) and Levy’s Bread (“You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s”) changed the advertising business. Doyle Dane Bernbach made distinctive advertising that had “attitude” and respected the consumer’s intelligence. They sold products with ads that had humor, bold language and layouts with sharp, clean and stylish design. It opened the doors for a totally new kind of Mad Man.
By 1961, when I got my first copywriting job, “my kind” were now in demand. The creative revolution had begun. Advertising had turned into a business dominated by young, funny Jewish copywriters and tough, sometimes violent, Greek and Italian art directors.
The original Mad Men did not give up without a fight. I attended an advertising conference held at the Greenbrier Hotel in 1968. The dean of the original Mad Men, the great David Ogilvy, was the keynote speaker. The subject of his speech was the new creative revolution in advertising.
Ogilvy knew his audience was mostly made up of desperate men who were trapped in agencies that were losing accounts to new, young, upstart ethnic agencies. Ogilvy lashed out and declared, “I say the lunatics have taken over the asylum.” The audience rose and gave that fighting line a standing ovation. I stood up and was clapping as loudly as the next man when I realized, “What are you clapping about—he’s talking about you.”
It was a wonderful asylum. We were wild. We made the antics depicted on every episode of Mad Men look like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. Our little agency had the permanent sweet smell of burning cannabis.
Life was easy back in the days before human resource departments controlled business and someone decided we all should be politically correct. Everyone smoked (I had a four-pack-a-day habit). Everyone drank martinis (I had many a three-martini lunch) and everybody screwed around…
To be continued in From Those Wonderful Folks Who Brought You Pearl Harbor. Hope you enjoy it.
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Tags: advertising, BBDO, David Ogilvy, Don Draper, Doyle Dane Bernbach, Ford, From Those Wonderful Folks Who Brought You Pearl Harbor, Greenbrier Hotel, Grey Advertising, J. Walter Thompson, Jerry Della Femina, Jerry's Ink, Levy's Bread, Mad Men, N.W. Ayer, New York Times Best Seller List, Ruthruff and Ryan, Sunnybrook Farm, Ted Bates, Volkswagen