The reception at Mother London.
It’s also true the other way around, Advertising can be graffiti.
No one epitomised that more than the 1980’s agency Kirshenbaum Bond.
I first came across about them here, in Campaign.
From a few thousand miles away, boy they seemed cool, so New York.
For a start they had a ‘baum’ in their name, that sounded very New Yorky to me.
But mainly because their work was as aggressive and in your face as the city itself.
It wasn’t polite, crafted or sophisticated.
Unlike most ads from the time, it didn’t feel like it was written by a middle class WASP wearing chinos and a buttoned down Ralph Lauren shirt.
This stuff felt like it was written by a muscle bound dude in a capped-T smoking Marlboros.
Most of it was written by creative partner Richard Kirshenbaum.
Their work for Kenneth Cole shoes started to pop up in my copy of Rolling Stone.
It’s probably difficult to fully appreciate just how radical this was at the time.
Because breakthroughs are copied, It’s like making your own route through a forest. It’s difficult to map out, but once you have anyone can use it and it becomes common place.
At the time, ads for shoe companies looked stylish,this is fashion after-all, and justified the price with talk of quality leather, stitching, etc.
Nobody ran scruffy little faxes like this, with no product shot.
’Where’s the craft? Is it even allowed?’
It was like D.I.Y. advertising, like punk rock.
It wasn’t uncommon for a company to run the occasional tactical ad, linking their product and a big news story of the day, but Kenneth Cole only ran tactical ads.
They were linked to all the major news stories, Pro Choice.
The gun control debate.
The revelations about Imelda Marcos’s extravagances.
They were there at the Iran Contra trial.
The Stock Market crash.
(The White House contacted the company to inform them that the President’s picture could not be used for commercial purposes. Fortunately after the ad had run.)
Nancy Reagan’s revelations about her astrology advisor.
The exposing illegal or immoral actions of tv preachers.
The race to the Whitehouse.
The vanishing rain forests.
The Berlin Wall coming down.
Nelson Mandela being freed.
General Noriega being…General Noriega.
The Vice President not being able to spell.
And subsequently being dropped.
A woman cutting her husbands penis off, (John Wayne Bobitt).
The homeless issue.
The nuclear power debate.
Or just celebrating Christmas.
Occasionally, very occasionally, they’d run an ad with a product in.
Or maybe some store opening ads.
Still, somehow, giving themselves attitude.
Either by boldly listing the people they didn’t want to turn up to the opening party.
Or by publicly showing they were just as shallow as everyone else in town.
Arguably, their boldest decision, was to unflinchingly get behind AIDS awareness,
It’s difficult now to imagine that being courageous, but in 1985 these were typical of the news headlines.
They ran this ad on World AIDS Day 1992.
And this the following year.
As a strategy it’s the difference between going to a party talking about yourself all evening, or talking about being a bit more self-deprecating and joking king about the day’s news.
Who would you rather engage with?
Having witnessed the transformation his brother Kenneth’s business, Neil Cole asked Kirshenbaum Bond to do the same for his, a struggling jeans brand called No Excuses.
The newspapers had recently been filed with compromising pictures of an attractive young lady called Donna Rice and married, presidential candidate Gary Hart.
They’d forced Gary Hart to withdraw from the race.
She became the spokesman for No Excuses jeans in this 15-second ad:
As each new sex scandal broke, the woman involved would be signed up as the latest spokeswoman.
Next up was Joan Rivers, who remarked; ‘It was a toss-up between me and Lady Di. I guess the real princess won’.
Then Paula Jones, then involved with President Bill Clinton, allegedly, then Marla Maples, involved in some kind of sex triangle with Donald and Ivana Trump. Allegedly.
From what I can gather, the New York Post is a schlocky, down market publication with truth issues.
Most ad agencies would attempt to refute this perception, maybe by pointing to a column that covered politics or the joy the Post brought to hassled New Yorker’s lives.
Not Kirshenbaum Bond.
They basically said: ‘Sure it’s trashy, but you love it!’
They made a compelling case for using brokers Quick & Reilly.
Nobody would describe their work for Bamboo Lingerie as sophisticated, but nobody could ignore it either.
(Check the small print; ‘A company run by two women. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.)When most agencies considered guerilla marketing beneath them, Kirshembaum Bond embraced it.
This ad drew offended the Italian-American Defamation League.
When brands ask for a brand positioning work, it can often sound complex or random, depending on the meeting.
It’s not, as one Strategist put it; ‘If you want a positioning, take a position’.
The Charivari campaign is an object lesson in that.
Most brands attempt to be either whatever they think people will be willing to part with a dollar for or whatever’s fashionable that particular day.
Charivari didn’t do that, they drew a line in the sand.
Here’s what CNN’s Donny Deutsch thought;
The Savin Copier Company.
They stuck stickers on 30 million mangos telling mango lovers that now there was a new mango flavour Snapple drink.
A very, very early use of ambient.
A tv campaign that felt unlike tv ads at the time.
(And very New York.)
They even roped in the former Mayor of New York; Ed Koch.
The Duck Head Apparel look nothing like fashion ads, no lifestyle picture or product, they just look odd. Instead they feature the biggest logo known to man and bundles of attitude.
The result is they are difficult to ignore.
Here’s a video from the eighties showing Kirshenbaum Bond pitching, (for a seemingly inappropriate, genteel client)