Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"A noble but dumb animal...just like Royalty."

Do not get me wrong, this was said to me, by a Caballerango, (a horse-wrangler) in Mexico, at the Domecq ranch.

I actually love horses; at least I love drawing them.

While running McCann Mexico we got the Domecq account, specifically the Presidente Brandy account.
It is the largest selling brandy in the world, by volume. Mexicans drink it with Coca-Cola.

It was really a big coupe for an International agency, since it was such a traditional Mexican account.

We also handled the Coca-Cola account. There were millions of drinks served in Mexico that we had a lot to do with.

They always used the Spanish horses in their advertising, horses that they bred, originally in Spain. In Mexico they had bred a version called the Azteca, (Google it for more information).

We recommended a campaign where the horses were free; normally they always showed them controlled by a rider or a handler with a long lead.

These horses running free was no easy feat, they are not used to being free in large open spaces. We naturally wanted them running on a beach, what did we know?

We are going to shoot the commercial in Florida, on this wonderful open beach. We arrange for the horses, Spanish ones, locally from a breeder.

The Caballerango comes from Mexico with us to handle the horses.

The first thing he tells us is that we need boats in the sea, since the horses, once in the water, might swim straight out to sea. The last thing we want to do is lose one of these expensive beautiful animals, by drowning. “Sorry, the horse swam away.” To crazy to even contemplate. We get the boats, four to be safe.

The boats are positioned, out of shot, and we release the horses. We work all day to get the shots we need, without losing any horses. Yes, the boats were needed, those animals once in the water headed for Cuba.

Remember what the Cavalarango said.

The Mexican director, Pedro Torres, did a great job, In spite of the “sea horses.”

The horses were beautiful and noble, maybe just a little dumb… I do not know anything about royalty.

"We tried Bill...we tried."

Our head of International, during the seventies, was an ex Marine that had served in the Pacific during the Second World War. If you wanted to do a casting of an ex-marine, he would be perfect. He was a tough looking guy with a great stare, and when he spoke you listened.

I once turned down a job in a market and jokingly asked him if he would hold it against me, his answer was, “I am not sure that I won’t.”

Not much of a sense of humor, a real tough guy. He was a good guy though, in spite of his demeanor.
He had a great memory, and seemed to remember everybody he ever met, names, family, everything.

He did have one weakness, because of his military service, he never went to visit our Tokyo operation, number two in the world at that time. Finally he was convinced that he had to go, considering his position in the company, and especially that of our Japanese operation’s size.

He finally goes to our Tokyo operation while on a far eastern tour. He is received very graciously as is to be expected. He meets the major clients, sees the impressive agency presentation. He seemed relaxed, the Japanese manager sends him on a tour of Tokyo, and a ride on the bullet train to get a feeling of the country, Kyoto, Mt. Fuji, a very impressive couple of days. He stayed in traditional Inns had hot baths, massages, ate Sushi, the works.

When he gets back, they give him the traditional cocktail party, clients, staff, suppliers and diplomats.
While at the party he makes an observation to the Japanese manager, a very cool guy, that the country seems very crowded, buildings all over the countryside and asks the population of Japan. “ It is about 120 million people” says the manager. He thinks for a while and says to the manager, “you guys need more land.”

With a small shy smile our manager turns to him and says… “We tried Bill, we tried.”

No matter who you are, just think a little bit before you say anything…remember.

“We tried Bill, we tried.”

Monday, November 29, 2010

Opening an agency in Greece

We opened our agency in Greece during the Junta. It was the late sixties.
The same person, Tom Pappas, represented our two most important clients, Coca-Cola and Esso; he was a Greek American that came back to Greece for the business opportunities.

He was a very important guy in Greece at that time and his name carried lots of weight, as I found out at the airport when I arrived.

I had previously come to Greece before the Junta, and the airport was a very casual place. I remember sheep on the runway and people coming to the plane as we landed. I may be wrong about that, but that is the image I have. It was a different Greece before the Junta. I arrive and realize the difference when my passport is requested a few times, the airport personnel were much more buttoned up, almost an imitation Switzerland.

I was really happy to be back in Greece and was using my crummy Greek. Finally I get to customs, I spoke to him in Greek, big mistake. I had a can of film, commercials for Esso and Coke, as well as my suitcase.
He immediately said open your suitcase, and asked me what various items were. He asked about very simple things, shoes, shirts shaving kits etc. He was a supercilious shit, very impressed with his uniform. I finally got a little sarcastic, when he asked what something was, I said. “Here is something you have never seen before in your life, it is trousers and a jacket that match, it is called a suit.” He went nuts and attempted to remove a gun that he didn’t have. Lots of screaming, I immediately became an American and forgot my Greek, I innocently asked in English “what was the matter?” I was really nervous about having to explain the reel of commercials I had with me.

In those days Greece had tourist police, they wore a shiny metal helmet and spoke various foreign languages. Fortunately, one came over; he spoke English and asked me what was wrong? The customs guy kept screaming that I was Greek, and I kept asking. “What is he saying, he seems really upset.”

The cop asked what I was in Greece for and I used the then magic name, I said, “I am here to see Tom Pappas.” Things changed immediately, straight out to a taxi and I continued the innocent Gringo. “How much will a taxi cost to the Hilton?” He said it would cost 30 drachmas, or some ridiculously low price.

He then told the cab driver were I was going and the cost he quoted me.

A not very happy cab driver took off, looking in his mirror at me. I tried to engage him in conversation with my Greek that had mysteriously come back. No response, or a reluctant nod occasionally. At 30 drachmas on the meter he shut it down, about half way to the Hilton. I told him to keep it on, no way was he going to do that, he did not know who I was, secret police, CIA, or what.

These were difficult times in Greece, everybody was afraid; people could not congregate, 5 people or more, and the cops showed up. Everybody seemed nervous and apprehensive.

When we got to the hotel, I tipped him generously to make up for the fare that he didn’t charge.
I finally got him to talk a bit, once he realized I was not secret police or the CIA, he told me how hard it was under the Junta. He drove me around for the next few days that I was in Athens. I remember that and find it strange that some people today remember the Junta with nostalgia.

Finally I go to the meeting with Tom Pappas with my boss, the head of Europe. We present what we are doing on Esso and Coca-Cola in the rest of Europe. After questioning me about my Greekness, where my family was from, where I grew up in the States etc., he suspiciously asks, how come the only Greek working in Europe, me, happens to be working on the two accounts he runs. He finally reluctantly believes that I do. We get the accounts and open McCann Athens, with a great Greek partner.

He gave us sets of worry beads with the Esso Pappas logo, the only place in the world where Esso has another name attached to it.

I am amazed it wasn’t also called Coca-Cola Pappas.

Very weird businesses trip too, at that time, a rather weird place.

I refused to come to Greece then to run the agency. I eventually did, but much later.

Be wary of customs agents in countries with a Junta.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Hailing a taxi in Tokyo and Athens.

Tokyo, 1971, I was there as creative director for three months, until the one they hired got his working papers. I was on loan from the London office. I was treated incredibly well; they really know how to make somebody welcomed. I had a driver that picked me up every morning, a house with a housekeeper, everything to make my stay easier.

Japan is a beautiful country, with very polite people, nevertheless it is the other side of the moon, just as you think you understand everything, something happens that reminds you how different it really is.

OK, let me get back to the title, taxis here and there.

As I said, mornings a driver picked me up to go to work, he arrived spot on time, white shirt, black pants, a tie and white gloves, absolutely immaculate. He was available all day to take me wherever I had to go.

At night I did not go straight home, stayed late and then went out with some of the guys, restaurants clubs, bars, massage parlors, etc. After all it was Tokyo, and the early 70s.

At night, I would take a cab home, or somebody would drop me off at the house.

One rainy night, on the Ginza, I tried to hail a cab. It was pouring, but I was still optimistic, there were hundreds of cabs going by, and it was not that late. Cabs are stopping for people up the road as well as down the road. They just zoom by me to somebody down the road. I started to think it was a racial thing, do not stop for the Gaijine, especially in the rain. I do not remember how I got home, but I must have.

I was told the next day, by my secretary Mariko, that when it is raining or there aren’t many cabs, you hold up two fingers when you are hailing a cab, you would pay twice the price. Great system, I couldn’t wait for the next rainy night to try it out. I hold up two fingers, the preverbal English, “up yours”…it works, the cab stops, takes me home I pay twice the price, well worth it.

I am now in control of my destiny at night, at least I can get home.

It is very late one night, pouring rain, and my two fingers are not working, no cab is stopping or even slowing down, they just are zooming by me. I am a little drunk and I figure out if two fingers don’t work, maybe five fingers will work better. I hold up my open hand and point to it with my other hand, screeching brakes, tires smoking, cabs stopping, they would have thrown out any passengers they already had. A new way to hail a taxi, five fingers, seemed to work all the time. I must admit, I did try to play the innocent and only pay what was on the meter, it didn’t work, they could get really pissed off, rightly so.

What do Tokyo cabbies have to do with Athenian cabbies? When you try to hail a cab in Athens, he might slowdown as you jog alongside, telling him where you want to go, if he is polite he will flick his eyebrows up and speed away, otherwise he will just speed away. There is an independence to both groups.
I have to try the two-finger technique here and hope he hadn’t lived in England.

If he doesn’t stop the two fingers work just as well ”up your's vre.”

Monday, November 15, 2010

When our commercials were film.

When I was in Spain, during the early 70’s we had a tobacco client based in Hamburg, Germany.

They produced a black tobacco cigarette for the Spanish market called Aguila.

They let us create the launch commercial in Spain. Not much of a spot. Lots of flags marching and eagles flying around, the music was basically triumphant, based on the hymn,
“Battle Hymn of the Republic."

You have to remember that this was the early 70’s, still during the time of Franco. This slightly military type commercial appealed to the local Spanish client and the German client as well.

We shot the commercial in England. In those days there was no video and films were 35 millimeter. We presented by projecting the spot, like in a movie house.

We were late; I had to go to Germany to present the spot there, so we could make the launch date.

I go to their offices, a brand new building with the latest facilities for meetings and viewing. A great cinema, windows are darkened with the touch of a button. There are all sorts of automatic things for slides, films, and overhead projection. A state of the art facility, the best I had ever seen. The three senior clients and me, in this slick huge room.

We are all set to see the spot.

The projectionist, in a white coat, takes the film, marches off to set it up, and show it.

Lights are dimmed, and nothing, zip, nada, not an image, we are all dumbfounded.

The projectionist comes running down, very agitated and a little pissed-off. He starts whispering in German to the marketing director, It seems the film does not work. I am told it is because it is a Spanish film, I tell them it is an English film and I saw it the day before in Madrid and it worked perfectly. Back and forth, your fault, no your projector sucks, no, it is the latest projector from Leica, blah, blah, blah.

We all calm down and I decide to present the commercial as best I can. We gather around a desk lamp and I hold up the film and start passing the film through my fingers, so that they can see the images. I pass it a little faster so that they can see the movement and pace; meanwhile I am humming the music.

We are talking 24 frames for each second; a sixty second commercial is about 90 feet of film, almost 30 meters.

I keep this up for the full spot; we are up to our knees in film. I show it to them again and again, trying to get the movement right and humming like a crazy man. This bizarre act goes on for about an hour, film all over the place.

They finally approve it and even congratulate me, I think for my humming.

Of all the presentations I made in my 40+ years in the business, this by far was the wackiest. I think I can pretty much present anything after that.

Fortunately the desk lamp worked.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

"If you do not buy this campaign we will jump out of the window!"

That is how my partner for many years ended his presentation to the head of Coca-Cola for Europe.

John had probably just read George Lois’s book.

This was London in the 70’s.

After presenting six new commercials, done from the squatting position, a little like a praying mantis, while smoking a Woodbine cigarette and shaking his hands in the air in front of his head, John was very intense and passionate when he presented, he managed to get the head client to squat as well.

During the course of his presentation, the whole room of various brand managers as well as our account guys got down in the squat position. This was triggered by the head of Coca-Cola assuming the position first, not necessarily by the quality of the ads, even though they were pretty good. The intensity of the moment manifested in this amusingly ridiculous scenario.

I managed to avoid the squat position, since John was in complete control of that group. I enjoyed his act, even though I had seen it before and could never hold the squatting position for very long. I was always amazed at John’s ability to so mesmerize our clients in this way.

I did react when John volunteered us to jump out of the window if the commercials were rejected. It seemed a bit much since he had never taken such a dramatic posture before.

Our offices were on Howland Street, near the Post Office Tower, McCann had six floors including the basement.

As soon as John made his closing remarks, I started to laugh, not nervously, but out loud since we were in one of the conference rooms in the basement!

We would have had to jump up ten feet to impale ourselves on the spikes surrounding the lower floor.

John knew exactly what he was doing and was playing the whole meeting for a wacky opportunity to use this line.

No New York ad men were going to be more passionate than us.

John gave me a conspiratorial smile when I started to laugh; reminding me that the room we were in was in the basement. An iconic moment.

We sold the ads.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Was it the hat or the head?

One of the sharpest and funniest guys I ever met worked at McCann. We worked and traveled together many times. He was an International co-coordinator as well as regional director, a big shot. He was an old time ad guy in the good sense. He loved martinis, and claimed he still had the first bottle of vermouth he ever bought, opening the bottle in the other room was enough vermouth for his martinis he said. He really liked them dry.

One his many talents was his presentation skill, he always had the appropriate opening, sometimes a great relevant joke or a pertinent story.

At an international coordinators meeting in Madrid he told what I thought was a great joke.
We were at a famous flamenco restaurant, and after a great meal and traditional flamenco music and dancing, he opened the evening session, not really work, but prizes and welcomes to the new guys. We had the restaurant to ourselves, about a hundred people, from the New York office and all our European offices.

He took the stage, in the flamenco position, hands ready to clap, head back looking over his shoulder, and said
“Why is an international coordinator like a flamenco dancer?
He is stamping out a fire while he applauds himself, as he watches his ass.”

One of his great stories took place in New York in the 50’s, Madmen era.
They all wore hats in those days. These three guys and their paranoiac boss had lunch pretty much every day.
The boss decided he needed a new hat and they stopped at Brooks Brothers on the way to the restaurant, where he bought a new fedora, perfect fit.
As they continued to the restaurant, one of them lingered behind and bought two more exact hats, but one was one size bigger and the other was one size smaller.

They go to the restaurant, check in their hats and coats but they replace the boss’s hat with the one slightly larger.
After the traditional two martini lunch they head back to the office, the boss gets his hat and it is a little large on him, not a great deal but noticeably larger. Has his head shrunk after his meal? They get back to the office and replace his hat with the correct one. That evening he goes home, hat fits fine.

Next day they get ready for lunch and they slip him the smaller one, he puts it on and starts to get agitated, his head seems bigger when he is hungry. They continue this for about three days, his head seemingly bigger when he is hungry and smaller after he eats.

He takes some sick days off and checks with his doctor about this bizarre illness. Head expands when hungry, shrinks after he eats.

He also did something to somebody in our Italian office, the deputy general manager hated garlic, can you believe that? He stuffed his phone receiver with garlic, every phone call was slammed down with a disgusted comment about the guy that was calling and his breath.

There are many Stu stories, he was funny, smart and he was a good friend.

Monday, November 1, 2010

"Dos fried eggs me feta...vre."

When you think of a traditional American restaurant; in many cases it is a diner. In reality, it is probably owned by a Greek, and 70%, down from 90%, are.
The Greeks that arrived in the 60's and 70's worked in the then, very American diners. They started in the kitchens, washing dishes, eventually working their way up and then buying them. They were the nearest things to a Greek kafenion for them.

At that time, the immigrants were farmers, so they knew how to run a business and many had Asia Minor roots, so they knew how to deal with different people.

There is no diner that does not have some Greek dishes, even though it has a selection of hundreds of choices, menus that seem like books with dessert displays that are huge. Nevertheless, you can be sure that there will be a spanakopita, or something with feta on the menus and baklava in the dessert display.

The names will give you the hint of the origin of the owners, the Diana, the Acropolis, the Spartan manor, etc
Greeks owned diners for years; unfortunately, as their children grew up and became lawyers or doctors or stockbrokers, they showed no interest in going into a business that required a 24/7 commitment.

These diners are now being sold to the next generation of dishwashers and cooks, no longer Greeks, in most cases Latinos or Orientals. Obviously this will have its effect on the menu. As one Greek owner of a diner said
”Once the Greeks are out, the diners will not be diners anymore.” He is probably right; the menus are a truly unique mixture of very American food and Greek touches.

Until then, the food has a strong Greek influence, in spite of it being the most American of restaurants. I wonder if the new owners will realize that feta and eggs, or spanakopita are not American dishes, perhaps they will keep them on the menu. I wonder if the customers will keep asking for the Greek infiltrated items on the menu. I like the idea of a spanakopita becoming a firmly entrenched American dish. I also wonder if the language of the diners will change, will we still hear, the counterman, usually a Mexican, saying, ” dio fried eggs, vre.” I hope certain things remain, but I also am looking forward to the new ethnic dishes that will appear on the diner’s menus, perhaps with a bit of feta.

If you visit the States and feel an urge for Greek food, go to the most American of restaurants, the Diner. You may, very well have the best Greek meal that you can have in the States.

If you tell the owner you are from Greece, the coffee and the baklava, will probably be on the house.