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George Parker: why these nine greats are my ad heroes

The founder and author of Adscam, and sage of Idaho, chooses nine people from his long, varied and uniquely distinguished career.

 

My Ad Hero. How about Heroes?

Oh dear, Oh dear, when Stephen invited me to contribute to his splendid My Ad Hero series in MoreAboutAdvertising, I was somewhat flummoxed to realize that having been in the ad biz since Nero founded the “Fiddling & Burning” agency of the future, back before most of you were born, I was going to have a hard time boiling it down to a single hero.

So, I thought fuck it, in my usual curmudgeonly style, I’ll do multiple heroes. Hopefully, the Fourth Reich Potato Vodka will hold out ‘till I’ve finished.

Hero 1: After graduating from the Royal College of Art my very first job was at Y&R London as an assistant art director. This involved me doing pastel sketches of toothpaste tubes and fag packets. For my self amusement I did ads for other products and pinned them on the wall. One day, Brian Palmer Head of TV and future founder of Kingsley Manton & Palmer (below, then and now), walked in and said, “Oh these are rather good. Who did the copy?” Modestly, I replied, “I did.” He replied… “Then you should become a copywriter.”

Hero 2: Upon arriving in New York back in the early sixties, I managed to get an interview with David Ogilvy. He was very gracious and ushered me out after twenty minutes with the advice: “Advertising is all about selling.” I met him twenty odd years later when I was freelancing at Ogilvy, New York. Deaf as a post by that time, his final advice was “Advertising is all about selling!” You have to admit, the old fucker was a man of conviction and consistency.

Hero 3: My first job in New York was at Benton & Bowles. My boss was Joe Arleo. He introduced me to the sybaritic pleasures of staying in a poolside bungalow at the Bell Aire hotel whilst suffering through a “Mr. Whipple” shoot in LA. He also showed me the ins and outs of the unlimited abuses possible with a Big Dumb Agency (BDA) expense account. Never forget, this was back in the sixties.

Hero 4: After B&B, I was tempted by Dick Lord (who later went on to found Lord, Geller, Federico, Einstein) to join Warwick & Leger in the Seagram building. (Without question, the single most perfect example of modern architecture in the world.) What convinced me to sign up? They had an on-staff cocktail waiter, who delivered your choice of libation at any time of the day. As our biggest account was the Seagram Liquor business… No surprise there.

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Hero 5: When I was fortunate enough to permalance for obscene amounts of money on the Xerox account at Y&R my ultimate boss was “Uber Sexy” CD Helayne Spivak (above). The earliest example of someone who truly broke through the glass ceiling. At that time, Y&R was the archetypal example of the boys club… Come to think of it, looking at its current management staffing, it probably still is! And yes, I haven’t forgotten Mary Wells, who had to marry her biggest client to do it.

Hero 6: That has to be Bill Hamilton, the uber-CD I freelanced for at Chiat, Ogilvy, JWT and various bars throughout New York. This was the guy who over numerous glasses of white wine from his copiously stocked office fridge, would ask me if I liked the work I was presenting to him. If I said that I did, he would then say… “Well then, get the fuck on with it.” Nothing beats decisiveness.

Hero 7: Without question the only commentator who truly understands what the fuck is going on in today’s’ ad biz is Barbara Lippert (left), and she has done this task for years, even though she is still only twenty nine years old. One of my best memories is having dinner with her at The Four Seasons at the expense of super mate Tom Messner, before it turned into a Wendy’s. Fellow diners included Hitler and Einstein. Sorry the explanation for that will take up another entire column.

Hero 8: Believe it or not, it was a client; Joe Naachio, the CEO of Qwest communications when I was CD on the account at JWT, New York. We got on like a house on fire (probably because our vocabularies were similar, using fuck every other word.) He allowed me virtually carte blanche on the creative. Best of all when I had to produce a TV spot to celebrate their completion of the first 100 per cent fiber optic network in the USA. At the time there was a SAG/AFTRA strike, and you couldn’t shoot in the US. I read him the words from the script; he loved it, and then asked me what would be happening visually… Wonderful things, I responded. Great he replied, go do it. So, Simon Taylor of Tomato UK and I flew off to Iceland, rented helicopters and shit and produced wonderful things.

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Hero 9: OK, OK, running out of steam here, but I have saved my best for last. This would be my good mate, Steve Haydon. Yes, he of 1984 fame (below). I reported to him at Ogilvy, New York, when working on the IBM account. One day, my AD partner (G.I. Joe, ‘cos he always wore camo and big boots) and I were presenting concepts for a new super fast IBM chip that would set speed records and awesome shit like that. Steve thought our stuff was OK, but not great. He said, why don’t you show a guy at his PC with him being blown back in his chair by the power of his computer.

Steve, I said, that would be a rip off of the iconic Maxell tape ad. No, he replied, it would be an “Homage.” It’s so much classier in French! Damn right, Steve. On a final note, whilst freelancing at Ogilvy, I won the David Ogilvy Award for the best global campaign. I was thrilled shitless to be told this came with a $10,000 cash prize. Only to be told within minutes that as a freelancer, I was not eligible for the cash. They gave me a bottle of cheap wine instead. So I tripled my next expense report. God bless Photo Shop.

OK, that’s it, there are more, but here in the Fourth Reich it is cocktail time. The Potato Vodka calls.

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About George Parker

George Parker has spent 40 years on Madison Avenue. He’s won Lions, CLIOs, EFFIES, and the David Ogilvy Award.
His blog is adscam.typepad.com, which is required reading for those looking for a gnarly view of the world’s second oldest profession.” His latest book, Confessions of a Mad Man, makes the TV show Mad Men look like Sesame Street.
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