Wednesday, March 8, 2023

A Guest Post from the Great Bob Meagher.

Editor's Note:
Bob Meagher is one of those rare birds. Not only did he stay at a single agency--The Martin Agency--for a total of 28 years, he produced good work for all that time. 

I saw a note from Bob last week that he was finally hanging up his advertising spikes. I asked if he'd oblige this humble blog with a post. Voila. A couple days later, Bob came through with the gem below.

That's probably a large part of how you last in this business. 

You do what you say you're going to do. On time. And with skill, passion and wit.

I asked Bob if he got that advertising Hope-Diamond-rarity, a retirement party. Sadly he did not. Though former Martin CCO, Joe Alexander threw him a 25th Anniversary Party. That's a rarity as well.

As is the ingenuity and dedication on display in the story Bob tells below. Not to mention work that hands you a laugh. Enjoy.

And if you can, thank Bob.

The whole industry should, for making us a little better.


Bob's post:

I remember where I was when I heard the devasting news.

Warren Buffet wanted us to do testimonials with actual GEICO customers. I was sick to my stomach. Steve Bassett, the creative director on the account, apologized. I believe he said he would make it up to us with a better project down the road. Creatively, testimonials were deadly. Plus, viewers never really knew if the testimonials were real or actors reading from a script.


The client provided us with a huge stack of unsolicited letters where policy holders had written to GEICO praising their claim service. GEICO had been known for saving people money but got little credit for their amazing service. Art director Adam Stockton and I were determined to do testimonials “GEICO style” and not the usual boring way.


Knowing that there was some skepticism of testimonials in general, we thought, how do we let people know that these testimonials were real and how do we make it not boring. One early idea had the real customers telling their story while it was being interpreted through modern dance.


As we kept working on it, we kept thinking, real people are boring and that’s why most testimonials are boring. Then we thought, celebrity testimonials are also suspect that they are just being paid to praise the product. But there is a reason advertisers use them. They get your attention and they are not boring. Even if they just do it for the money.


So, I wrote a line that set up the whole premise of each spot. That what they were about to hear was a real story from a real person and not a paid celebrity. But because real people are boring, we got a celebrity to help tell their story.


Now, all we needed was celebrities we could afford.


We did not have a lot of money but this turned out to be a blessing. It forced us to go after celebrities you may not have heard from in a while. 

We also chose celebrities that had a certain audio or performance trait that we could have fun with. Burt Bacharach would perform a song, Little Richard would use his trademark “wooooooooo”, Don LaFontaine would deliver his lines in his famous “In a world” movie trailer voice.  

A bit of trivia is that Little Richard was originally James Brown. He was signed on and approved but his agent came back and wanted more money. Ted Ward, the client, wasn’t about to be held over a barrel. Hence, the Little Richard script was born and talent manager SuzanneWieringo went to work.


Another challenge was making these 30 seconds. Not easy with the long setup line I had written. Basically, I had to distill their entire GEICO claim experience into three short sentences. And then write three short celebrity interpretations. Ending with the VO, “GEICO. Real service. Real savings.”


After we presented the campaign and everyone was on the floor laughing, we had to go out and make these. The first thing was casting. What if the people whose stories were in the script could not speak. Or had stage fright. Or just didn’t work on camera. Adam and I split up and traveled the country going to each person’s home with a video camera where we interviewed each person. These tapes were used to determine which stories we would use. In many cases, I had to re-write the celebrity part to correspond to a new story.


Once we had approved scripts, we needed a director. Since these were real people, we thought it only fitting to use a documentary filmmaker. With the help of producer Holly Flaisher we chose Chris Smith. In addition to documentaries, he had also done some commercial work.


There were some funny moments during production like when Adam read Little Richard’s script for little Richard as Little Richard. Or when I was scared to death to meet Joan Rivers at the wardrobe fitting as all the lines I had written for her were about her getting plastic surgery. Turns out she complimented me saying she usually has to re-write all scripts given to her but did not need to change one word of mine.


BTW, Joan was so professional that after we had started breaking down the set and she was watching the video assist of her takes, she wanted to do more. We had to set everything back up so she could do more takes. We ended up using one of those takes.


After Dick Gordon edited the spots, we knew we had magic. What started out as a shitty assignment turned out to be my favorite campaign of my entire career. A career I have officially just ended.


I believe we shot two rounds. The celebrities included, Burt Bacharach, Little Richard, Don LaFontaine, Joan Rivers, Peter Graves, Vern Troyer, The Pips, Peter Frampton, Mrs. Butterworth, Charo and Michael Winslow.


Years later we were asked to bring the campaign back. It never came to be and I don’t remember why. But I looked in my files and found this script with Casey Kasem of American Top 40 radio fame. Pretty funny. At the time anyway.


Ah, the memories.



Links to Bob's "Testimonials."

(and next time you get a lousy assignment, think of silk purses from sows' ears, and the efforts of creatives like Bob. Who don't  give in to the urge to mediocre.)

Little Richard:

Mrs. Butterworth:

Joan Rivers:

Peter Framptom:

Burt Bacharach:

Don LaFontaine:







Kevin Davis is a real GEICO customer not a paid celebrity, so to help tell his story we hired a celebrity.  

A neighborhood kid hit my parked car with his bicycle.

It was a smash hit that year by a young boy from North Carolina.

I went on and filed my claim.

This long-distance dedication goes out to GEICO. 

GEICO got my car fixed like new.

Holding at number one for a third week it’s Kevin Davis with, “Keep your bratty kids out of my driveway.”



VO:               GEICO. Real service. Real savings.

No comments: