Friday, September 29, 2023

My Father: Ad Genius.

My father, like me, spent the bulk of his life in advertising.

Actually writing ads.

He started back in maybe 1950. He was 22. His brother, Sid, was 37 and had started what became Philadelphia's largest ad agency, Weightman. My father wrote TV commercials. Live ones. TV was the new medium and no one wanted anything to do with it. It wasn't cool, like print. 

From Weightman, my father drove his Studebaker over the Ben Franklin Bridge and the Delaware River to the advertising department of RCA. RCA was the Apple of its day. Cool. Innovative. Advanced. He did commercials like this one above.

Then came New York. Where my father rose in twenty years from copywriter to Chairman of a bland agency called Kenyon & Eckhardt. He did commercials like the ones above.

When he was 50, he got exiled to Chicago and moved out there. Eventually, he was shit-canned but got a job teaching advertising. They had to high-falutin' it up so they called it "Marketing Communications," at Northwestern University.

The best ad he ever proposed, however, was one he did for me when I was a senior in high school.

Though I've always hated football, the football coach persuaded me to join the team. I was big in those days, full of muscles and sinew.

I never really followed football and don't even know what position I played, only that I had to line up two over from Klauber. I never understood the names of football positions. Why would you call someone a "tackle." We're all supposed to tackle. I never understood and never cared to take the time to find out.

By the first snap of the season, it was clear our team wasn't just lousy, we were very lousy. That assessment could be verified by me playing both ways, both offense and defense. I think we lost our first game 38-12 or something, in front of a bleacher full of pretty girls I would rather have impressed. 

Things didn't get much better during the next week of practice or the next game. Though we stayed close for the first half, I think the other guys pulled ahead in the second half and won going away. 

One night I talked to my father about it.

It was the team-sport equivalent of getting beaten up by a gang of schoolyard ruffians. 

As usual, my father had an idea.

"Here's what you do," he said. "You find someplace in the city where you can rent a steel cage and a gorilla costume."

"A steel cage and a gorilla costume," I straight-manned. I spent a lot of my youth George Burns to his Gracie Allen. The only thing I was missing was a cigar.

"You dress someone up--a big kid--in the gorilla costume and put him in the cage. Put a football jersey on him and have him hold a helmet. Then have him pace around in the cage like an angry ape. Think King Kong."

"OK," I tremuloed. "What's the point?" Just because I was only 16 doesn't mean I hadn't acquired a lifetime-supply of bitter cynicism.

"When you're getting your asses kicked, point to the angry ape in the cage, and say to the guys on the other team, 'You keep beating on us and we're going to put Labunski in.'"

"The ape is Labunski, I assume."

"If that doesn't scare them into laying off a bit, nothing will."

There was so much I never got around to thanking my father for.

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