Monday, December 5, 2022

Allen Kay, 1945-2022.

I opened "The New York Times" on Saturday morning, early, and Allen Kay's obituary popped out to me. 

Through the magic of Linked In, Allen and I had become friends. It happened as these things seem to with a comment Allen made on one of my posts. 

One comment followed another, and before long we were emailing each other and even talking on the telephone. In a short while, Allen, Rob Schwartz, the
 Chair, TBWA New York Group, and I were crowded into a table at Joe's Shanghai when it was still down on Pell Street and eating about 37 soup dumplings each. 

To people of my generation, Allen was an advertising legend. His agency, Korey Kay, never really rose to the national scene, but for feisty, punch-above-their weight New York advertising, they were one of the best. The best comparison I can think of is this. Korey Kay reminded me of the legends of New York school yard basketball. Where at the Rucker playground in particular, there would be local players superior to those stars in the NBA, but for whatever reason, they never made it to the NBA.

Guys like Goat Manigault, Jumping Jackie Jackson, Joe "the Destroyer" Hammond and Pee Wee Kirkland.

That's not entirely true, of course, because Allen, while at Needham Harper and Steers (a great agency destroyed by merger mania) created one of the most famous commercials of all time, "Brother Dominic," for Xerox. The Times gives that spot credit for establishing the Super Bowl as a commercial showcase.

Today, 48 years after it first aired, it's difficult for people to understand the impact that spot had. 

The day after it ran, everyone was talking about it. And every business saw the importance of spending money on copiers, which were then not ubiquitous.

Allen seemed to do that "stop everyone in their tracks" act over and again. His campaign for Tri-State Honda, "The Car that Sells Itself," was probably the strongest car dealer campaign ever created--with not a sexy spokeswoman and cascading balloon in sight. Or anything like $199/month deals.

Given the "recency heuristic," Allen is probably most-well-known for writing the now seminal line for the Metropolitan Transit Authority: "If you see something, say something." That line saved lives--and it started as a subway car card.

Dinner with Allen and Rob was good. 

We kibbitzed. We talked about the business. What it's done. What it can do again. And our belief in its dignity, power and importance.

Allen and I ate again at some Italian place up near Grand Central. And for pretty much the rest of his life, he and I exchanged notes and Linked In bon mots.

Nice little ways of showing each other that someone else was out there, who just maybe, understood something most people don't. When I was kicked out of Ogilvy and was thinking of one of King Henry IV's speeches from Shakespeare's "King Henry, IV, Part Two," that is, "How ill white hairs become a fool and jester!" Allen helped me ignore the chimes of midnight.

Till his very end, Allen was hustling for business. Doing work, leading, helping smaller clients get bigger. Allen's sleight of hand is the sleight of hand of great advertising. 

Taking a small amount of money, mixing it with an unusual idea, adding in humor, wit, humanity, empathy and love for the underdog and doing something that changes hearts and minds and in so doing, fills pocketbooks.

The industry is a lesser place today.

Unless we remember, and learn, from the likes of Allen Kay.

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