The Greatest Little Coupon in the World.

OK. Here’s a problem for you.
It’s March 1970. Your new agency is two months old. You have left your partners at Griswold Eshleman Baker & Byrne, New York and Cleveland. Former partners (Charlie Farran, Jim Johnston, Sidney Matthew Weiss, Milton Guttenplan, Perry Brand, and Norman Cohen) were all behind you now.

From the beginning of the three-months notice you had given your former company, every agency client of significance had called to you at home and offered to be your new agency’s “first client”.

You discouraged each caller immediately and spoke of the quality of those advertising people remaining behind; not because you believed what you were saying, but because your lawyer had advised you that the “non-compete” clause in your contract was strong and unbreakable, and you could not accept Griswold Eshleman clients.

But, Barney’s, New York’s famous and the world’s largest men’s clothing store, and the client with the most potential positive impact for your new agency, had given notice upon hearing of your impending departure and would accept no solicitation from Griswold Eshleman. Before you had left GE, you had negotiated a Barney’s exception to your “non-compete” clause. You paid $25,000 on contract signing with a promise to pay $25,000 more in a year’s time.

GE agency had decided that a clear profit of $50,000 was better than no money at all, despite the fact that it would benefit you. (Later, I’ll tell you how they ended up with only $35,000 in all).

So, you had Barney’s as Jack Byrne Advertising’s first account.

But, another client, the one with the biggest potential of all, was not constrained by your non-compete. Its savvy management had insisted in their own contract with Mogul Baker Byrne Weiss and its subsequent merged company, Griswold Eshleman Baker & Byrne, that Bonus Gifts, Inc. would not be held to any agency contractual agreement with Steve Baker or Jack Byrne and in its agency-client contract had stipulated that in the event either Baker or Byrne or both would leave the agency, neither they nor Bonus Gifts would be penalized should Bonus Gifts wish to go with the departing party. This was a little client contract feature worked out by Steve Baker with Bob Hague when the account was first acquired at a time when Baker & Byrne was merging with Mogul Williams and Saylor. Baker & Byrne may not have known much about fees (See “How to Make Money Without Really Trying”) but they were alert to the fall-out possibilities in new company associations, such as that between Baker & Byrne and Mogul Williams & Saylor, Inc. Fortunately, for me, Steve Baker had fallen by the wayside (actually been pushed) earlier but Bonus Gifts chose to stay with me and my associates.

30 Top Companies 300 Leading Brands.

Bonus Gifts was the big plum. The concept was owned by the Rexall Drug Company and managed by the famed mass marketing specialist, The Glendinning Group of Companies. The participants included 30 of the top grocery product companies in the world and 300 of their brands. It also included S&H and all the other trading stamp companies of size in the United States. Its objective was to be the biggest on-going grocery product promotion in history.

So, JBA had the Bonus Gifts account, too. Right? Wrong.

The Glendinning Group of Companies executive staff was wholly comprised of ex-top marketing and promotion men and brand managers from Procter & Gamble. All had MBAs from Harvard “B-School” or one of the other top five MBA institutions.

They did things in the “B-School” way. They busted your balls.

The head of the Bonus Gifts team, James R. MacManus was to become one of the most heroic figures in the legends of Procter & Gamble marketing. After Bonus Gifts, Jim went on to create and lead the multi-billion-dollar Marketing Corporation of America. The McManus Living/Learning Center at the famed Kellogg School of Northwestern University is named after him. Back then, he was the new president of Bonus Gifts, Inc. which became jointly owned by The Glendinning Group of Companies and Rexall Drug Company.

“Jack,” he announced, eight-weeks after Jack Byrne Advertising, Inc. had opened its doors, “you’ve been doing a top job overseeing our business for the past five years, but JBA is a new agency and we have to review our options and protect our flanks. You know that there is nothing that ad agencies can provide that we can’t provide at Glendinning, itself, from market planning through media buying, including writing and producing advertising and sales promotion, publicity and public relations…the works.”

He paused and looked at me as though to see if I wished to challenge his statements. I didn’t.

So, he proceeded to the point, which was what I was wanting him to get to. “Except for one thing”, Jim continued with new emphasis, “Except, we lack block-buster concept capabilities.”

Jim leaned forward in his sincerity, “It’s as simple as that, Jack, we have not the talent to originate that one block-buster idea that makes a great and successful advertising campaign.”

No shit, I thought, you know all the steps but, you can’t dance. As for me, I thought of John Milton’s On His Blindness ,

“As I consider how my life is spent in this dark world and wide and that one talent which is death to hide lodged within me useless …”

Don’t lodge it within me, Jim!

I waited for the other shoe to drop. It did.

“So, we have asked two other top creative agencies, Scali, McCabe & Sloves and Rosenfeld Sirowitz and Lawson to come up with their best shot, their best idea to direct the creative future of Bonus Gifts. JBA is, of course, included in the competition. May the best idea win!”

He leaned back and smiled. Was that encouragement in his eyes? Or was it “You see how it is, kid, in the Big Leagues.”

How many smaller and medium sized-agency principals have had to listen to this shit? Hey, guy, you’ve carried us along through all the start ups and low budget times, you’ve guided us into being pretty sure of what we are doing. Now, just before the account really heats up and starts spitting off profits, let’s see if you can compete with guys who haven’t invested a cent, have nothing to lose and everything to gain – over your dead body.

I won’t tell you all the things I thought. Nor all the things I could have said.

What I did say, and without a break in my voice to reveal feelings, “Great idea, Jim. Nothing I like more than a little competition.”

Little? There was no greater reputation for creativity in the entire advertising industry than that of Ron Rosenfeld and his partner Len Sirowitz unless it was the legendary writer Ed McCabe and his brilliant art director, Sam Scali. This was 1970. In 1971, Ron Rosenfeld, at 38, was the youngest ever copywriter inducted into the Creative Hall of Fame. In 1974, Ed McCabe took away the title when, at age 35, he became the youngest ever inducted. By that time, only 20 writers in advertising history had received the honor.

Bets, Anyone?

There wasn’t a bookie alive that would cover the odds against Brooklyn born, Jack Byrne in this race of the copywriters. And, Bronx born, Stan Kovics odds were no better against the superstar art directors, Sirowitz and Scali.

“I told the guys you’d feel that way, Jack. This is a big league ball field and you’re a big leaguer.”

I nodded to indicate, “That’s me all right, Jack the Big Leaguer.”

But, I felt like I was in the outfield and I knew the play. It goes, “I got it!..I got it!..I don’t got it!”

Then he shoved in one more phrase. “Sorry I’ve come to you a little late. I spoke to the others a week ago. The presentations are due in two weeks.”

I thought about that fact of lost love affairs: the one who gives it out regularly is always the last to know. I’d been giving it out to Bonus Gifts for nearly six years.

Stan Kovics had come with me from Griswold Eshleman. He was a strong idea man and a great art director and we had already proved ourselves to be highly productive under the new free-thinking philosophy of JBA. We had removed ourselves to San Juan to create Barney’s advertising for ten days and had come back with an entire 24 award-potential ads for Barney’s Men’s Store Spring ad campaign (which would later sweep the prestigious CLIO awards for 1970).

However, after our first week of struggling on Bonus Gifts coupons, we found ourselves floundering among the debris of weak conceptualizations, a flood of Small Ideas. We realized that our clients were Big Names like Coca Cola, Quaker Oats, Lever Brothers, Standard Brands, American Home Products, American Tobacco Company, Borden’s, Scott Paper and twenty more like them and they all had Big Agencies creating Big Ideas for their Big Budget Brands. To come up with a bona fide Big Idea for that group – bigger than those from two of the Biggest Idea agencies in the world – seemed almost beyond our reach.

At the time, recently divorced, I was residing in a rather cheesy hotel on Lexington Avenue and East 48th, the Shelton Towers. I had a $17-a- day “luxury suite” which had also served as the first home of Jack Byrne Advertising, Inc. until two weeks before.

Muse! Muse! Where are You?

On the Wednesday night before our scheduled Monday presentation, I sat at my typewriter until midnight trying to motivate ideas by punching keys and inserting fresh paper. As I gave up and got up, I waded through some sixty crumpled sheets as I walked to the bedroom. I felt like an unprepared student facing final exams. The sleep was not fit but very fitful.

Nevertheless, when I woke up at 6:30 am on Thursday morning, I felt good. I felt rested. I felt clear. I prepared a quick Hop Pot of hotel coffee, poured a cup and still in my shorts, went to my cocktail table turned desk, and sat down, spilling a trace of coffee unto a yellow pad. Spill and all, I tore off the first sheet and slid the lined yellow paper into my portable IBM.

Every journey begins with but a single stroke.

To warm up, I typed
“BIGBIGIDEABIGBIGIDEA”
repeatedly across the top of the sheet.

But, I had a subliminal thought about a song of the blue Bonus Gifts coupon. So I moved down three lines and began by typing, with bravado, “BONUS GIFTS JINGLE”.

And, then, it happeded, like automatic writing on a typewriter, I typed out a “silly” ditty in a matter of perhaps two minutes time. Below are the words typed on that coffee-stained yellow sheet, without change or correction.

IT’S NEW, IT’S BLUE, IT’S NEW, IT’S BLUE
THE BONUS GIFTS COUPON IS GOOD FOR YOU.
IT’S THE GREATEST LITTLE COUPON IN THE WORLD.

I CANNOT COUNT ALL THE PRODUCTS THAT GIVE ‘EM,
BUT, MAMA’S ALWAYS COMING HOME FROM SHOPPING WITH ‘EM.
SHE’S THE GREATEST LITTLE MOTHER IN THE WORLD.

IT’S NEW! IT’S TRUE! IT’S NEW! IT’S TRUE!
THE BONUS GIFTS COUPON IS GOOD FOR YOU!
IT’S THE GREATEST LITTLE COUPON…
FOR THE GREATEST LITTLE WOMAN…
IN THE WORLD!

I visualized a family singing this jingle in a kitchen with lots of Bonus Gifts participating products filling counters and cabinets.

I grabbed the typed sheet and put on some clothes. I recited the ditty to the pace of my hurried walk down the twelve blocks from Lexington and 48th Street to JBA’s new offices at 770 Lexington Avenue at East 60th Street.

I arrived at 7:30AM.

Stan was already there. He looked as dog-eared as an over-used school book. He’d been doodling at his work table all night except perhaps for a half hour or so time out to “score” (a traditional Kovics take-a-break activity). He, too, had been searching throughout his fertile brain for the Bonus Gifts “Biggie”. He’d obviously come up empty. But, upon seeing my lit-up expression, his face un-darkened instantly. “You’ve got it?” His raspy voice was brimful of anticipation.

“I’ve got it!” I answered. Then, after a pause, “I think I’ve got it”, as I handed him the messy yellow sheet.

He took only seconds. “Keeerist!!! Of course. Of course! Of course! Ohhh, YES!”

I nodded, not quite sure what he was seeing beyond the lyrics I had written. I started to expand, “I see a real American family, in the kitchen with all the products, singing…”

“A great stage,” he interrupted barely hearing my voice. “A whole song and dance troop…a tribute to the coupon!”

What Stan and Jack saw after it came to life.

“You’ve got it!” I shouted. I caught immediately the importance of his version. “Giant products!” I said.

“An enormous Bonus Gifts coupon, the whole back drop” he countered.

“A ten-foot tall piggy bank showing cash redemption” I added.

“With a ladder…men climbing up with four-foot coins to drop into its slot.” Stan was beginning to sketch the set excitedly upon his drawing pad.

Two Months later Jack checks out the Pig.

“A trading stamp book 40-feet wide, 20-feet high for stamp redemption”, I added.

“Right! Trading stamps big as 2-sheet posters with women pasting them into the book with giant poster brushes, big buckets of glue!”

“They’re all working together,” I said “Moms, Dads, Kids, Grandma, Grandpa…like one big family.”

“The King Family,” Stan shouted, leaping to his feet.

“Holy Shit,” I replied, sitting down.

We knew we had it.

It was 7:45 AM.

We went for coffee and toasted bagels with lots of cream cheese.

We had earned it.

A Jingle without Music? Never.

By that night, we had the storyboards laid out, the copy written for the on-camera woman narrator between the jingle verses, some sales promotion pieces and print ads to show the extension of the theme “The Greatest Little Coupon in the World”.

What else did we need?

Music.

What’s a singing commercial without a recording? We had to produce a demo.

With whom?

Scott/Textor. A classy house. Good guys with an upbeat approach but classically rooted musicology. But, more than that, they were self-contained: Keith Textor was the composer/arranger, Alan Scott was lyricist and male vocalist, and their wives Marilyn Scott and Sylvia Textor were top female vocalists in the commercial world. With virtually no time to spare, we needed a team that could work overnight. These two families were it!

Nobody was at their offices all day Thursday. We called three times leaving an urgent message with each.

Friday morning at 7:45 a.m., Keith Textor called us. We hadn’t left our office except for a 1a.m. to 3a.m. morning break at Bachelor’s III, Joe Namath’s joint and our favorite spa. He said, “Sounds great but we’re really in a bind. We leave for Europe tomorrow, midday”… “Love to help you and the lyrics sound like good fun…but the time …”

“But, the time what?”, I challenged. “How long does it take to write and record a great piece of music? For thirty of the biggest advertisers in the in the world? Coca-Cola, Pillsbury, Standard Brands, Quaker, Lever Brothers …”

They arrived Friday afternoon…late. They had decided to pack first, just in case they found themselves working overnight and into their departure deadline.

“I see it Baroque,” Keith said.

“If it’s baroke, I’ll fix it,” I said, destroying the room’s concentration.

Then, I asked “Does Baroque take longer than country?”

“A few centuries.”

“I need it tomorrow.”

“Yulheffit.” Keith responded  in his best impression of Buddy Hackett’s impression of Sam Newman of the famous Delancey Street clothiers, Newman Brothers (Another JBA client and another story).

Saturday morning at 10a.m., their luggage in a laden limo lazing at the curb, the Scotts and Textors entered our JBA office, where Stan Kovics and I were finalizing Bonus Gifts TV storyboards. They wordlessly walked to the reel-to-reel audio rack, hooked up a 15-ips reel of tape and played a “baroque-and-roll” rendition of “The Greatest Little Coupon in the World.”

Stan whistled and applauded.

I wept. I told them that everything I have is theirs.

I said, “Ask me anything, anything!”

Scott said, “Can we get paid?”

I said, “How can you talk of money at a time like this?”

Keith said,” Our plane may crash”.

“In that case,” I replied, “I want you to have this with you”

I wrote them a check for two thousand dollars.

Two Months Later …

Two months later, Stan and I are in Hollywood, standing at the center of The Great Western Stage, the second largest sound stage in the western world. Rosenfeld & Sirowitz and Scali McCabe and Sloves were still in New York licking their wounded egos. Our egos were rather inflated.

Much of Gone with the Wind had been shot on this sstage here. Half of Atlanta had been painted on its endless sych.

And, now it was all ours.

“It’s a long way from Brooklyn …

Before us stood exact replicas, ranging in height from 8- to 13-feet, of Bonus Gifts brands packages: a Scott Towel Package, a Heinz Ketchup bottle, a can of Chase and Sanborn Coffee, a box of Aunt Jemima Pancake Mix, a Coca Cola Bottle, a bar of Camay Soap, 14 products in all…AND, a 40-foot wide perfect reproduction of our Blue Bonus Gifts coupon, … AND a Piggy Bank, 10 feet long and 8 feet high… AND an open Trading Stamp Savings Book spreading some 50 feet across its facing pages and fronted by tiers of white scaffolding holding giant white paste brushes and paste buckets.

There were trading stamps tall as a man; half-dollar coins the size of manhole covers, and quarters two-feet in diameter.

… even farther from The Bronx!

The products and other giant props were all what the industry calls, “practical”. This means that members of the cast could climb on them, dance on them, sing from them – there was not a sheet of papier mâché on the set. These packages were the creations of some of the most gifted craftsmen in all of Hollywood. Seven of them had helped to build the sets for “Gone with the Wind”, itself, some thirty-three years earlier. All were top-dollar craftsmen who were usually too busy and too expensive for any “commercial” production. But, this was The Spring of 1970 and Hollywood was virtually production-dead and, we were to be, perhaps, the biggest-ever produced commercial stage production and we were supported by a budget shared by 30 major food companies. We could afford the best and we demanded and got it.

For these few shining moments, we were The Thing happening in Hollywood. That included our cast and our entire musical ensemble.

The famed King musical family had at first accepted our offer and later discovered that they were on contractual hold to introduce a potential Procter & Gamble product coincidentally to be named, of all names, BONUS. So, we had gone ahead and created and cast our own “King Family.” It had taken a month of Hollywood casting calls and recalls to select the precise balance of ages and sex and talent that we envisioned as The Bonus Gifts Family.

Live on our stage, skilled in lip sync were sixteen dancers ranging in ages from 6 to 76. Each had white skin, pink cheeks and red hair. Each wore a crisp Bonus Gifts blue and white custom.

In a sound studio adjoining the Great Western Stage, Ray Charles (director of The Ray Charles Singers) was rehearsing 16 singers, aged 6 to 60 who would deliver the lyrics to which our on-camera cast would synch their lips. Later in the day, we were scheduled to meet the 25 carefully selected musicians who were rehearsing the commercial score that they would soon record.

Jack Lewis, project manager for our client, the Glendinning Group of Companies was there. Standing beside us was Al DeCaprio, director of The Phil Silvers Show (Sgt. Bilko) and numerous other television series and, more importantly, for the next two weeks, director of our Bonus Gifts Coupons series of commercials. Al had just beaten out Jack Haley, Jr. for the directorial plumb. After all, this was to be, perhaps, the biggest commercial shoot in the history of television. In the wings, a Miss Tully was preparing her first “little red school house day” for the six children aged 6 to 16 in the cast, her classes would operate daily under the rules of the child actor protection laws of California.

Stan and I and our JBA production family were to be housed for those two weeks twenty miles west of the Great Western Stage in, not one, but two 2-bedroom bungalows on the garden-rich grounds of the Beverly Hills Hotel and in five suites on the 3rd floor of the hotel’s main building (which had at one time been completely occupied for a year by Howard Hughes). Stan’s bungalow was shared with a devastating ex-secretary of mine. My bungalow (No.14, formally Gwynne Verdon’s residence) was shared with an airline stewardess of certain fame (because she flew United). This business is not all work. We were in Beverly Hills, for heavens sake.

Although we foresaw success, we could not foresee that in the ten-state test market area in which would appear the commercials we were about to produce, more than 76% of all homes would become shoppers of Bonus Gifts products and savers of their coupons, thus setting a record for greatest percent of consumer participation for any product anywhere.

As we stood there that day, my thought was, “Good Golly, Miss Molly, everybody’s taking this shit seriously”. A silly ditty dashed off at dawn on a coffee-stained sheet of yellow note paper.

I turned to Stan and said, “It’s a long way from Brooklyn.”

He said, “… even farther from The Bronx.”

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply