(This in from my great friend and mentor Barry Biederman, creator of iconic ad campaigns for everything from Edge Shaving Cream to ITT Industries to creating the entire Lands’ End public persona. Thanks Barry! And, to any other readers who have similar stories, please send yours in as well. What a business!!!)
I was especially amused by your account of being paired, as a wet-behind- the- ears, puppy copywriter, with an older art director who introduced you to the sanctum santorum.
It reminded me of my equivalent introduction to adland’s holiest precincts. It was at my first agency, a smallish but good one, one of whose accounts was a clothing manufacturer in Philadelphia. (I no longer remember the name.) The account man was a geriatric case who assigned me an ad, giving me very little in the way of background. Like you, I burned the midnight oil, and brought in a sheaf of headlines to my assigned art director. He looked them over, unimpressed, and said there was one that might do, as long as the layout had an elephant.
An elephant? The AD explained that the account man had a thing about elephants, and would buy almost any ad as long as it had one of the tusked creatures. Stupid, I thought. I insisted on layouts of my headlines, sans elephant, and went into the account man’s lair. He rejected everything I showed him, without comment or any indication of further direction.
I put in another late night, and the next day dropped my sheaf of new headlines on the AD’s drawing board. Same dialogue. Except after insisting he do layouts on all my headlines, I allowed him to do one with an elephant. I took the new bunch of headlines into the lion’s den, and once again he briefly dismissed layout after layout…until he last one. The one with an elephant. “Aha!” he said. “You hit it this time.”
To this day, I do not understand the codger’s predilection for elephants. But I did learn a few lessons from this experience. First, listen to your AD. Second, don’t expect a rational response from the suits. And third, when all else fails, put an elephant in the layout.