THE WOMEN WHO BUILT DDB, 6: Carole Anne Fine

One of the frustrations of putting together these Women Who Built DDB posts is trying to track down their work.
The journey starts with scouring old copies of The New York Art Director’s Club Annual and Communication Arts magazines.
After that, it’s a desperate flick through the random old books and magazines my wife is forever on at me to get rid of.
With a bit of luck I’ll find a bunch of grainy little back and white squares with the appropriate creative’s name in the credits.
If its press or poster; I can scan it and show it here.
If its tv; forget it. (I figure you (yes you) can live without seeing a picture of a 1960s chef with the word ‘Buitoni’ enigmatically written underneath it.
So then it’s onto Youtube.
Then Vimeo.
Then a last minute scramble on Google.
One search term is never enough, so after ‘Buitoni chef ad 1967’, ‘Buitoni tv spot 1967’, ‘Buitoni commercial vintage’ and any other combination I can think of we have our haul.
If you’re lucky, the ad you’re looking for pops up and it’s like winning a raffle, but mostly it doesn’t.
(Not exactly the glamorous world of advertising I thought I’d signed up for in 1985.)
Unfortunately, in Carole Anne Fine’s case, very few of those little black and white squares turned into Quicktimes.
Frustrating, but on the upside her interview is great – she’s very frank.
It was given in 1970, a few months after she’d joined Wells Rich Greene from DDB, where she’d worked for the previous decade.

(Vice President & Copy Supervisor of Wells Rich Green & DDB).
Japan’s IDEA magazine, 1970.

What time do you get to the office and what time do you leave?
Between 9:30 and 10 o’clock and I leave my office around 6:30 or a little after. I get home 6:30 or 7 most nights.

How do you juggle being a mother and a copywriter?

I don’t think I even work at it any more.
I’ve worked ever since my kid was born, which was nine years ago.
He just knows that I go to work, when I come home in the evening I spend as much time with him as I can.

How do you make the two jobs work?
One day an incident came up. I had a housekeeper taking care of my child, but when he got sick I had a very important client meeting, so I had decide whether to go or not? 

As my career had developed, I been given more money, better jobs and more responsibility, so I had to make up my mind which thing do I do?
I talked to my husband about it and he said something that was really very good, he’s not like a typical male who  thinks it would be better if I didn’t work at all, I work and he accepts it.
He said, “Listen, are you serious about your job or are you not serious about it? John (that’s my child) doesn’t always come first.”

Since his temperature wasn’t terribly high anyway I knew he wasn’t that sick, so I decided to go to the client meeting and let my housekeeper take care of him. If anything bad came up, I could always come home. And I did that.
I think it really was the first time when my job became equal to my child and since then, I think, I’ve become more and more intent on doing my own thing.

I’m not answering this in 1,2,3,4… logical steps ’cause I can’t.

In the very beginning, I’d feel guilty, because when my kid was very little, about three years old, he grabbed me when I came home at night. I was very tired and was still thinking about something that happened in the office, but he grabbed me and wanted me to play a game. I would do it anyway ’cause I felt I ought to.
I went through that for about a year but I just got angry with him because I was tired.
What I wanted to do was sit down and have a drink, like Scotch, and relax.
Then I decided that I had to be straight with him ’cause he was an intelligent child and he would understand. And I just said, “I want to be with you and play with you but I’m not going to be phony about it, ’cause I’ll just get mad in the end”. Whether he’s totally accepted or not I don’t know, but he takes things out on me that I think kids with mothers at home may not do.
He never has been able to totally get my total attention, I’m aware of it and he’s aware of it, but it just worked out.

If I were the kind of writer who wrote novels, I’d really love to do a book about the serious career mother, because I think that it’s only in this generation, it’s only in the last maybe fifteen years, that you have more and more women really dedicated to the job.
I am accepted emotionally.
I mean, for all practical purposes, I work just like a man.
I’m not a man emotionally or in my actions or maybe I do a different kind of work in the sense of where I express myself.
But I work just like a man. 

Are there many mom-copywriters in America?
I think yes, but I’m not sure.

Oh, really!
Because what happens is that they start young very often, by the time they get married they’re making $20,000 a year, maybe a little more. They’re involved in it ‘cause it can be a very exciting job as they move along.
So they just stay home for a couple of months while they’re having the baby.
They’re making more money than most women make, (we do make a lot of money) so they’re able to hire people to stay home and take care of their children. So they just go on working.

Do you draw any advantage for copywriting from being a mother?
One great thing is discovering how a child thinks, and I use my child all the time for this.
A kid thinks very clearly and very straight, no nonsense. If they see a fat lady they say, “Hey, look. There’s a fat lady”. They don’t try to cover up and weasel, they’re just very straight and very simple.
So just seeing the way my kid thinks and the way my kid talks is a kind of great thing for me to be around.
I feel that if I could speak as simply as he does, I could communicate perfectly on television.

So you get your ideas from everywhere, including your home?
Yes, everywhere.

What is your official title in your agency?
Also, what accounts do you handle now?

My official title here is Copy Supervisor. I have people working under me.
At this agency (Wells Rich Greene) we have very small groups because it’s a small, 
young and growing agency.
Now I’m working on Love, which is a cosmetic, Samsonite luggage and Personna, which is a razor blade.

How many years were you at DDB?

Describe your career history and why you chose this career.
Well, I’m not going to tell how old I am.
I was born in Chicago in the Mid West and I went to school there, I went to college.
I didn’t like Chicago and I came to New York.
First of all, I went to the Coast, to California but it wasn’t quite what I was looking for, so I came to New York. 

I was going to be a writer, like a lot of people I had a little talent and sold few stories.
Then I met a guy, got married and stopped working.

Student marriage?
No, I met him when he was in the Army.
After a while, we ran out of money and I had to start working.
I just sort of fell into writing copy. I’d never, in my life, had any intention of going into advertising.

An accident?
Oh yes, just a pure accident.
I worked at Ziff-Davis (Flying 1 magazine) for a very short time and then left for another place. 

Within the space of about a year or a year and a half that, I went from one job to the other, each job was better than the last and each time I was getting experiences and learning more.

Was your writing ability recognised?
I always had two qualities.
One was I always had a talent for writing.
The other was that I was a sound thinker.
I didn’t have training in anything, but I could fasten myself onto a problem.
As soon as I began to get training the two things started to happen together.

What did you learn at DDB?
Oh, that’s a hard question to answer.
Because I learned everything there. DDB is the only other agency I’ve ever worked at.
I’m sure that so many writers before me have talked about Bill Bernbach and the whole DDB school of advertising.
How shall I put this?
DDB was, and still is, the most swinging of all the American agencies.
(My agency is also great but in another way. It’s smaller, it’s a little wilder.)
But I think that advertising is a funny business – p
robably 97% of advertising is really bad, no I won’t be so hard on it, let’s say 90% is really bad, it’s bad because the agencies are really afraid to be free and argue with the client.
They’re afraid to explain to the client.
The client knows how to make a product, fine, but you know how to make advertising.
probably kind of feudal.
People being afraid of what the people above them think, that’s why 90% of advertising is bad. 

They’re all these old standards and all these old rules that are supposed to be true and are really untrue.
It’s like, you can say this and you can’t say that. That’s not true. There’s nothing you can’t say.
But somebody’s got to do it first, somebody’s got to innovate.

I think Helmut Krone, whom you know about, was the one of earliest people to start really doing his own thing. Somebody said, “You can’t use that typeface in this ad” and he said, “Of course I can use this typeface and it’s beautiful”. And he did. 

I think at the beginning with me at Doyle Dane Bernbach, I was afraid too because first of all I was so impressed by the agency and by Bill Bernbach, by the whole thing that I said, “Oh, how can I be working here, I’m the dumbest one here, everyone else here must be great to even be here, but not me.”
But after a couple of years I started to really do my own thing, because Bernbach may believe in hard sell, sound sell, but also in tremendous freshness.

Can talented copywriters do good work in bad agencies?
If they keep being rejected, then they will get out of that agency fast.
Talented writers are always recognized and will always find places where they will feel free.

Which agencies do you think provide copywriters with the best atmosphere?
Please name as many of them as possible.

DDB of course.
This agency, Wells, Rich, Greene, Carl Ally, Smith Greenland and there are some boutique, as they’ve been calling themselves in the advertising columns, like Case Krone and Curt Canvenison Simon.
Y&R has some bad things, but many good things too.
Jack Tinker of course, before they had problems.
Lois Holland Callaway.
That’s as many as occur to me right now, I’m sure there are lots more.

It’s interesting to hear that you didn’t include Thompson.
In Japan, even a huge company like Dentsu is so bureaucratic that nobody really wishes to go there, unless he needs security. 

That’s in Dentsu?
Yes, but I heard even in Thompson?
Well, I don’t know, I really don’t know much about Thompson.
Ron Rosenfeld went to J. Walter Thompson and any
body really creative, there aren’t too many in New York by the way, suddenly anyone really creative got interested in J. Walter Thompson.
And then, of course, Ron’s leaving now, I don’t think the creative atmosphere there was ever creatively free.

You mean it’s a sterile organization?
Yes, exactly.

Who are the copywriters you respect? Please name as many as you want to, active or retired.
I think my number one all-time favorite copywriter is Gene Case.
But there are lot that I respect and think are great, Ron Rosenfeld is great, I think Jack Dillon is great in his own way, I think Dick Rich is great. 

Let’s see who else, let’s think about Doyle Dane, there are so many., Bob Levenson, although great, he’s probably not my favorite, Phyllis Robinson, of course, who’s great.
I also like Al Hampel who is in Y&R.

Of your own work, what do you like best?
Usually, when I finish something, I don’t like it. It’s a very common reaction.
I always think “Why did I do it that way? Maybe I should have done it this way.”
A lot writers think this way.
I always think I could’ve done it better. 

Now, one of the ads that I like best is a commercial for Love, which I’ve just done, it’s running on television now.
It’s a whole new kind of concept that hasn’t been done before.
The problem that Love cosmetics had was that they were appealing to very young kids; teenagers between 14 and 20, but they couldn’t make enough money that way. So they wanted to change the whole thing.
They needed to appeal to between 25 and 30, take a slice out of the bigger cosmetics market, out Revlon, Revlon.
Giving a very clear idea of what the product is, that’s a hard sell.
I think cosmetics should be sold on sex, I think that’s really the feeling of the age, I mean that’s like what it is today.
The simplest way I can describe Love is based on sex.
It’s a kind of sexy commercial that’s never be done before, without being dumb sex or boring sex.
I’d need to show it to you right now to describe that feeling.
It’s the people that we picked to be in it, the kind of the situation that we picked. It’s really is one of my favorites.
The other one was a campaign I did about a year and a half ago for Buitoni.
It was very bold, very crazy, we took a very ordinary selling point and turned it into something very fresh.
I really had a lot of fun with it and it just hit the Americans with a kind of boldness and that worked.

What do you think is the most important skill of a copywriter?
The first thing is you have to have a very sound thinking mind. Not even a lot of people have one.
Talent is something you don’t even count because you shouldn’t be doing it if you can’t write or communicate in words. So I don’t even count that, as talent is absolutely in born. It’s something you can’t learn.
Making people buy something by the words that you use to describe the thing? On a printed page, radio or tv spot? That’s talent. You can’t teach anybody, you just can’t.
I could take the world’s greatest thinker, or an astronaut, who has a tremendous engineering mind, but I just could never make a copywriter out of them.

Do you think soundness of thinking is a priority?

Yes. I think that’s the most important thing.
I think soundness probably comes after the talent.
Soundness is probably the most important thing you can have, just to being able to communicate in words isn’t enough.
You have to figure out what aspect of this product is going to be the most appealing to people.
And in order to do that, you have to really know the product thoroughly.
You have to be able to zero in on the product and realize what aspect of it you can best communicate to people.
It sounds easy, but it is the hardest thing in the world. I mean to just sit down and do it is not so easy.
A great example is that you very often see great public service ads, because public service is a kind of human thing. You know kids are starving in Biafra. It isn’t very difficult to write a very emotional ad about starving kids, it’s something most writers can do.
But if you have to sell a wire cord hanger to somebody – that’s not so emotional, or exciting.
You have to know how you can communicate the story of the most miserable, unimportant things to people, like toothpaste. Or soap and detergents, which is awful, because nobody cares.
And that’s when you need really the sound thinking.
Also, you have to have a feeling for what people really want.
It’s not as simple as reading a psychology book.
Like Mary Wells, I think one of the secrets of her success is that she just has this feeling of what’s going to work, what’s going to sell to people.
She has a kind of unfailing in that instinct.

Like a divine quality?
I don’t know?
Bill Bernbach really has it.

Thinking also counts, I mean you really have to think it through.
One thing that’s happening in advertising is that it’s getting less and less phony.
People see through it right away. I’m talking about Americans, you really do have to be honest. I can’t say that a lipstick is going to make you the most beautiful woman in the world, but I can make you feel it.
But I’d never say it because it’s phoney.
People are getting more sophisticated and seeing through dishonesty.

So you can’t trick consumers with words, you have to appeal to their feelings?

Yes, absolutely. I think that all the most successful campaigns and advertisements that have ever been done appealed to feelings first, then minds.
I think Volkswagen is a great example of that – it reaches you just emotionally and then it really says something.

What’s your teaching method?

You mean if I have somebody in my group or teaching in a class?
I taught last year at the School of Visual Arts, where I taught advertising with an art director, it was just as if they were here at the agency in my group.
We give them an assignment and we explain the problem, such as it’s a thirty second commercial – that’s all they have money for – and it’s for TWA who want to announce that they’re now flying non-stop to Tokyo.
So they do the commercial and then we put the commercial up on the board in school and we talk about it.
And students talk about it.
We try to point out to them why we think it’s bad or why we think it is good or what they could do to make it better.
I try to find out what they were thinking.
So they begin to think more clearly and more carefully.

Are you adopting a one-to-one relationships rather than one to many relationship?

Oh, you mean in the class. Yes, I can’t really get up and give a lecture on advertising because that’s not how anybody ever understands anything.
It’s not like when you’re giving a course in Shakespeare. It’s more personal.
So I would take one student at a time once in a while.
and say, for example is, in a commercial if your picture is saying one thing and the words are saying another, that it’s very confusing. People can’t relate.
I’ll discuss the commercial with the student. And then I’ll show it in the class and will say, “You can’t go two directions, for people can’t do both things at one time”.
So that’s how I do it in the class.
They argue and I like to argue with them.

How do you observe the future trend or fate of copywriter?

That’s a hard one to answer.
I’m not very good in verbalizing things.
Maybe because I’m a writer.
I think the older structure, where management supervisors or account executives had the last words, saying, “Oh no, we can’t do this” is slowly going out.
I mean, everybody wants to do his own thing, something new.
So I think it’s going to become a lot more swinging, maybe the way this is going to happen is an awful lot of new places will open up, a copywriter and art director getting together?
Maybe not terribly young, because when you are 21, you don’t really know anything.

Do you have the desire to have your own agency?

Yes, I’ve been thinking for a while about having an agency in Europe.
I know it’s very difficult, and if I were strong enough to have it now, I would have it.
Most people would.
You have to reach your certain level.
This is not a pompous statement, it’s just a statement of fact; 
I’m probably one of the highest paid writers in New York. So it gets harder to move agency and make a lot more money, even if you do, you have to give so much back in taxes. When they give me a raise now, even if it’s a good raise, I’ll get very little left for myself.
So the next step is to make real for money, a lot of money.
I would like to have my own agency but I’m conflicted, they’re treating me very well here.
But the only way to really make a lot of money is to have your own place.

How would you find business?

You have to start with an account.
It’s that simple.
Although I’ve never really had the discussion with anybody who did it, but I think if you have just one account, maybe if you’re working at an agency with a client who’s unhappy with the agency but happy with the writer and the art director, maybe you go and talk to them?
You get one client interested in you and then you can start an agency.
If you’re going to bill $2.5 or $3 million a year, that’s enough to start an agency.
It’s kind of like doctors; it’s all about reputation, do something good and that’s how it starts.

More Carole…

Carole went on to found her own agency – Baron, Costello & Fine.
(Work below.)

She is also credited with creating the iconic Absolut campaign whilst Creative Director at TBWA.

Once again, thanks to Vikki Ross for her help with this post.


3 responses to THE WOMEN WHO BUILT DDB, 6: Carole Anne Fine

  1. Nick George says:

    Dave, I worked with Carole Anne for a week. I had been sent to TBWA Paris by Chris Martin about two months out of art school and into my first job. Years later I was looking for a job in NYC and got to meet Olivia Altschuler, who was a headhunter then, but had been Carole Anne’s copywriter at DDB a while before. Olivia is still around, I think. Best I could find for a contact is here:

    Maybe she might want to chat.
    Cheers now,

    • dave dye says:

      Thanks Nick, good to know. Hope you’re well. Dx

      • Nick George says:

        Thanks Dave, all good here in Vietnam (last 2.5 years), and the best to you.
        I recall Carole Anne as a petite Italian American, with a highly intelligent and inquisitive brain, and most certainly a feisty and passionate personality.
        She was curious about me and the job journey I had just started on, and we had quite a long conversation about pizza which at the time, 1983, I knew next to nothing about. She detested Chicago deep dish pizza as an assault on her Italian heritage. We spent the week making pitch campaigns for Bally shoes, and being hurtled around parts of Paris by Ule Wiesendanger (the W), in Ule’s beat up Mini Clubman.

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