He should be better known.
He ushered in a new, sassier way of talking.
His work felt like it was written by a very smart lawyer with a wicked sense of humour.
He influenced a generation.
But there’s almost no evidence of his existence on the internet.
In a Stalinesque style purge, Lurzer’s Archive have retouched the Fallon McElligott work to read Fallon.
Even the publishers of Luke Sullivan’s great book “Hey Whipple” seem not to know him:
I can’t find a lot of information on him out there, so it’s difficult to offer up too much, and I certainly can’t vouch for the chronology of the work below, but I’ll have a first stab and update it if complaints come in. (If anyone does know more, has higher res images or can spot errors please get in touch or leave a comment.)
So here’s what I know:
Minneapolis legend Ron Anderson hired Tom to work with him at Bozell’s.
They did some very good, very Fallon McElligott style work together:
Whilst at Bozell, Tom started taking on freelance projects with the young, Head of Media Research at another Minneapolis agency, Martin/Williams.
They called it Lunch Hour Ltd.
They got so busy, they took it to the next level, setting up an agency in 1981, along with Art Director Nancy Rice.
This is their first ad.
It ran on August 3, 1981, in the Minneapolis Star and Minneapolis Tribune.
Bob MacDonald spotted it.
Fortunately for the new agency Bob MacDonald was the Marketing Director of ITT Insurance.
Even more fortunately, Bob couldn’t find an agency who would ‘make the big insurance companies look like shit’.
They were awarded the account and Tom started making the big insurance companies look like shit.
They start picking up local accounts, very local; hair salons, lumber yards, no account appears to be too small.
Or another way to look at it, and my guess is it’s nearer the truth; no opportunity to create, however small the budget, was turned away.
The first time I saw the name Fallon McElligott was underneath these ads, in The One Show.
They’d be bold for a beer, but for a religion?
Also, who knew The Episcopal Church guys were such a fun bunch, maybe I should sign up?
The name Fallon McElligott started to turn up more and more, especially in books like the One Show.
People were taking notice of this agency in an odd location beginning with ‘M’.
One of them was Ed McCabe.
They did this ad for the Art Centre.
But all their work seemed to be infused with this attitude.
It looks horrific, sad and disturbing.
It’s an announcement card for the birth of someones daughter.
The Hush Puppies campaign.
Very influential at the time.
But they didn’t just do humour, they tackled difficult subjects head on.
The Penn campaign.
(I remember drooling over the croissant execution at the time.)
They made a convincing case for Advertising itself.
There were also a lot of these Wall Street Journal ads, unfortunately this is the only one I can find.
I’m sure they influenced The Economist campaign.
At the moment, this is the only one I can lay my hands on.
Then the Rolling Stone campaign.
The Rolling Stone’s problem was that it struggled to sell its ad space, advertisers thought it’s readers were hippies.
The solution was so simple.
So unlike any other ads at the time.
A cool scratch and sniff version. (I’m guessing smelly & fresh?)
It felt new, neither headline or visual lead, it had its own structure.
As did the Jim Beam campaign.
I’d not seen a campaign like this; A list of dates and ephemera.
As much social commentary as advertising.
But it was great advertising, positioning Jim Beam as a classic.
Not only was it incredibly distinctive, it engaged and made you think.
It’s the kind of work that could give advertising a good name.
It wasn’t done by hucksters, it was done by smart guys having fun.
I presume this was the first one. It’s neat…
…but who’d have thought it would’ve lead to all these?
They did a Christmas version.
They subverted the whole campaign idea with this responsible drinking ad.
They tackled a different aspect of drinking with the campaign for Windsor Canadian,
perfectly capturing the emotion of that first drink of the evening.
As well as coming up with distinctive, own-able, visual devices for campaigns, they also did the same with words.
The way this Lee campaign is written looks familiar now, it wasn’t at the time.
They enlisted Stevie Wonder in the war against Drink Driving.
They went visual with Power Pack.
Their work started to get National attention.
The clients they attracted got bigger, but the way they treated them stayed the same; ‘We don’t research creative work.’
They won Penn tennis balls and produced this:
They won Porsche, and with a few black letters and a pack shot, gave it attitude.
(If you’ve never tried writing three word headlines, try it, it’s really hard.)
INTERLUDE: Fallon were absolutely dominating the creative awards at this time,
One Show annuals of the period look like house brochures.
Here’s a mailer for a talk Tom gave around this time:
They needed to hire to deal with all their new business.
Having exhausted the local supply of talented ad folk they’d have to attract talented people from the East and West Coast too. But why would they go to Minneapolis ?
It’s possible Tom had just left by the time these ads ran, but they seem very Fallon McElligott.
An awards show ran this ad when it was announced that Tom was leaving Fallon McElligott.
In 1987, this ad ran. Cheeky, but relatively harmless right?
It was shown at a lecture on P.R. given by Fallon McElligott’s design arm; Duffy & Partners.
A member of the audience was offended, Dr. Neala Schleuning, so she sent Duffy & Partners a letter expressing her outrage.
In return she received the letter and photo below.
It’s signed by Duffy & Partners’ Charles S. Anderson, but its widely believed to be the work of Tom McElligott.
Dr. Schleuning started showing the letter around to friends, then to the women’s consortium and they had contacts.
US WEST, a Fallon McElligott client, had a big active women’s union.
It snowballed, getting more and more exposure.
It became known as the “Dinka incident.”
First US WEST pulled its account.
Then Wall Street Journal, then FedEx.
It was a very expensive mistake, colleagues say it affected Tom very deeply.
He started to spend more time away from the agency and miss meetings.
Within a couple of years he quit.
I’d love to update this post, to show more work, make the chronology or information more accurate, and simply to write more about Tom and Fallon McElligott.
So come on, get in touch, send me scans or leave comments, let’s make sure the next time someone searches ‘Tom McElligott’ on the internet, Google know where to find his work.
n.b. A bit more reading:
1. Tom & Ron Anderson get quizzed by Communication Arts.
2. An interview with Inc. magazine from 1986: http://www.inc.com/magazine/19860701/1527.htmlA couple of articles
3. Introducing Tom and his gang to us Brits. (Direction magazine.)
4. Catching up after he left Fallon McElligott. (Also Direction magazine.)
5. A profile of Dean Hanson.
Dean worked very closely with Tom in the early years and created a lot of the great work in this post.