BOSS No.5: Mark Denton


Mark Denton in plasticDAVE: Why advertising?

MARK: It all happened by accident. I was quite good at drawing as a kid and my Uncle had gone to Art School and had ended up as a Silversmith.
The Dentons weren’t that imaginative (they all worked in the Family Scrap business) so ‘good at drawing’ meant that I should go to Art School too.
My Mum thought I could get a job as one of those people who paint the patterns on the edge of plates (although I didn’t like the idea of leaving home and living in Stoke on Trent).

DAVE: Did you go to Art College?
MARK: I couldn’t get into a proper Art College because I didn’t have enough O-Levels, it was only a chance conversation with a stranger that pointed me in the direction of The Ravensbourne School of Vocational Studies and a three-year course in graphic design.
I got a job as a paste-up artist first at Knitting Digest and then at the now defunct Bridge Advertising.denton_samson_batteries denton_midas_exhausts denton_maxell_cobras_hiss denton_mcewans_deathdenton_beta_video_nasty denton_beta_japaneseDAVE: Who rejected you before Leo Burnett accepted you?
MARK: Bridge Advertising were crap but my boss used to work at Colman Prentis & Varley who were a pretty creative agency years earlier and he got me all fluffed up with tales of John Webster and D&AD, (which I hadn’t heard of up until that point).
I went for a couple of interviews armed mainly with my magic marker visuals, not ads, just illustrations.
I remember being turned down by Masius and a Creative Director at Euro who looked through my book and said ‘it doesn’t make my knob go hard’.
The Burnetts break happened when the Head of Typography Mike Brant hired me as his assistant because he needed someone to draw up his visuals.

DAVE: What was your first ad produced?
MARK: Can’t remember the first, but the earliest one I can recall that I liked was a 48 sheet poster for Perrier. In fact it was the only finished piece of print I had in my folio when I left Burnetts.
I  showed John Hegarty in my interview, I was particularly proud of it as I’d managed to talk a famous photographer, Barney Edwards, into shooting it.
John wasn’t so keen ‘I hate it’ he said as he flipped it over.
Mark Denton 1DAVE: What was your first good ad?
MARK: My job at Burnetts was drawing up other people’s ideas but I couldn’t help myself, I always tried to do a better one myself. I think I did most of my best work there but almost all of it didn’t go through.

They had an established poster campaign for Cadbury’s Creme Eggs that featured classical portraits of Kings and Queens eating the product with lines like ‘Henry’s Eighth’ and ‘Elizabeth’s First’.
I first got noticed for my writing skills when I drew up my versions ‘Quasimodo’s Umpteenth’, ‘Bunter’s Billionth’ and ‘Dracula’s lost Count’.
Probably my finest line was for Maxell tapes ‘Stop taping the hiss’ Of course it was thrown out before the marker ink dried.
The first good ad I made was a Cadbury’s commercial featuring Charlie Drake as a 16th century driver of a Turbo Sedan chair powered by Creme Eggs.
My boss was furious because I was only meant to draw some posters up and not stick my hooter into the telly. But it was too late once the account group had accidentally seen my storyboard.
It was the first ad I ever got into D&AD.

DAVE:  Did anyone notice you?
MARK: As I started to produce things I started to get noticed outside of the agency.

I made an animated commercial featuring hungry vultures for an orange drink called Quosh with the brilliant Oscar Grillo of Klactovesedstein.
I think he was very impressed that I’d drawn a tight storyboard upfront and he said that he liked my drawings which was praise indeed coming from Oscar.

It turned out very nicely and Oscar started to show it off a bit. Most notably to a bloke called Ron Collins. Now, Ron Collins happened to be one of the most famous creatives around town and the ‘C’ in WCRS the hottest hot-shop in London. He liked the ad and said that he’d be interested in meeting me.
The only trouble was that Ron had a fearsome reputation and I hate to admit it but I was too scared to go for an interview, I didn’t think I was ready.
About the same time my book was summoned over to GGT who in my opinion were doing by far the most exciting work around. I sent it over and got a call shortly afterwards thinking that I was going to get an interview.
I excitedly turned up at their Soho offices and was pointed at the lift by the receptionist. I pressed the button expecting to be whisked up to the creative department but the lift doors opened and there was my lone portfolio ready for me to pick it up with no comment.denton_creme_egg_donkeydenton_creme_egg_dolphin Mark Denton -cadbury_creme_egg_bright-01DAVE: How did you sneak under BBH’s cooldar and get a job?
MARK: When I was at Shepperton shooting the Creme Eggs ad this bloke wandered in from the next stage and started talking to me.
His name was Chris Palmer.
He was so knocked out with the set that he put me forward for the job at BBH.
He was in need of an art director because he’d spent his first 6 months working directly with John Hegarty whose regular writer Barbara Nokes was on maternity leave and now she was on her way back.LEVIS_New_Patch NEWS_ON_SUNDAY_Toiletpaper ART_DIRECTION_Campaign_Bow_Ties_02 ART_DIRECTION_Campaign_Bow_Ties_01DAVE: Was Hegsy scary?
MARK: I was shit scared of John Hegarty. I was aware that I’d got the job with Chris’s support and I might not have been Johns first choice.
I had a portfolio full of rough storyboards and very little else, I certainly had no beautifully crafted print to my name.
John Hegarty was arguably the most stylish Art director around town, so I had to learn to art direct pretty sharpish.
ST_IVEL_SHAPE_Fromage_Frais ST_IVEL_SHAPE_Kids ST_IVEL_SHAPE_Ploughman ST_IVEL_SHAPE_FamilyDAVE: Why team up with a shaggy haired bike messenger with only a years experience?
MARK: I would have teamed up with the office cat if it had got me into BBH.
Chris (Palmer) had only been in the business for six months but in that time he’d won a stack of awards, including six D&AD pencils, for his work with John on Levis, Pretty Polly and Dr White’s Tampons.
It worked out pretty well though, not only did we have very similar creative sensibilities we both felt that we had to pedal hard to make up for lost time.
Chris had spent a lot of time as a dispatch rider while I was in the studio at Burnetts and we were both in our late 20’s.
BURROUGHS_Test_Match_Special BURROUGHS_Pillow_Talk DAVE: You started to moonlight to build up your tv reel.
MARK; Even when I was at Bridge Advertising I used to see any photographers, illustrators agents, reps etc that called up to show off their wares. I’d often try to persuade them to help me make a spec ad.
When I got to BBH my credibility rocketed over night so suddenly it became relatively easy to convince visiting producers that their new director needed a pilot. I had a portfolio full of ads that had been turned down at Burnetts so rather than wait for a TV brief I kept the pot boiling with my own stuff.
Chris was every bit as keen as I was on producing extra-curricular work and before too long the pair of us started picking up awards and attracting new eager producers and photographers.

DAVE: Did any creatives take us under their wing.
MARK: No not really. We were chucked in the deep end and allowed to make mistakes, although mistakes weren’t that popular so we tried to make sure we got it right.
I spent untold hours studying the guard books trying to get the hang of art direction.
My visualising skill came in handy because I’d spend nights and weekends drawing and making animatics of our scripts, that was pretty unusual for creatives to do that.
Chris joined in too because he was a bloody good illustrator.

DAVE: Some of your work from this period is more GGT than BBH?
MARK: We loved the super stylish fruits of the BBH creative dept but we also used to love the brutal populist stuff that was coming out of GGT. We tried to get a few GGT style scripts past John but I remember him saying ‘we don’t do that kind of advertising here’ and to be fair he was right, they didn’t.
Asda 'Stork'Asda 'Snowman' Asda 'Chicken'ASDA_Super_Cow ASDA_FishFingers ASDA_Fresian_CowDAVE: Hegarty. Trott. Icke. Who’s been the bigger influence?
(That’s Norman Icke, not David.)
MARK: It’s hard to say, they were all massive influences. And the list could have been a hell of a lot longer.
I know how to polish my shoes correctly because I was in the Cub Scouts. I know how to art direct because I was at BBH when it was small enough for John Hegarty to care about the positioning of every full point. You don’t forget that stuff.
I loved GGT’s work so I made a study of it, I dissected it and I tried to emulate it. Obviously it would have helped if I’d worked there, I did try.
Not many people have heard of Norman Icke.
I shared an office with him at Burnetts and he taught me bucket loads. He was the inventor of the Milk Tray Man.
He was bloody brilliant. Had he worked at a better agency he might be as famous as John Webster or Alan Parker.

DAVE: Why leave BBH, cash?
MARK: I’ve never made any decisions about my career based on the cash (maybe I should’ve). We were only at BBH for just over 2 years and we were pretty prolific but we were gagging to do more telly.

DAVE: Lowe Howard-Spink was very good, but wasn’t it a bit old fashioned for a couple of hipsters like you and Chris?
MARK: It was simple, Lowes had big clients like Heineken, Whitbread, Vauxhall and the Mail on Sunday with famous TV campaigns. I remember getting a small rise but it was the promise of TV that tempted us over.
Oh, and posters I’ve always liked doing posters and the Heineken poster campaign was open to the whole creative department.
HEINEKEN_POSTERS_Godzilla5HEINEKEN_POSTERS_BayeuxHEINEKEN_POSTERS_HedgehogsHEINEKEN_POSTERS_Shakin_StevensHEINEKEN_Duncan_GoodhewDAVE: And you started making the tv you’d gone there for?
MARK: We were only at Lowes for 18 months and in that time we shot commercials for Heineken, Vauxhall, KP, The Mail on Sunday, and Ovaltine Light.
On top of that we did quite a bit of print including a lot of posters. Because the Heineken poster brief was open to the whole department we worked nights and weekends to ensure that we got one through. We drew up 70 fully coloured in concepts hoping that would do the trick.
It did. We made five in total and cleaned up at Campaign poster awards that year.
The biggest job we did was probably the 1988 Vauxhall Cavalier launch which was the largest ever UK car launch at that time. The brief had been in the agency for quite a while. I remember that we were presenting a cut of a Heineken commercial late on a Friday night and our creative directors asked if we could help out on Vauxhall. We showed them the script of the ad that eventually ran on the following Monday morning.

DAVE: How did the snappily titled SPDC & J come about?
MARK: In the first week that I started working with Chris we went to my clairvoyant, Madame Clare’ of Catford.
She predicted that we would have our ‘names over the door’ as well as being ‘in front of the camera’ and ‘behind the camera’…we took that to mean that we would have our own business together.
So when I got a phone call from this bloke I’d never heard of asking if we’d be interested in starting up a business I just cupped the receiver and said to Chris ‘it’s that phone call we’ve been waiting for.
LUNCHEON_VOUCHERS_Ketchup_Bandit LUNCHEON_VOUCHERS_Fiver LUNCHEON_VOUCHER_Skinny_PigLUNCHEON_VOUCHERS_Crocodile TANDON_Brains NRM_Platforms_48 NRM_Murder_6 NRM_Mallard_48 NRM_BuffetCar_6 NRM_Stuffed_6TERRENCE_HIGGINS_Be_Good_In_Bedhttps://vimeo.com/121730115

TERRENCE_HIGGINS_Be_A_Good_SportDAVE: You had a wall.
MARK: Yes we had a wall. It was out in the creative dept and it was where we we pinned up all of the work that was going through.
Every team had their own briefs that they were responsible for. They had to deliver on their own work but once me and Chris saw a concept that we liked it went up on to the wall in the common parts.
Anyone could come along and better the ad, even the Cleaner or the office cat for that matter. We put our work up there too and I’d like to think that even though it was our final decision on what ran we were as tough on our stuff as we were on everyone else’s.

It was quite a competitive environment (to put it mildly) but everyone seemed to benefit from it. Most creative’s who passed through the department got a pencil or two.
It was a very honest way of operating, everyone knew where they stood.

DAVE: Didn’t it get annoying when all the teams you’d picked up from nowhere and then trained, would leave for double their salaries?
MARK:  We loved it, the more awards we won the more other agencies would try to poach our teams. It meant that we were doing something right.
We liked it so much that we encouraged creatives to tell us when they’d got a call and when they’d had an interview we’d go through their book with them and ask ‘what did John Hegarty think of that ad? or did David Abbott like that one? No one had to sneak out of the office with their portfolio.
If they’d been made a better offer we’d tell them, but generally we didn’t get a lot of people jumping ship.

SCIENCE_MUSEUM_Staveley_Road SCIENCE_MUSEUM_Crapper SCIENCE_MUSEUM_Scientific_Experiments SCIENCE_MUSEUM_Hole_In_Head
SCIENCE_MUSEUM_Hitler
DAVE: Were Simons Palmer Denton Clemmow & Johnson part of the Third Wave?
MARK: After Howell Henry Butterfield Day and Woolhams Moira set up Campaign coined the phrase ‘the Third Wave’ ( The Second Wave being WCRS, BBH, GGT etc).
So given that we set up shortly after HHCL and WMGO then we were definitely part of that gang. After us came Duckworth Finn Grubb and Walters, Elgie Stewart Smith, Leagas Shaffron Davis Chick, Tilby and Leaves, Emerson Pond-Jones and others that I can’t remember.

DAVE: Did you hate HHCL’s guts?
DAVE: No, we didn’t hate them. We didn’t know them.
They did seem to take themselves a bit seriously so we probably gave them a bit of stick. (I still don’t get that First Direct ad with the buckets in it).
We loved absolutely stomping them at the awards though (which was made a tad easier for us because they had a policy of not entering). So effectively we won a competition that they didn’t know they were in. ‘CHAMPIONS!!!’

DAVE: For Bottoms Up, you cast the bloke in the office next door, couldn’t you be arsed to do a casting session?
MARK: ‘Bottoms Up’ was one of those rushed jobs where we won the business and they wanted the advertising immediately.
We came up with a concept that required an ‘Alfred E. Neuman’ (MAD magazine) type of character. Andy (Mackay) had a funny face, it seemed like a natural course of action.BOTTOMS_UP_Sante BOTTOMS_UP_Salud BOTTOMS_UP_Prost BOTTOMS_UP_ChinChin BOTTOMS_UP_UppyajumpaDAVE: Were you bothered about awards?
MARK: Awards were all important. I just wanted to win more than anyone else it’s as simple as that. I’ve always been competitive.
I remember when I first met my wife and was introduced to her eight year old daughter. After an emotionally charged game of Monopoly they described me as a ‘bad winner’. Maybe it’s because I come from a big family and we all had to fight for attention.
But as far as advertising goes I only wanted to win a gong by doing a good ad.
Our starting point was never ‘lets do something to impress a jury’ it was always about doing a great advert. One that sells.
I’ve always loved to hear about how many units an ad has shifted. Generally my ads look like ads, I’m not a ‘small logo’ type of art director.BHF_Spelling_It BHF_Exercise BHF_CigaretteCROWN_FM_Know_Your_Arts CROWN_FM_Dow_Joneses CROWN_FM_Capitalist_RadioDAVE: How did you survive the first couple of years?
MARK: We were crap at new business to start with (Clare never told us about that bit). So we tried to make the biggest splash by putting a lot of our minuscule clients on 48 sheet posters. Slumberdown Duvets, Luncheon Vouchers, The National Railway Museum, Greenpeace, etc etc all got 48 sheet campaigns.
It was bloody tough, we paid ourselves a pittance and we were very close to the wire in our 3rd year I remember.
Quite a few of those Third Wave agencies had failed around this time.
ART_DIRECTION_SlumberdownDAVE: Was it company policy to hire nobodies, like me?
MARK: Yes, but most importantly we hired nobodies that wanted to be somebodies.
You can’t beat a modicum of creative talent coupled with a whiff of desperation, it’s a very intoxicatingly powerful combination.
Plus nobodies are cheaper and more malleable than somebodies.GREENPEACE_FU_GBhttps://vimeo.com/123434824

Greenpeace_Ozone_1
DAVE: You win Nike, not the creative prize that it is today, and probably not that big at the time?
MARK: We’d obviously been doing something right. The work we’d done for Wrangler in particular had got a bit of recognition in an arena dominated by Levi’s.
So even though Nike wasn’t the big deal in the UK that is today, it was still very flattering to be on their list.
We were aware of some of the great work that Wieden and Kennedy had done in the States but our main point of reference to the brand was the award wining press stuff that had been done by FCO in the UK.
NIKE_PRESS_All_Weather_RangeNIKE_Guide_To_DublinNIKE_PRESS_Golf_ShoesNIKE_PRESS_Cut_Out
DAVE: A lot of this stuff looks identical to the Weiden’s work, did you have anything to do with them?
MARK: We met Dan Wieden when we first picked up the business and we visited Wieden’s in Portland. Having not known much about their campaign prior to winning the account we were bowled over by the work. It wasn’t just the concepts it was their ballsy attitude too.
It felt really fresh compared to a lot of UK work.

So early on we tried to learn from the masters and emulate the look and tone that had been set up.
Of course after five minutes we started to get confident and before long we had our own take on things.
NIKE_PRESS_BabyNIKE_PRESS_Shape_You're_InNIKE_PRESS_XRay_Foot NIKE_PRESS_Runner_IllustrationNIKE_Ian_Wright_BabyDAVE: You started with press ads that were good but quite sensible, then you start doing more expressive, emotion based posters?
MARK: We were only hired to do the specialist football print and press stuff because at that time the Yanks didn’t know much about soccer but we didn’t let that stop us, before you knew it we had one of the biggest poster campaigns ever running in London and with the help of our super-ruthless/talented creative dept we started winning tons of awards for the work.NIKE 'Jordan', Mark DentonNIKE_POSTER_Except_The_BallNIKE 'It's Not The Winning' Mark DentonDAVE: You then start to playing around more with the imagery and bringing back squashed up type, which was very old-fashioned at the time.
MARK: I saw the trend in US magazines and it felt a bit different to what was happening UK advertising at the time so I thought it would be worth a punt.NIKE_PRESS_Courts_Can_Be_Hard NIKE_PRESS_Beat_Your_OpponentNIKE_PRESS_Painted_FootNIKE_PRESS_Giving_Up
DAVE: The 1990 Olympic campaign really got you noticed.
MARK: It was the biggest poster campaign that we’d done at that point and we were delighted with the creative work and the initial reaction that it got.
That all soured slightly when after very immodestly showing off about the prowess of Nike’s athletes they one by one got knocked out of the competition.
NIKE 'Traffic_Control' Mark Denton NIKE 'Algerian' Mark Denton NIKE 'Johnson' Mark DetonDAVE: After shouting from the rooftops about all these athletes who are going to storm The Olympics, they all strike out.
MARK: Actually in hindsight it was a great result for us, we just got talked about even more.NIKE_PRESS_Put_Foot_In_It 
DAVE: The campaign then really hits a peak, with the famous ‘Cobblers’ poster.
MARK: Didn’t you have something to do with this one Dave?
NIKE_Poster_CobblersDAVE: You don’t look for what’s cool do you?
MARK: I’m not anti-cool…but you’re right, looking for something I like is always more important to me than looking for something that’s fashionable.

DAVE: Then you push it all over the map, I mean that in a good way.
MARK: It wasn’t a conscious decision to keep changing the look of the Nike campaign I just found myself wanting to nudge it in different directions.
Of course it was important that everything hung together but tweaking the look kept it fresh. 
NIKE_POSTERS_A_Want_The_Ball NIKE_POSTERS_A_Behind_Every_GreatNIKE_POSTERS_A_Your_Hands_Can't NIKE 'Sampras' Mark DentonNike.Cant.96.1a_web Nike.Jockstrap.1a_web NIKE 'U Turn' Mark Denton

NIKE_POSTER_Make_WarDAVE: When I showed you this ad you said ‘I like it, now do one that looks nothing like it’.
MARK: I remember you presenting something that looked like a Nike ad but I wanted all the Nike print to feel like they hung together but were slightly different. I think that was mainly because we still had so few clients and I would have been bored with just one look.
Tourist Information 2DAVE: It ended up like this.Tourist Informationhttp://youtu.be/j43sBiQUndo

DAVE: You shot three ads with Tony, that was probably a record at the time, but you were on the verge of tears when you saw what Tony had shot and cut together on ‘Kick It’ . (Bad tears by the way, not tears of joy.)?
MARK: Tony had just started making a name for himself when we first met him. He’d recently cleaned up with his solid fuels cat, dog and mouse ad and had done some other really cracking work like ‘Abbey Endings’.
Me and Chris were alone working in Simons Palmer DENTON’s first offices which were over a fish restaurant in Covent Garden when we heard the front door bell ring. It was about 10.30 at night so we both wondered who it might have been given it was so late.
We opened the door and in bounds a very animated Tony Kaye. I can’t remember exactly what he said but he was so enthusiastic that when he left we both turned to each other and said ‘we’ve got to work with him’ (even though at that time we didn’t have many TV briefs knocking around).
I think the first opportunity presented itself when Greenpeace needed a 3 minute film to highlight the potential environmental problems that were facing Antartica. There was bugger all in the budget but fortunately Tony agreed to do it.
It was like no other shoot I’d ever been on. Exciting, disorganised, dangerous, emotional (I remember Tony crying when our producer tried to explain that the commercial really had to be finished in time for an international conference on Antarctica. I can’t remember if it ever got finished on time)….and very, very, very creative.
I loved the end result but in all honesty I think I loved the process even more. It gave me the kind of feeling in my testicles like when you go over a hump-backed bridge at high-speed. So we let Tony loose on our next ad too which was a hair and beauty ad for a shampoo. The end result was every bit as bad as the previous ad was good. It seemed like Tony was a risky proposition, you either got magnificence or WTF!!!, nothing in between.
That’s why he was the obvious choice for our first Nike commercial ‘Kick it’. We wanted something that was going to blow everyone’s socks off, so despite the possible risk factor we were prepared to board the Tony Kaye roller coaster for the thrill of it and the potential big rewards.
And he didn’t disappoint.
I’m not going to bother trying to explain the advertising idea in ‘Kick it’ . No one would ever be able to work it out by watching the finished film. As before it was a fantastically exciting shoot but we had a lot of fights along the way trying to wrestle it to resemble the original script. In the end I stopped fighting because I thought there was the danger that any forced compromise between Tony’s vision and ours would be less good.
I remember when the finished film was presented to the client. He said ‘this is nothing like the script that I bought’ and we said ‘No, but it’s good isn’t it’. He agreed, it ran, we all won lots of awards and more importantly I’d like to think that it contributed towards elevating Nike from the number two sports brand in the UK to the top spot.
There was actually a fourth spot that we shot with Tony for Wrangler.
No one’s ever seen it . It was a speculative film which featured a black rodeo rider. There was no budget, Tony just liked the script and jumped on a plane to Texas. Only an early rough cut exists because unfortunately we lost the Wrangler account before it could be finished. Shame, I think it could have been one of our best bits of work.
One of the downsides of being a director is that I don’t get to work with people like Tony, I really miss that.

DAVE: I only remember being allowed to enter your office once, what the hell went on in there?
MARK: Having a lock on the door was probably my idea and the polar opposite of all that’s in the management books. No one was allowed to disturb us in the morning up until 12.00. No wonder they fired us.
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DAVE: You’re great with clients, but you didn’t deal with them much then?
MARK: I was nervous in meetings, Chris was exceptionally good at presenting so I had no reason to do the meetings then.
We fielded our best player. It’s only when I became a director and I found myself in pre-production meetings that I discovered that I was not only good in front of an audience but I actually enjoyed it.

DAVE: The Wrangler campaign was very unusual at the time.
MARK: Levis had the sexiest advertising at the time and the lions share of the jeans market. The number two brand Pepe were a long way behind. And even further down the chart was Wrangler.
We did a lot of research with the target 15-25 year olds and they slagged off Wrangler mercilessly.
They hated the ‘W’ on the back pocket in particular. So rather than running away from the ‘W’ we chose to make it the hero of the campaign.

Our line ‘Be more than just a number’ not only encouraged the punters to be an individual and wear something other than Levis but it also pitched the ‘W’ against the number 501. That was our theory anyway.
But everyone knows ‘it ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it’.
We knew that we couldn’t compete with Levis on their own turf, executionaly or budget wise so we made our telly much grittier than theirs by setting it in a warts’n’all NYC and by picking a soundtrack that Levis wouldn’t have gone anywhere near, ‘Crosstown Traffic’ by Jimi Hendrix.
The follow-up commercial was shot in black and white and was set in LA with an all black cast.
The accompanying poster campaign featured graphic interpretations of the letter ‘W’ just to get the youngsters thinking differently about the thing they said they hated about the product.
Before very long Wrangler were the number two brand and the advertising was getting talked about. And then we parted company with the client (I can’t remember why now).

WRANGLER_Posters_SuperHero WRANGLER_Posters_Dog WRANGLER_Posters_Pants_W WRANGLER_Posters_Dragon WRANGLER_Russian WRANGLER_PRESS_Tank_Girl WRANGLER_PRESS_Rodeo WRANGLER_PRESS_Biker_Vicar Wrangler_HairDAVE: How did a  small agency pick up the biggest account in the country?
MARK: We wouldn’t have got anywhere near a pitch for the BT business if it hadn’t been for me and Chris having a reputation for writing ‘pilot’ commercials.
I’d always done speculative work ever since I was a visualiser at Burnetts. After a few years working with Chris we calculated that we had shot a couple of million £’s worth of pilots (THT, Samson, Mail on Sunday, etc etc etc) and we’d won loads of awards as a result (The Grand award at NY Festivals, Golds at Cannes and BTA, D&AD pencils, a BAFTA, the lot).
The secret was to not only make them good, they had to be for a real client, one you could possibly sell the ad to when it was finished.
We were approached by one of the hottest ‘pop promo’ directing duos in town Vaughn and Anthea. Despite the fact that they were knocking out extremely stylish promos for some of the top acts around at the time (George Michael, Simply Red etc) they couldn’t get arrested in Adland. It was much harder to make the transition from music videos to adverts back then and they were desperate.
So desperate in fact that they gave us a ring and asked us to write them a pilot to put them on the map. We had a word with Carl (Johnson) and said what client do we want? He said that the biggest spenders next to the COI were BT so before you know it Simon (Clemmow) was doing some research and knocking out a brief for BT.
We write a bunch of scripts, give them to V&A and they take them home to have a ponder. The next week they were back in our office telling us that they like the scripts so much that they were going to shoot two of them (we didn’t know at the time that they mortgaged their flat to raise the money!)
The shoot went bloody well and the ads turned out even better than we expected. Then we put the finished spots back into research, called up the BT client and to cut a long story short secured the lions share of the BT account.
Of course, always being one’s for paying back debts Vaughn and Anthea ended up shooting 11 commercials for us over the next year or so.

BT_Makes_All_The_Difference BT_Give_Him_A_Lift BT_Ah_The_BeautyDAVE: Why did you get kicked out?
MARK: We were awkward.
I would have kicked us out if I were the other partners.
I was only 31 when we started the business and I’d only been a proper art director for five years.
No one had taught me about the mechanics of the business and how to get along with people, I naively thought that if the work was good then everything would be ok.
What I didn’t realise was that when it all went pair-shaped for us I was holding a very good hand of cards, I just happened to play them badly.

DAVE: Did you offers to stay in advertising? 
MARK: After the SPDC&J experiment I didn’t fancy starting up again because I didn’t trust the process, so I thought I’d try my hand at directing while I decided what I wanted to do.
I can’t remember anyone offering me a job at the time so it was an easy decision.
Tell a lie, David Abbott called and we met him but I really didn’t fancy working for anyone else after I’d got a taste of being my own boss
.

DAVE: It’s interesting hearing you ‘recount your journey’, as Mark Maron says. The nagging question for me is; You’re the son of a scrap metal magnate and you have the words ‘MARK’ and ‘DENT’ in your name, that’s got to be deliberate?

Nb. COMING SOON: DENTON: THE POST AGENCY YEARS.

‘Dear Lenny’

Bill_Bernbach's_Group
LEN SIROWITZ.
Hired by Bernbach in the fifties.
Ran VW in the sixties.
Set up his own shop in the seventies.
Now in his eighties.
One of the finest Art Directors ever.

DAVE: Len, before we start, I heard a rumour you grew up in the Bronx with Ralph Lauren?
LEN: Yes. In fact, I am still friendly with his older bother, who I first met pushing Ralphie in a baby carriage.

DAVE: So it’s 1953, why become a huckster?
LEN: Why do you use such a derogatory word to describe my entering the world of classy design.

My first job was at L.W. Froelich , a pharmaceutical ad agency, where our messages were directed to the medical profession and good design was the norm.
DAVE: You caught me deliberately using a provocative word.
The perception of Admen in the fifties came from films, where they would always be portrayed as shallow idiots. E.g. ‘Let’s just run that idea up the flagpole’ from the adman juror in ‘Twelve Angry Men’.
How did you know advertising could be intelligent, ethical and sophisticated?
LEN: Because I always had high standards to begin with. Plus I’ve always despised verbal cliches.

DAVE: Who was your hero, Paul Rand?
LEN:  Sure, I admired  Paul Rand.  Also Will Burtin and Erik Nitsche, and A.M. Cassandre, to name just a few of our Gods at the time.
DAVE: I love those guys too, but to me Paul Rand is in a league of his own.

LEN:  Sure. But does that mean that one cannot admire work that is being done in other parts of the world.

DAVE: Then, after a short stint at Grey Advertising you move to CBS Television, to worked with legendary designer Bill Golden. Didn’t he design the CBS eye logo?
golen_cbs_800px
LEN: Yes and no, he didn’t design the eye.  He thought of the idea.  It was actually a Shaker hex symbol on old barns to ward off evil spirits.  He asked graphic designer, Kurt Weiss, to execute it.

DAVE: Why switch from design to advertising?
LEN: It’s all the same to me, trying to communicate in a simple, human way, trying to make a visual and words work together.

DAVE: Do you remember the first time you looked at a piece of your work and thought “That’s as good as those good people do.”
LEN: It was quite early in my career that I began to realize that my message needed to not only be bold and daring, but it must stem from the truth… and touch people’s emotions.
Whether it makes them laugh or makes them cry, it should get under their skin in a way that is important or at least relevant to their lives. At the risk of sounding pompous, I truly felt that my work was better than the best.23149_or23238_or23728_or
DAVE: After a spell at Channel 13, you turn up at DDB in 1957.  What perfect timing – DDB in 1957! Luck or planning?
LEN: I would say “luck”.
When I left Froelich,  I went to Grey Advertising, and was assigned to the NBC account, and won some awards for my work.
From there, I was wooed by Channel 13 to do their broadcast advertising. And once again, won a bunch of awards.
When Channel 13 decided to move  their headquarters across country to California, I applied for a job at DDB, where they had  just landed the ABC account it was not only the right time and the right place, but with the right kind of ads in my portfolio, I got the job.LenSirowitz

DAVE: Who were your first Group Heads at DDB?
LEN: There wasn’t a group system when I first got there. We showed our work to Bernbach.5 DAY LABS 'Scribbles' Len Sirowitz-01Rainier Beer 'Pretzel' Len Sirowitz, DDBRainier 'Portal' Len Sirowitz, DDBLen Sirowitz, DDB, Toilet Roll-01
DAVE: A few years ago I read the Mary Wells biography ‘A Big Life’, ‘A Big Head’ would’ve been a more accurate title for the book.
You worked with her in your early days at DDB?
LEN: From my point of view, Mary was a better politician than a creative writer.01-026
DAVE: George Lois said what made DDB great was that Bill Bernbach treated the top
Art Directors like Gods, resulting in a Art Directors feeling confident enough to push for a more visual style of ad. Did Bernbach treat you like a God?
LEN: If being invited with my wife to the Bernbach home for dinner meant I was treated like a God, then the answer is yes. 
01-025El Al '20' Len Sirowitz, DDB
DAVE: I don’t think any creative department before or after has been stuffed with more talent than DDB New York in the sixties.
But usually talent comes with strong opinions and egos, was DDB political?

LEN: I can truly say that I didn’t feel the politics. It may have existed but I focused on turning out the best possible work.


DAVE:
 In those days you guys didn’t have a creative road map, no annuals of great work to learn from, you were literally making the rules up as you went along?
LEN: That’s true.

DAVE: What was Bill Bernbach’s vibe around the agency?
LEN: That man really kept you on your toes, good wasn’t good enough. It had to be fresh and original and in a good taste every time. When he OK’d an ad creative people would yell in the halls with unbelievable pride “Bill loved it.”

DAVE: I’ve only heard it referenced as a wisecrack, but twelve years after World War Two, Doyle Dane Bernbach,  a Jewish agency,  starts selling a car commissioned by Adolf Hitler.
That is just incredible.

Imagine an agency in New York now, founded by Kurds, selling a car commissioned by Sadam Hussein?
Did you ever question it?
LEN: Sometimes I did…especially when I would visit the VW plant in Germany.
But I overcame that because Helmut Krone and Julian Koenig had done an amazing job of making the VW an American icon.

DAVE: In 1962 you replace Helmut Krone, and along with Bob Levenson are put in charge of the most famous creative account in the World.
LEN: Bill Bernbach came to me and said, “Len, I’ve got a great assignment for you. It’s one of the most important assignments I could give to anyone.”
I thought it was a great new account that had just come into the agency. I thought this was going to be an exciting thing for me. I’m going to be able to style a campaign, create brand new idea that have never been done before.
He said, “Len, I want you to take over from Helmut Krone on the Volkswagen campaign.” Helmut, as you know, had been the guiding light behind the Volkswagen campaign. It was the most talked about campaign inside and outside the advertising industry.
You couldn’t go to a cocktail party without hearing people talk about VW advertising. It was a thrilling thing to hear — until I learned that I would now have to carry the ball.
I would have to continue the greatness of the campaign.
What was I to do? Was I to come into the account and foolishly make changes? Change for the sake of change? Prove my individuality at the expense of the account and the agency? No, that was wrong. What was I supposed to do? Copy Helmut Krone? Work like Helmut Krone? No, that was wrong too. I had to find an area that made it appear as if the account had never changed hands yet it was me, not Helmut Krone.
Helmut works one way. I work another.
I began.

DAVE: Helmut Krone. Genius or giant pain in the ass?
LEN:  Probably both. Depending on who you talked to. I know for a fact that Bill Bernbach greatly admired Helmut’s creativity but has been known to have said “Helmut is permanently imbedded in my x-rays.”
DAVE: He made him ill? He still carries the scars?

LEN: Imbedded in his x-rays” is a figure of speech implying that Helmut was difficult.
VW 'Even The Bottom' Len Sirowitz:Bob Levenson. DDB VW 'Ugly' Len Sirowitz, DDB, 1966VW 'A Simple Story...' Len Sirowitz, DDB-01

VW 'No. It Won't' Len Sirowitz, DDB-01 VW 'Stickshift' Len Sirowitz, DDB-01

VW 'Street' Len Sirowitz, DDB-01Len Sirowitz & Bob Levenson-01
DAVE: You and Bob Levenson in the swinging sixties. You don’t look like you’re embracing it; no kaftans, protest signs, L.S.D?
LEN: Our work was breakthrough and avant garde but I guess our looks were pretty square.

VW 'Scratch' Len Sirowitz, DDBVW 'We learned' Len Sirowitz, DDBVW 'Save Water' Len Sirowitz:Bob Levenson. DDBVW 'Green Fender' Len Sirowitz, DDB
DAVE: ‘Green Fender’. One of the few ads I would pin to my wall.
How did you get them to run it without a logo?
LEN: The dramatic photo of the multi-colored VW was more memorable than any logo. In fact, the logo got in the way. The client agreed with me.
VW First Car' Len Sirowitz, DDB
DAVE: A previously little known name turned up in the updated edition of ‘Remember Those Great Volkswagen Ads?‘, did you work with Si Lam?
LEN: Yes. Si was Creative Director of DDB Los Angeles where he was responsible for most of the VW outdoor billboards.DDB, 'Do This Or Die', Len Sirowitz-01
DAVE: ‘DO THIS OR DIE’, it’s probably more relevant today than when it ran, forty years ago.
LEN: Certainly so.

DAVE: From what I’ve read, Bill Bernbach was a Saint?
LEN: Yes. He was a most unusual man who knew just how to get people to rise to their fullest creatively.

DAVE: What were Doyle and Dane like?
LEN: Mac Dane was a wonderful gentleman who related well to just about everybody whose main responsibility was the financial health of the company.  Ned Doyle had a great sense of humor…loved his wine and loved his women.

DAVE: How many Hall of Fame Writers have you partnered?
LEN: Ron Rosenfeld, Bob Levenson, Dave Reider, Phyllis Robinson and Mary Wells.
DAVE: That’s greedy.

DAVE: Do you remember a young British writer in your group around 1967 called David Abbott?
LEN: Yes. I recall our kidding him about the clothes he wore, his stuffy attire, he looked very British indeed.
As I recall, quite formal, with a rather handsome tie.
Just not like the rest of us.
I also recall he was a good sport about the ribbing we gave him.
I think he ditched the tie, because we never saw it again until DDB’s Christmas party the following year.
However, I do recall being aware that he was quite talented.

DAVE: Is it true that you asked Bill Bernbach for the Better Vision Institute brief?
LEN: Yes it is true.  I did ask Bill Bernbach for the brief.
To make it clear, the Better Vision Institute was made up of an association of optical lens and frame manufacturers who pooled their funds to get people to have their eyes examined more often, in order to sell more frames and eye glasses.
Their theme was “Join the 20/20 Club.”  It was merely a worthless slogan.
Without modesty, our stroke of genius was to disguise their motives and have it appear like a public service campaign with all the power to go with it.
Better Vision Institute 'Blind'-01Better Vision Institute 'Black' Len Sirowitz, DDBBetter Vision Institute 'Anne Flynn' Len Sirowitz, DDB-01
DAVE: Your writer on this ad, Leon Meadows, said of it; ‘No ad I can recall ever brought me greater satisfaction, both in the doing and in the results, than this one.
Getting the parents’ consent, since Anne Flynn is a real child named Anne Flynn took some doing, Anne’s parents were understandably afraid the publicity (Life Magazine) might cause their child serious embarrassment at the hands of her friends.
But, in the end, the Flynns saw that the good this ad could accomplish far outweighed their personal misgivings.
They were right. The ad elicited a great deal of heart-warming reader response. From parents who were encouraged to go ahead with operations similar to Anne’s. And from parents who were immediately motivated to make appointments for their children with ophthalmologists or optometrists.”
LEN: The parents came to realize that by showing a photograph of their daughter prior to her surgery, and stating clearly that her condition was corrected, would have great value.
Better Vision Institute 'Blurry Girls' Len Sirowitz, DDB-01
DAVE:  Had you ever seen a photo deliberately printed out of focus before you did so?
LEN: I don’t believe I ever did.Better Vision Institute 'Pills' Len Sirowitz, DDB-01Better Vision Institute 'Car Lights' Len Sirowitz, DDB-01Len Sirowitz, Better Vision Institute, DDB, Small Print-01
2009122816080820091229083819Better Vision Institute 'Chuck' Len Sirowitz, DDBScreen Shot 2015-02-09 at 23.00.4521102_orBetter Vision Institute 'Crash' Len Sirowitz, DDB-01
DAVE: How long did you work with the Better Vision guys?
LEN: From 1962 -1966.  We did approximately 65 ads that ran in Life Magazine.Better Vision Institute 'Ear' Len Sirowitz, DDBScreen Shot 2015-02-09 at 23.42.17Better Vision Institute 'Monster' Len Sirowitz, DDBBetter Vision Institue 'Fingers'-01Better Vision Institute 'Ears, Eyes' Len Sirowitz, DDBBetter Vision Institute 'Needle' Len Sirowitz, DDBBetter Vision Institute 'Newspaper' Len Sirowitz, DDBLen Sirowitz, Better Vision Institute 'Braille', DDB-01Len Sirowitz, Better Vision Institute 'See Johnny'. DDB-01Better Vision Institute 'Shearing' Len Sirowitz, DDBBetter Vision Institute 'Drove' Len Sirowitz, DDBBetter Vision Institute 'Tommy' Len Sirowitz, DDB

DAVE:  Most clients only want to talk about themselves not pay for public service messages. But it must’ve transformed Mobil’s perception pretty quickly?
LEN: The amount of letters received from the public on this campaign are phenomenal. Mobil had to set up 8 secretaries to handle all the mail coming in.
There were 10,000 letters the first week alone, congratulating Mobil for their interest in the public interest.
Many of the letters included torn-up credit cards from competing oil companies with requests for Mobil credit cards to be sent to them.
Newspapers called us and asked if they could run the ads for free. Editorials quoted the ads. Life Magazine did a feature article on the Mobil television commercials. We knew we had hit on something important.
Again we learned — give the reader something he’s interested in…and he’ll be interested in you.

DAVE: How did you make the leap from producing run of the mill ads about Mobil to the more compelling messages about whether the public lives or dies?
LEN: President Johnson was very involved with forcing new highway legislation through Congress as Ralph Nader’s book “Unsafe at any Speed”, blasting the automotive industry for unsafe practices, was becoming more well known. In other words, the subject of highway safety was in the air.

DAVE: Interesting shoot to be on?
LEN: Well, we had the statistics to prove that a crash at 60 mph was like a car driving off a ten story building.
So first we had to find a ten storey building with a big area to land the car, like a car park.
We went to L.A. because we figured they make films there, so we’d have more chance of them letting us throw some cars off a building.
We eventually found the perfect building, they charged $4000 and the cost of filling in the holes the cars would make.

We hired some scientists from U.C.L.A. to work out how to make sure that the car would hit the ground head on.
We brought three identical cars to the shoot.
The first one, we flew up to the roof by hanging it from a helicopter and placing it on a cantilever.  We also had a huge crane parked down below in case we needed it to drop the car head on to the ground.
The U.C.L.A. guys did all their homework and gave us back the calculations, we threw the car over, and it flipped over, it landed on it’s roof.
We’d forgot to tell them we were taking out the engine, for safety reasons, so the car was lighter.
Then we weighted the car down. It worked perfectly, head on.
We had our film.
The third car was a back-up just in case we goofed with the first two cars.  We had so much fun, we threw the third car off the roof just for the hell of it. 
Mobil 'Building' Len Sirowitz, Bob Levenson, DDBMobil 'Fresh Killed...' Len Sirowitz, DDB-01 Mobil 'Till Death...' Len Sirowitz, DDB-01

 

 

Mobil 'Santa' Len Sirowitz, DDBMobil 'We lose' Len Sirowitz, DDBMobil 'Highway' Len Sirowitz, DDBMobil '?' Len Sirowitz, Bob Levenson, DDB Mobil 'Amen' Len Sirowitz, DDB-01 Mobil 'In 31 States' Len Sirowitz, DDB-01 Screen Shot 2015-02-15 at 12.11.53Mobil 'You drive' Len Sirowitz, DDB

DAVE: This ad started very differently?
LEN:  I’ve always wished that the “Bastard” ad had run instead. After approving the ad, the client chickened out the last minute.
I was startled by the article you uncovered.
Bob Levenson and I were returning from a Volkswagen visit to Germany.
About an hour after taking off on this early morning flight, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, along with all the possible international conspiracy fears.
We later learned that our pilot was radioed the news and decided 
it was too frightening to announce in mid air.
My wife, Mickey, who was waiting for Bob and me 
at the airport in New York, broke the startling news to us. We were probably amongst the last people 
in the world to have heard about what had occurred.
Barstards are barstards-01Mobil 'Mouth' Len Sirowitz, Bob Levenson, DDB Mobil 'Sell You Gas' Len Sirowitz, Bob Levenson, DDB Mobil 'Staying Alive' Len Sirowitz, Bob Levenson, DDB

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DAVE:
 Weren’t you supposed to write a campaign celebrating Mobil’s 100th instead of all this stuff about saving lives?
LEN: That’s right, DDB didn’t have the oil and gasoline account, we’d been hired for the sole purpose of promoting their 100th birthday celebration.
At the first meeting we had with Mobil, they unveiled a new logo being proposed by Chermayeff & Geismar, a good design firm.
It celebrated them being in business for a hundred years, and inside the red ‘o’ was placed ‘1866 -1966’.
Mobil were thrilled with it and very excited to share it with us.
Well, they asked Bill what he thought.
“It looks like you just died.” he said.
And of course he was right.
DAVE: Had he seen it before, or did he just judge it instantly, off the cuff?
LEN: Instant!

DAVE: The Sony ads are particularly human.
LEN: It was a very fine product.
We tried to find out everything we could about their products. We studied the competition. All the competing ads seemed to look-alike. One ad blended into the next. One television set looked like another television set; one radio looked like another radio. Everybody was showing big pictures of their product and gave some information about it.
Sony was a new company and we wanted it to stand out.
We went exactly in the opposite direction of the competition.
We wanted warmth and humanity.
We also wanted to make our point by using an exaggeration of the truth concerning the television watching habits in America. (The All-American sport.)
But not just an exaggeration — one that amplifies the selling points of the product.
True portability, true lightness of weight. The ability to take the set where you want it to go — not to have to go where the set is. You own the set, it doesn’t own you.
American manufacturers were selling portables that really weren’t portables at all. They were floor models with handles on top. American manufacturers were selling portables that had electric cords plugged into the wall.
Sony had a true portable-transister and battery-pack, lightweight and fun to use. And that’s what we took off on.

Len Sirowitz Sony
DAVE: The Sony ads launch another ‘new page’, like VW and Avis.
You can spot them a mile off, they looked like no-one else’s ads.
But, there was a penalty, you and your writer Ron Rosenfeld could use no more than twenty characters
?
LEN: Never counted the characters but did create a graphic style that would have the most impact. 
   FTelefishin'-02 Sony 'Sun Set' Len Sirowitz, DDB-01 Sony 'Tummy' Len Sirowitz, DDB-01 Sony 'Sun Set*' Len Sirowitz, Bob Levenson, DDBScreen Shot 2015-02-10 at 00.08.24Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 00.03.32Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 23.20.58Sony 'Drive-In' Len Sirowitz:DDB Sony walkie-watchie, Nov 07, 1964Sony 'We're Working on it' Len Sirowitz, DDB-01
DAVE: Back in 1966, you do an ad to let people know that Sony are thinking ahead, they are a future facing company.
To illustrate this you try and dream up the most shocking, silliest, most pie in the sky product you can think of.
Cut to 2015, it goes on sale at your local Apple store next month.Apple-Watch-16
LEN: Hard to believe but true.Sony 'Commercials' Len Sirowitz:DDB
DAVE: You were voted No1 Art Director in 1968 and 1970, did it make you chill out or become arrogant?
LEN: Ad Weekly conducted two national polls of the advertising industry and then published the results.
It was the only two times they ever did it.
As a result of all the awards I collected while at DDB, I truly felt that I deserved that astonishing recognition.
My wife tells me that it didn’t make me a terrible person.
It probably gave me the drive to start my own agency.

DAVE: Why leave heaven, or DDB New York, as it was known then?
LEN:
I was 38 years old at the time and thought…If I could do this for someone else, why not take a stab and do it for myself? 

DAVE: Harper Rosenfeld Sirowitz. Was there no way of sounding more Jewish?
LEN: 
Yes, If we called it Horowitz Rosenfeld & Sirowitz.  Heh, heh.

DAVE: Marion Harper, former President of McCann’s:
‘Reckless spender’, ‘Obsessed with formulas to pre-test ads.’, ‘Interested in growth at any cost’,
Worked to make research a scientific advertising tool.’
Doesn’t seem like a natural fit, how did you come to set up an agency with him?
LEN: Well, it’s a long story.
Firstly, I remember talking with Bill Bernbach one day, he was making a point about people being trapped by fear, being too afraid to follow their instincts.
I took this, rightly or wrongly, as him suggesting I should set up my own shop.
Next, I bump into an old friend on the street, Hubert Graff, who had just been given the job of running the Marketing for Swissair.
‘What Agency shall I get to do Swissair?’ he said, ‘Mine’ I said.
Instinctively.
DAVE: And at this point you didn’t have an agency?
LEN: No, nothing, I was at DDB.
Then, a while later I bumped into my old writer Ron Rosenfeld, who said he was setting up an agency with Marion Harper.
Marion had all kinds of contacts and big schemes.
I was in.
DAVE: What did Bill Bernbach think about you setting up an agency with Marion Harper?

LEN: When I told him he just put his head in his hands.
DAVE: How did it work out with Marion?

LEN: It didn’t, he was gone after about six months.
His promises and schemes didn’t materialize.
In fact, the first business we won was Swissiair.
Len Sirowitz, Swissair 'Heidi Lied'-01
DAVE: Yeah, I saw the ‘Heidi Lied’ ad, I wasn’t sure what it was about? And Heidi looks saucier than I remember from the books?
LEN: Yeah
, the previous agency had run a lot of cutesy work about how sweet the country was, the food, the fresh air, etc, and all the ads ended with the line ‘Heidi wouldn’t lie’.We wanted to shake it up.

DAVE: How did you find running your own shop?
LEN: I liked it, I did it for long enough…25 years?

DAVE: You and Ron have been described as ‘street guys’. Accurate?
LEN: Yeah, I guess you could call us that.

DAVE: What did you look for when hiring creatives?

LEN: Talent and energy.

DAVE: From Britain, U.S. Advertising in the seventies looks like a creative wasteland. True?
LEN: I didn’t have that perspective.

DAVE: Lots of your work has a very ethical slant; ‘We want you to live‘, the Better Vision Institute stuff even the DDB house ads ‘Do This Or Die’.
You’ve also consistently taken on ethical side projects.
LEN: I guess it’s my nature to want to put my creative ability to use for public service and issues that I strongly believed in.

DAVE: How did you come to work with SANE?
LEN: They came to DBB for help.
It was at a time when the world was in a different kind of turmoil than it is in now. It was at a time when the U.S. and Russia were testing Hydrogen bombs and if it continued it would contaminate the atmosphere.

It was at a time that China was developing their nuclear power and threatening to use it.
It was at a time when France was starting to explode their bombs.
SANE stands for a sane nuclear policy. It is composed of businessmen, educators, intellectuals and just plain people, who would like to contribute their time and money for the good of the world.
They asked us for help and we gave it to them at no cost.
They said please, let’s do an advertising campaign. Let’s get the public involved in this thing. There is too much pacificism. Get them to write letters to their Congressmen. Get them to force a test-ban-treaty throughout the world. We said we would love to help.
I must tell you that it was one of the most exciting things to work on a product that is more than a product. To employ all of your knowledge and all of your techniques in influencing the world. It’s a rare opportunity for an individual who is not in a high government position or in a position of world influence to move people into doing things for the good of the world. Doing these ads was one of the most satisfying experiences of my career.
Norman Cousins, editor of the Saturday Review, took the ads to Khrushchev at the time to show him how the American public was behind the test-ban-treaty.
I’d like to believe the ads had a little something to do with the signing of the treaty.
'The Winner of WW3' Len Sirowitz, DDB 'Dr Spock' Len Sirowitz, DDB
Dr Milk
LEN: Norman Cousins, editor of the Saturday Review, took the ads to Khruschev at the time to show him how the American public was behind the test-ban treaty.
I’d like to believe the ads had a little something to do with the signing of the treaty.

DAVE: How did you come to be involved in the Anti-War Movement?
LEN: My wife and I were always marching in the peace marches, it started with the Viet Nam war.
And it was intense.

Besides the protest marches in New York and Washington I was involved with creating powerful, full-page ads with Dave Reider for The Coalition for a Democratic Alternative which positioned Eugene McCarthy, against Hubert Humphrey, who then served as VP under Lyndon Johnson and was tainted by Johnson’s disastrous Vietnam policies. Vietnam 'Press Button' Len Sirowitz, DDB'Vietnam' Len Sirowitz, DDB
DAVE: I would imagine the ‘FOR WHAT’ ad was very shocking at the time, it doesn’t pull it’s punches?
LEN: Iwas a full-page in The New York Times, and it was very shocking, especially the line ‘THE FIRST STEP: JOHNSON MUST GO.”
I set the type one night, and the next day I just looked at it in my hands, I was shaking, in those days you’d never say that about your President.
It was always your President, right or wrong.
Dave Reider did an amazing job with that copy, it’s worth reading, I love the last line ‘The time has come for the quiet, long-suffering citizens to stop stewing and start boiling.’'For What' Len Sirowitz, DDB
DAVE: How was the ad received?
LEN:  Well, it’s a long story. We have to go back to when Kennedy was assassinated, after that happened his VP Johnson was sworn in as President and Hubert Humphrey became his VP.  On the positive side, Johnson was very involved with forcing new highway legislation through Congress as Ralph Nader’s book “Unsafe at any Speed”, blasting the automotive industry for unsafe practices, was becoming more well-known.  In other words, highway safety was in the air.

To clarify events, let’s go back in time. While it was Kennedy who had been responsible for sending military advisors to Vietnam, Lyndon Johnson resisted getting more involved with the war as he was about to run for his first full term as President against Barry Goldwater.  Goldwater was a right-wing, conservative Republican who took a pro-war position.  The Democratic National Committee then hired DDB to help create Johnson’s campaign.  I was not involved with that campaign but DDB did an amazing job of painting Barry Goldwater as a war mongering radical who if elected, would send the world into a nuclear disaster.  (The famous “Daisy Girl” commercial created by art director, Sid Myers, is a shining example of the work done for that campaign.)

Now the other side of Lyndon Baines Johnson…
After Johnson and Humphrey won the election, Johnson became more and more involved with escalating the Vietnam war.  As the Vietnamese army (the Viet Cong,) became more and more successful and more and more American soldiers were wounded and dying in Vietnam, Johnson arrogantly declared that he would not become the first U.S. President to lose a “god-damned” war.  As his first full-term as President was coming to an end, he announced that he would be running for a second term.  And so, the underground anti-war movement began to swell.  Other Democratic alternatives began to oppose Johnson and his war mongering actions.  The Coalition for a Democratic Alternative was formed to seek another candidate who opposed the war.  And that brings us to the “For What?” ad.
As I previously explained, when Senator Eugene McCarthy, a relatively unknown anti-war candidate from Minnesota ran in the New Hampshire primaries against Lyndon Johnson, he took the majority of the Democratic votes.  This forced Johnson to go on national television with the following announcement:
“I shall not seek and will not accept the nomination of my party for another term as your President.”

The anti-war movement was beginning to build in America.
It was no longer the “long -haired crazies, the druggies, the dropouts from society” but solid citizens, students, college professors, business men and women that were demanding an end to the insanity in Vietnam.
To get more and more good folks out to vote we created an event, called The Moritorium. Representatives of the anti-war movement, which included the Lt. Governor 
of Colorado, my creative partner, Dave Reider and I met in my apartment in Manhattan to plan the event.
The ads “Ring Bell To End War!” and “Fathers and Sons Together Against The War!”  were several of the ads we ran. The copy dramatically explains the course of action.
For me, personally, being 
directly involved in this momentous occasion was the thrill of my young life.

DAVE: All in all, ‘For what?’ was a pretty effective use of a full-page, but were DDB ok with DDB staff doing freelance ads knocking the President?
LEN: Sure, Mac Dane wrote us a cheque to give to the New York Times to pay for the page.
DAVE: Because he supported the cause or you guys?
LEN:
The cause, DDB was very, very liberal-minded place.
At the time they were working for the Hubert Humphrey campaign and journalists found out that a team from the agency that was pushing Hubert Humphrey had done this ad.
Bill was asked by the Humphrey guys to make sure it didn’t happen again.
He told them no, what his guys did in their spare time was their business.
The Hubert Humphrey business went elsewhere.

DAVE: I like your ‘Dear Charlie’ approach,  where did it come from?
LEN: From the late, great Bob Levenson, who profoundly said” whenever I write a piece of copy, I start by writing “Dear Charlie”.Then I write the copy. Then I cross out “Dear Charlie” That was Bob’s stern lecture on always talk to one person at a time.
DAVE: I like your ‘Dear Charlie’ approach, it’s the polar opposite of Ed McCabe’s; stick ‘Schmuck’ at the end of the headline then peel it off later.Coalition For a Democratic Alternative 'Suddenly' Len Sirowitz, DDB
DAVE: I never stop and admire the look of your ads. I’m too busy reading them.
LEN:
As an art director I don’t take that as an insult.
My goal has always been to create simple,accessible messages that appealed to the human element and resonated personally with each viewer.

DAVE: It’s a compliment. I’ve been on too many awards juries where there’s a clamour for a particularly cool looking campaign, and I’ll ask ‘what’s your favourite execution?’,  instead of saying which idea,  some jurors say things like ‘The blue one’ or ‘The one with the upside down type’. They can’t remember what the message was, just how it looked.

DAVE: What’s the biggest change in you witnessed in the ad business?
LEN: The use of a computer as a designer’s tool has done far more harm than good.

DAVE: Choice used to cost money.
Every time you wanted to see a headline in a different font it would come with a bill attached.

A famous British Art director, called Paul Arden, was considered a maniac because he would want to see a headline in many different fonts, sometimes as many as seven.
Today, any art director can set a headline in tens of thousands of fonts. Free.
Has unlimited options helped creativity?
LEN: No.  I believe it confuses it and a lot of wasted energy.

DAVE: Ever seen a good ad from Britain?
LEN: Yes. I can recall a powerful ad featuring a profile silhouette of a male in his ninth month of pregnancy.  I remember thinking it was great at the time.
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DAVE: Do you ever miss those joyous ‘Got it! let’s make a car out of different colour panels!’ moments? 
LEN: No.  I found a substitute environment where I can let my creative juices flow at the Art Students League of New York where I create large format charcoal drawings from live models.Len Sirowitz Drawing.
DAVE: I know naming names is a bit taboo, but who’s the smartest person you’ve come across?
LEN: My wife of 60 years. Mickey, with her impeccable wisdom, has been my greatest sounding board ever since we met at the High School of Music & Art, forever ago.
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DAVE: Name a DDB employee you felt never got the recognition they deserved?
LEN: I would say my old buddy, Sid Myers who did some wonderful work for El Al Airlines and the memorable “Daisy Commercial”.

El Al 'We've Been In The Travel Business..' Len Sirowitz:Bob Levenson, DDB
DAVE: What’s the biggest change in you witnessed in the ad business?
LEN: The use of a computer as a designer’s tool has done far more harm than good.

DAVE: Tell me you haven’t, like many in our business, thrown out your beautiful, original proofs of ‘Green fender’, ‘Do this or die’, ‘George Shearing’ etc.
LEN: This might surprise you, but I have original proofs of every one of the ads you mentioned and lots more.
DAVE: It delights me Len.

I don’t agree with those who throw it in the bin saying it’s all chip paper, (American Translation: Yesterdays Newspaper), it appears cool to adopt that view, but it takes a lot of staring at blank walls, mental blocks, negotiation, arguing, persuading, protecting and concentrating to create anything halfway decent.
So why treat it like rubbish.
If I lived in the States I’d be on my way to your house with my scanner now.
Len Sirowitz
DAVE: The inevitable Mad Men questions; Do you watch it? Does it feel accurate, has it made you appear cooler?
LEN: I watched a few episodes and I can emphatically tell you that Don Draper comes off as an empty suit and not like any creative person I ever worked with.  So ended my viewing.

DAVE: If your house was on fire and you could only save one ad, which would it be?
LEN:  That’s truly a tough one. If you asked which VW ad I would rescue, I think it would be ” Will we ever kill the bug?”
I guess I want it to live forever.VW 'Will we ever' Len Sirowitz, DDB
I knew that the sealed bottom of our dear beetle closely resembled the belly of a real bug.  So we decided to create an ad about the car’s immortality.
Therefore our headline, “Will we ever kill the bug?”  And our first word of copy emphatically answered, “Never.”
So we set out to photograph an upside-down car.
After borrowing a brand new VW from a local dealer, we brought in a huge crane from which we hung the car, in a manner that it could be lowered, and ever so gently set down on its roof.
The late afternoon light was beautiful.  The photographer, with his camera on a tripod in a locked position, was ready to shoot.
And then it happened.  In a split second after the car touched the ground, its roof caved in.  Fortunately, the camera clicked off two shots as we watched and listened in horror to the sound of the crunches as the roof collapsed before our eyes.
The best of it all, was that we had the elements of a great ad.
The worst of it, was that we had to get up the nerve to return the caved in, (ahem) slightly used car to a very puzzled Volkswagen dealer.

DAVE: Thanks Len, it’s been an joy.

 

 

nb. LEN TALKS VW: