Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Me and Updike.

Years ago I was running, at a very young age, the largest retail bank account in New York. The problem with being a copywriter on a bank account is that unless you’re part of the demographic, which I wasn’t, it’s hard to know what the demographic is thinking. What scares them. What pains them. What moves them. What are their hopes, dreams and aspirations.

For weeks I thought and thought. I talked to the client. I talked to the agency’s “research” person (this was before the time of planners.) I attended focus group after focus group.

No matter, I just couldn't get a grip on the soul of the target.

I went out for a walk.

To clear my head.

In those days, agencies made enough money to have offices near the clients they served. I was working near Grand Central Terminal and I walked that way. There was, pre-internet, a giant piss-soaked room ringed with phone-booths in Grand Central. In the center of the room there was a vast table that held just about every phone book in America.

This was how you could look someone up before Google.

I had an epiphany.

I found John Updike’s number in rural Connecticut and called him. I got the old man on the phone and introduced myself and my problem.

“Got it,” he said laconically. “Got it, got it, got it, got it.”

I stood there in Grand Central silent.

“Who is he? Your customer? Get a pencil. Number two. Yellow. Sharp. And a pad. I don’t care what kind.”

“Got it.”

“He owns Springer Motors, one of the two Toyota agencies in the Brewer area. Or rather he co-owns a half interest with his wife Janice, her mother Bessie sitting on the other half inherited when old man Springer died five years back.”

He was in a trance.

“He feels he owns it all, showing up at the showroom day after day, riding herd on the paperwork and the payroll, swinging in his clean suit in and out of Service and Parts where the men work filmed with oil and look up white-eyed from the bulb-lit engines as in a kind of underworld while he makes contact with the public, the community, the star and the spearpoint of all these two dozen employees and hundred thousand square feet of working space…”

It was four AM when he stopped. I had run through $32 of dimes.

Back to the office, fueled by benzedrine and nicotine and black coffee, I worked round the clock and round the clock again.

Twenty scripts later, I had my campaign.

Thanks, John.

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