“It’s not the size of the budget.
It’s the ferocity of the idea”
– Paula GRRRRReen.
I’d seen that name underneath some Avis ads.
But Helmut Krone’s campaigns tend to be referred to as Helmut Krone’s campaigns. (See what I mean?)
The spotlight rarely makes it past him.
So the writers, and often originators, of much of his most famous work get forgotten.
Avis is a prime example.
I love the art direction of the Avis campaign, but I love the thinking behind it more.
The Volkswagen campaign may be a more famous, but in terms of thinking, I prefer Avis.
Come to think of it, what is the idea behind the Volkswagen campaign? Hundreds of great one-offs unified by a great (and breakthrough at the time) tone of voice.
‘We’re No 2, so we try harder’ positioned a company, inside and out, getting employees to work harder and the public to root for them.
No mean feat.
Who could fail to empathise with the truism that if you’re not the biggest, richest or most famous, you have to try harder?
Everybody loves an underdog.
Paula Green wrote it, describing it this way “We were really creating an operating manual for the company, saying you had to give customers a clean car, windshield wipers had to work, cars had to have a full tank of gas.”
Many in the agency objected to the idea, feeling that No. 2 was a put-down, so Green sent the researchers down to airports to get feedback on the ads.
They came back to report that 50% of people thought that No. 2 meant “not as good as.”
That kills most campaigns.
But Bill Bernbach piped up “What about the other 50%?” and the campaign ran.
(It’s a great reminder; we aren’t seeking broad agreement that a campaign is ok, we’re looking for a small constituency to fall in love.)
Four years later Avis had increased its market share from 11% to 34%.
They used the line for the next 50 years. (And they’ll use it again, I guarantee.)
Paula also wrote and oversaw great work on Heinz and Quaker before, in 1969, setting up her own agency Green Dolmatch.
(Later changed to Paula Green Advertising Inc.)
She funded it with the money she’d made on her Avis shares, she’d bought them soon after being assigned to the account.
She felt she needed independence, saying “Years ago when I was working on detergents, I would be the only woman in a meeting with the production manager, account supervisor, art director and so on, but I couldn’t get them to listen.
On one occasion I was the only one in the group who had any experience in doing wash, but they didn’t care because it did not fit into what they had already planned to do. One man practically hissed ‘you sound just like my wife’.”
Her agency did mainstream work for the likes of The New York Times, Subaru and Goya beans (“There’s a bean for every girl and boya, in the food store section known as Goya”) but most of the agency’s work was cause driven.
This was partly because that was her preference and partly because she refused to work on products she didn’t believe in.
One of the first ads she wrote for her new agency was a tv ad promoting self-examination for The American Cancer Society.
(Paula had survived breast cancer as a young woman.)
She described her approach like this “I believe in words, they should come from the heart of the matter, I always feel I must first make a sensory connection, a gut connection, about how I feel about something before I do it.”
(AN INTERVIEW WITH PAULA FROM FROM JAPAN’S IDEA MAGAZINE, 1970.)
How did you come to DDB?
I’d been working at an agency and I had taken the summer off to join my husband in a job at children’s camp.
He’d been working very hard. He had just finished school again. And the agency I had worked with would not give me a leave of absence.
So I had had no job when I came back.
At that point I called Ned Doyle. Actually I’d known him at Grey Advertising, where he’d originally been. I’d known all these people and had yearned to come work for them years before.
And he had suggested “You know our Mrs. Robinson? Why don’t you come in and see her?” I got my book together and I came in and met her, we struck it off very well and she hired me. Originally, I was hired to work as a writer for the Chemstrand account.
DDB was about twenty million dollars at the time, on two floors, art and copy on the 25th, administration on the 26th. That’s now the size of copy alone. Then, I guess I was one of 8 or 9 writers.
And one of the nicest things happened when I was hired. I was joining around Christmas and Mrs. Robinson (she was a copy chief at the time) called me and said “Look Paula, you’re going to come to work for us, anyway; come to the Christmas party, meet everybody before you start.”
So I started on a very happy, generous note, which by the way, I think has been true for the twelve years I have been here since.
How many people were there when you came to DDB?
I don’t know? I think the Christmas party had about 200 people, something like that. I mean everybody, clerk, secretaries, writers, art directors, bullpen, account executives, the entire agency consisted of about 200 people.
What motivated you to be a copywriter?
I was born in Los Angeles and went to school in California.
When I was through, my mother, having just got back from a trip to New York, said “Why don’t you go to New York, Paula?”
I asked “For what?”
“I think you’d like it” she answered.
So I came and I fell madly in love with it.
I had a few friends that I had met on the coast, men from New York.
I was talking with one of them and he said “Why don’t you get a job in an advertising agency?”
I thought that it was a nice idea, so I got a job as secretary to a promotion director of a magazine.
He was a great fellow, a marvellous teacher, a very bright man with a great knowledge of graphics and writing.
It was a very small operation, so we did everything, and he let me do writing, layout. This was a magazine for men called TRUE Magazine, which has been quite successful. He taught me all along the line. He let me help him writing letters, he helped me learn how to do these things mostly by example and by saying “Write this” and showing me whether it was right.
I’d been involved in writing of one sort or another, all my life. I just liked to write. I’d been writing in elementary school, junior high school, in little newspapers and putting on programs. It became a part of me.
But I’d never considered it as a job, certainly not in connection with advertising, because I didn’t know anybody doing that sort of thing in Los Angeles.
So it wasn’t until I came to New York that I got into the merchandising and sales promotion end of magazine work.
When my boss left, I was made Promotions Director, which permitted me to meet agency people, one day they called to say “I think there’s a job over here for you. Come on over.”
So I was introduced to the people at Grey Advertising and went to work there in the Sales Promotion department, I started writing sales promotion for an enormous list of accounts. I left them after I married and had my child.
But when my child was very small I did freelance for them all the time, it gave us extra money that we needed at that time.
My husband then decided to go back to engineering school, so I went back to work for a magazine, in the promotions department of SEVENTEEN magazine, eventually I became the Promotions Manager, handling and writing pamphlets and ads. I found the job unfulfilling, so I left them after a while.
And a friend of mine, who was working in an agency, said “Won’t you come over and talk to people here. We do very nice work”.
That was the LC Gumbinner Agency, they were very nice and hired me.
At that particular agency, I did copy contact, account work, a little copy that was not much like publicity, the thing that clients really like.
So when I came to DDB I was not even sure that I wanted to be a writer, I thought maybe I would be an account person because at that time we did not have any account women. But they weren’t interested in me in that way. Mr Doyle soon said “I really think you should look into the copy part.”
That’s how I got into it.
Why do you continue?
I like it.
Of the number of things that I can do, it’s the most rewarding.
At this point, with my background and experience, it brings me into direct and interesting contact with so many facts of just plain life and business.
Through the creative part, I’m involved in the most alive and interesting things in the art world today; in graphics, in film, in music, in acting, in the talent that is engaged in all sorts of activities, the best actors, actresses around, the best cameramen, the best directors.
Also, because you deal with people who run large corporations, you speak to them about the most exciting things happening in business too. And I don’t know any other job that would put me in touch with so many facts of American life, both artistic and economic. That’s why I’m in it.
It has one of the best atmospheres you’ll find.
Basically, it comes from the top, they have a philosophy of open-mindedness and nourishment of creative activity and diverse ideas.
They nourish and encourage you to be as good creatively as you can.
There’s never been a dictum sating “You must write this way because I would write it this way.”
But rather “What can you do that will best solve the problem?”
They have encouraged diversity.
They encourage you to be as good as you can be.
And that’s a rare thing.
Also, you’re never penalized because a client did not like something.
It’s both reward and responsibility.
It is a unique place because the people who run this place are unique.
Atmosphere does not percolate from bottom up, it comes from the top down.
And you can only be as good as the people at the top let you be.
Here, they let you be very good indeed.
I’ve worked in a couple of other agencies; certainly this is the best.
And from what I hear from outside, even though we’ve grown very big, it continues to be the most open, most encouraging. Generally speaking, growth tends to make things less possible, I’ve not found that to be the case here.
Do you think talented writers can write good ads anywhere?
No, I do not think a talented writer can do a good job regardless of the agency.
They can only do as good a job as they’re allowed to do.
They may fulfil their agency requirements, but that’s not the same as doing the best they can do.
It’s very frustrating to know you can do something and not be allowed to do it, due to client or agency pressures.
And that’s why, when hiring people, we ask them to show us what they wanted to do but was not accepted.
It allows us to judge how far and how brilliantly they had thought, what they could’ve done, not just what they’d been allowed to do.
We think that is very important.
By the way, I think the copywriting should not be called copywriting.
It’s an unfortunate title.
I think you first must be a thinker, a thinker about the problem of selling.
Then, when you can really put that into words, then you become the person who puts the words of the idea down.
Too many people think that to be a copywriter they simply need to be able to write clever and bright words.
That’s not the case.
Our sole purpose is to sell.
First you have to be a salesman.
You have to have good merchandising and sales concepts.
Good psychological insights and motivations.
When you can put good words to them, then you become a so-called copywriter. I think many people get misled.
They think if they can write, they can be an advertising copywriter.
I do not believe that.
How do you lead and teach your young writers?
Let me see, I hope I encourage them to be fresh and bright and to face the real problem of the assignment, not to face the problem they prefer.
I think the most important problem in growing up in this business is “are you dealing with what the problem really is” or do you say “I don’t like that problem. I’d rather do this.”
I really do not know how I teach.
I hope with enthusiasm and a firm viewpoint, but not dogmatic, and by being very demanding.
I like preciseness. I do not like vagueness. I like clarity, I like simplicity, I do not like cleverness for the sake of cleverness.
I like clear-minded people who have a mind of their own; open-minded at the same time.
And this is a hard combination to find.
But I taught in the past.
What is your secret of making your career and housekeeping compatible?
I’m not sure they are.
I think my secret is my marvellous husband and marvellous housekeeper.
I think they are more compatible as I am better at home as mother and wife.
I think the economic security allows you to do so many jobs better because you worry so much less when you make a decision.
You’re no longer concerned if it’s wrong.
It’s harder to correct a mistake with little money to spend.
As the economics have improved, so too have my relationships.
And I have a great son. That helps.
I think the other one thing I do is that I try very hard to be at home as mother and wife, I try not to let business wash over into my social relationships.
Do you have a knack to getting along well with art directors?
I do not know.
I think the knack is always how to get along with anyone.
You have a point of view but you are open to their point of view.
You understand in their way who they are.
They have their needs and wants and you try to work with those.
Just as they try to work with mine.
I think perhaps a woman has the advantage in a sense of being able to be understanding in this relationship.
Without trying very hard, if she is a woman and understands she is a woman, she gets along with a man non-competitively, hopefully as a companion.
By the way, I think they react the same way. I do not believe it is ever one-sided. As much as I give, obviously someone else is equally giving.
The knack is, I think, to treat them as good friends with a single-minded job to do, it’s not a matter of ego but a matter of professional man craft. I hope that’s true.
Please tell me your favourite ads.
I like the Avis campaign. I was the original Avis girl, the original writer on the Avis campaign.
Obviously it was a milestone in my career, in advertising, in the industry, in almost the world.
I don’t think we dreamed what would happen.
Nobody said “Oh boy, this is going to set everybody on his car.”
We hoped to do a job.
We thought it was a great thing.
We had no idea how absolutely far-reaching it was going to be.
We thought we had something, obviously, or we wouldn’t have done it.
But we could never have realized what was going to happen when we did it.
With the first ads, we were really creating an operating manual for the company, saying you had to give customers a clean car, windshield wipers had to work, cars had to have a full tank of gas.
Although it ran later, the first ad was “Avis is only No.2 in rent a car business. So why go with us?” So that is obviously my absolute favourite.
Four years later the rent-a-car company’s market share had increased from 11% to 34%.
Avis used the line for the next 50 years. (And they’ll use it again, I guarantee.)
She went on to do great work on Heinz and Quaker before se
What advice by Mr Bernbach has impressed you most?
My very first experience with this company, which absolutely amazed me, was the extraordinary straight-forward dealing with clients, their conviction and honesty, I was terribly amazed. I didn’t know it existed.
It was always coupled with great intelligence, keen-ness and wit.
From the very beginning they allowed me to be honest and open with clients.
No one ever told me “Don’t say anything at a meeting, Paula. Don’t give your opinion.”
They always presumed me to have judgment and allowed me to contribute as much as possible, ask questions and be forthright.
The second thing that impressed me about Mr Bernbach is that he said “Advertising is not just strictly science that you can put numbers to, but is an art and a talent. And to be fresh and provocative, always do a solid job.”
And to trust your intuition and experience.
(From 2015, upon being inducted into The One Show Hall of Fame)
To what do you attribute your success?
I don’t deny I have talent, I do; I don’t deny I’m hardworking, I am, but I’m also lucky.
I’ve been fortunate in the people I’ve met along the way who have encouraged me and opened doors—most of them men.
As a woman, what has been your biggest challenge?
From the beginning, I never just thought of myself as purely a woman.
I always thought of myself as a writer, a copywriter, who could do a job.
I suppose the biggest barrier could have been being hired in the first place.
There had to be a kind of openness on the other side for me to have gotten hired in the first place.
I worked at Grey, and they had women there; there were women who had their own smaller agencies—Bernice Fitzgibbons did all the ads for Gimbles.
There were not so many women in management or account work and certainly fewer in art direction.
But women writers did pretty much OK, depending.
You never did or did not know why you were being hired.
I would walk in to a reception area and see the receptionist and assess, is this a place where I’d be comfortable?
I could pretty much tell you places I didn’t want to work even if I went in for an interview.
At DDB, there was a kind of proud modesty to it and I liked that.
And I knew I’d fit and I also knew I’d do the kind of work that they wanted.
I came to the conclusion somewhere along the line when I was dealing at a fairly high level with male clients that they were not comfortable with women.
Not so much prejudice, but just discomfort.
They had a lack of knowledge of women; they were men of their own convictions. I went on to my own agency, and I dealt with men all the time.
It was kind of maybe self-selecting. Clients didn’t come to me if they didn’t want to deal with a woman.
The New York Times did, Goya certainly did, because they had women there, Subaru had no women but I had no problem with that.
Is ‘Mad Men’ true to form?
Oh, bull. No. I hate it. I find it just soap.
The agencies I worked for, none of that went on.
People didn’t sit around drinking in their offices.
If they did, they did it on their own time.
I had no sense of that kind of byzantine—there was competition, but among us writers.
We all wanted to do well and be recognized. But there was none of that crappy stuff.
At least to my mind.
Paula passed in 2015, she was 92.
Thanks to Vikki Ross and Alfredo Marcantonio for their help with this post.