I got the book "Mad Ave" a while ago. It wasn't expensive--think I paid around five dollars-- but there's not much new in it if you've read much about the history of advertising. (If you haven't you should get it because it's a good introduction to history's great advertising.) There was, however, one excellent section written by Ed McCabe. And I've taken the liberty to put that here so you don't have to spend money on the book, unless you really want to. Well not the whole thing, because that would be excessive, but many of the parts I loved.
Ed McCabe is one of my favorite ad people ever. His writing is outstanding. It's forceful. And it's dripping with humanity. This passage made me really happy.
In the agency there was an attractive woman named Karen, an art buyer, who unwittingly launched my career as an advertising copywriter. The art file room was in the middle of the art and copy departments, and a few times a day Karen would ascend the ladder to put away or take down some piece of artwork while we all stood around pretending to have our minds, and eyes, on something other than up her skirt. Had this been the 1960s instead of the 1950s, some efficiency expert would no doubt have come in and seen to it that the most frequently used art files were placed on the bottom for easy access instead of the top, which required a long, long stretch, and in so doing destroy the morale of an entire company.
From my lofty perch at the bottom of the traffic department I could see pretty much everything else that was going on above me in the agency. One of the things I saw was a copywriter with an overwhelming workload, who, along with the rest of the company, had the hots for Karen. One day I went into his office and commiserated with him. I knew that he'd much rather be going out to lunch with Karen than working on the trade ad he had due that afternoon. I suggested he let me take a crack at writing the ad o he'd have the afternoon free. I worked through lunch with the art director, and the ad got produced and ended up wining an award. So began my life as a copywriter.
Of course that wasn't all there was to it. At night i read the dictionary, And the Harvard Classics. And ever book about advertising on about anybody who was in advertising. And all the books by Strunk and White on writing and structure. For practice I would take a sentence, any sentence--say "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog." I'd rework it dozens of times. At first, I was careful not to change the meaning, just trying to make it cleaner, smoother, tighter, until it was elegant in its economy and taut with power. Gradually, I would shape it into something that approached advertising, shifting meaning, building in a sales pitch, until, maybe hundreds of lines later, out came something like "Outjump any dog! Get a fox." To many of today's creative people I'm sure this kind of exercise would seem unnecessary, even silly. Nowadays they go to a school that teaches them how to put together a portfolio that will get them nice-paying jobs without really knowing how to do the jobs.
...Two things that happened that changed my life. First, I received my christmas bonus, a check for many thousands of dollars. I got really angry because I felt it was way too much. I reasoned that if I had received such a fat bonus for having been there only six months and doing relatively little, there must be people there amassing obese bonuses for doing even less. I didn't want to be involved with such a screwed-up place. I couldn't survive in a company that didn't understand the value of contribution or of a hard-earned buck. So I tried to give the bonus back. My boss laughed at me and said I couldn't give it back.
A couple months later, I heard of a job opening at a new small agency called Carl Ally, Inc. It paid exactly half of what I was then making, but I'd worked with one of the principals there and knew we shared similar beliefs about advertising, so my interest was piqued.I immediately called to apply for the job, met with key people at their offices after work the next day, and had the job the day after that. Of course I couldn't tell anyone else that I had taken such a massive paycut. They would have thought I was completely nuts. No one I know of in advertising has ever moved so quickly forward by going so steeply backwards. Within two years I had tripled my salary, owned stock in the agency, and my work was becoming famous. I own much to Carl Ally for that.
...Shortly [after turning down a job at DDB] I became a partner in my own agency, Scali, McCabe, Sloves, and I would call upon Bill (Bernbach) for advice many times over the next few years. One bit of advice he gave me I followed, and he dined out on it for years. At lunch one day I complained to him how we'd been in business three or fur years and that we just weren't growing fast enough. He said, "Ed, you're doing fabulous work on Volvo. But that's not enough. you need three visible accounts with work that good."
Not long after, we got the Barney's Men's Store account and Perdue Chicken. The work we did for them was noticed, talked about, and very successful. Finally, my agency began to soar. Every time I had lunch with Bill Bernbach after that he would turn to everyone at the table and tell the story of the time I had asked his advice And how he had told me we needed three visible accounts with great work. He'd always ask rhetorically, of course, "And then what do you think he did?" Everyone at the table would sit silently, respectfully, including myself, waiting. "He did it!" Then I'd blush and he'd beam.
...What are my feelings about advertising today? I still love it. I still love making advertising. I love understanding what advertising is and what it isn't. But I've grown intolerant of what the business of advertising has become. I feel like a former revolutionary who isn't much stimulated by mere evolution.
Advertising has evolved into a business driven by megalomaniacs who know a lot about making money but little or nothing about making advertising. In some respects it's also being driven by "creatives," who have it wrong to the opposite extreme. They believe the ad or the commercial is everything and that winning awards is something. They've lost sight of the fact that advertising, in and of itself isn't anything. Advertising's sole purpose is to be the cause of something else. To cause a sales increase. To cause a shift in perception. To cause the creation of an edifice of imagery that allows a product or service t be something. But advertising itself is nothing. Nothing but a means to an end. Only fools believe the means is as important or significant as the end.