The Rise and Fall of A Big Idea
About 40 years ago I designed Canada’s first Inflatable outdoor board for Pacific Western Airlines. I was the creative director for WestCan’s Calgary office at the time. We needed a Big Idea to support a not so big outdoor media buy (one board each in Calgary, Edmonton and Montréal).I had read about the Inflatable in AdAge where a fast food chain had attached a huge Hotdog to a super board. The fabricator manufactured hot air balloons, big ones. The first of the three was erected in Calgary at a busy high way junction. The first morning we got tons of Free Air on drive time radio as the news,weather and traffic people had fun taking shots at it with bits of sexual innuendo here and there. The Calgary Herald ran a story with a full color picture in the morning addition. Things went on like that until it achieved a kind of Mascot status. Then came a harsh fall storm, rain, snow, hail and freezing tempertures and power outages. Our inflataboard was kept upright by means of a ducted fan and with the power gone the darn thing collapsed giving the media yet another opportunityto crack wise. When the fuselage re-erected itself that got a mention to. The free PR was imeasurable and just goes to prove some Big Ideas are better off dead…than alive .
Jerry Huff, Geezer
In 1964 we (Y&R, San Francisco) had Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company. John Emmerling, Ralph Price and I were assigned the Racing Tire Division, because it was a small budget. We were in San Angelo, Texas at Goodyear’s Oval Test Track with A.J. Foyt hoping to set an oval track speed record on Goodyear Double Eagle Passenger Tires. In those days, we had newspaper and magazine ads at every major paper and magazine in the country with one piece of information missing…The exact speed if the record was made. Foyt succeeded at 204.6 mph, but called from a two way radio when he was out of sight. Soon, a pickup truck left to tow the race-car back, as we were told the car had broken down. Soon it appeared and the Double Eagle Tires were in excellent shape, and the record had been set. All the national media folks went immediately to phones to give their publications the correct speed record, and the next day the ads ran all over the country. The next evening (the day after the record was set) we were told over setup drinks at a San Angelo Bar that we should go out back and look in the pickup truck bed that was covered with a tonneau. We did and there were four Double Eagle Tires in shreds. They had been destroyed at the speed Foyt was driving. It was too late to stop the ads, as they had already run in all the major newspapers. That year Double Eagle Tires blew out all over Texas where people drove their Cadillacs and Lincolns at very high speeds on the back roads.
Shoot in Nebraska
Well, there was this time in the late 1960’s, when I was in Omaha, Nebraska doing a T.V. commercial for that renowned product Bux Cornrootworm Insecticide. This was part of the array of beneficial farm products that were being produced by Chevron Ortho products (and we wonder why the Autism rate increase so dramatically).
I was there with Larry Duke (a genius art director and later Levis Poster, etc. Illustrator). Our chosen actor for our commercial was Pat Buttrum (Gene Autry’s former movie side kick). Mr. Buttrum was currently appearing in a T.V. series called Green Acres (starring Ava Gabor, etc.). It was about city folk who buy a farm. Their neighbor was Pat Buttrum. So we figured he was perfect to sell Bux to the farming community.
We went to dinner the night before the “shoot” and across the restaurant Mr. Buttrum spies an old friend, singer “?” Robert Goulet — who was appearing at that great Omaha venue, The Aksarben Theater (that’s Nebraska spelled backwards, get it?). So the two of them wander off to partake of way too many drinks.
Cut to the next day, when we stop to ask some farmer on a dirt road for directions to one particular corn field in an area of cornfields as far as you can see in any direction. As the farmer is pointing, Pat Buttrum opened the back door of the car and puked on that poor farmer’s shoes. We could only imagine how proud the farmer must have felt when he went home tracking vomit into the house and proudly announcing that Pat Buttrum from Green Acres puked on his shoes not more than10 minutes ago.
I won’t go into the video cameraman’s concern with color adjustment saying, “there must be something wrong with this equipment.…I can’t get that green cast out of Mr. Buttrum’s face”. It was that green of someone who’d been up drinking all night. And I won’t elaborate further by discussing how many chickens Mr. Buttrum sat on when making himself comfortable sitting on those bags of Bux Cornrootworm Insecticide).
The story of the Heir
One day in the 1960s Jack Allen and I were having one of our periodic, vinous, Friday lunches at Venetos, near his studio. After copious amounts of red wine, I mentioned the agency’s (Johnson & Lewis) urgent need to come up with a savings ad for Bank of America. our largest client.
Savings ads were notoriously and inherently boring, but I had the glimmering of an idea.
Ad: “Jack, what if we had the reading of a will, with all the rich uncle’s household gathered in the lawyer’s office? Maybe we could use Belli’s office.”
Jack: “We could cast it right now. Let’s get a phone.”
Between us, we came up with the cast:
The lawyer: Wally Brazeal, an ad rep, perched on the edge of Belli’s desk, looking lawyerly.
The widow: a very proper older model from Ann Demeter’s agency, with lorgnette and fox fur.
The heir: A young nephew, played by Tom Rice, an art student, in preppy horn rims.
The butler: Mr. Lancaster, formerly of the French Opera Company, tall, white haired elderly gent in full butler’s regalia.
The chauffeur: Homer Welch in proper livery, carrying the widow’s Pekinese dog.
The mistress: Pat Mahan, model from Al Duartís agency, ravishingly sexy in bouffant blond wig, black dress, pearls, cigaret holder, and a fabulous fur from Roberts Brothers.
Everyone except the lawyer and the heir looked pissed off, including the Pekinese.
The heir was beaming, he was getting the money!
When we called to get permission to use his office, Belli was enthusiastic.
We scheduled the shoot for Saturday morning, the next day. Milt Halberstadt signed on as lighting consultant. Belli came with his infant son, Caesar.
The shoot went well. We got the film rushed to processing. We took Pat, still in character, to the Temple Bar where a boyfriend tended bar. He didn’t recognize her at first.
Sunday I wrote the copy.
Monday morning I sent out for a rush C‑print and specified the type. Monday afternoon, I pasted up of the finished comp.
Bright and early Tuesday morning, I took the ad into Dan Lewis’ office.
Dan: “Where the hell did this come from?”
Ad: “Jack Allen and I ran it off over the weekend.”
Dan: “How much are you in for on this?”
Ad: “I figure about $3,000 in expenses.”
Dan: “I better take this up to the Bank myself.”
He did and presented it to Charlie Stuart, BofA vice president for advertising.
Charlie loved it. (Thank God!)
It ran a long time, won an award in the L.A. Art Director’s show, and I think everyone got paid.
A RE-BIRTHDAY STORY
In the 1950’s I was the Creative Director for Botsford, Constantine and Gardner, San Francisco office. My favorite account was Japan Air Lines. We had a very sound creative strategy to market the airline to Americans, based on research from Doctor Dichtor (an early social researcher). Simply put: don’t talk about equipment, even though it was from Boeing and McDonald Douglas); don’t talk about the cockpit crew (even though they were mostly Americans); don’t talk about Japanese efficiency. Do talk about Japanese arts, crafts and culture. And by all means, remind the Americans that Japanese women were the most charming, well mannered and helpful in the world.
Japan Air Lines, through the influence of Mike Sloan (the Botsford Japan Air Lines Account Supervisor), sent me on an Arts and Culture tour of their (then) destinations including Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand and Japan. I concentrated on Kyoto, Nara and Nikko – three cities that did not suffer too much bombing that also are important religious and cultural centers in Japan. What I learned on this trip had everything to do with my design of the Japan Air Lines logo.
In 1957. Japan Air Lines asked Botsford, Constantine and Gardner to create a new logo and livery. It was unusual that a large corporation would go to their advertising agency for this kind of design work. This type of assignment was usually the purview of design firms like Raymond Lowey or Walter Landor. Many airplane manufacturers offered logo deign as part of their contracts (Japan Air Lines used MacDonald Douglas as well). I was doubly pleased that it landed in my lap because I had a design in mind.
When I travelled in Japan I was impressed that the branding business had been going on there for hundreds of years, especially for the Samurai families, whose crests adorned practically everything the family owned. The one I chose for Japan Air Lines was a crane attributed to the Mori family. Working with my designer, Reg Jones, we modernized it and created a handsome presentation book with hard cover and French paper. The content of the book was the art of the logo and its application to aircraft, ground equipment, stationery, documents, point-of-purchase, etc. – twenty-four pages in all.
A meeting was scheduled to show our stuff. I wish I could remember the month and day – all I recall is that it was very hot and humid in Tokyo. The meeting place was on the fifth floor in a rather dingy office building. The conference room was in a corner of a large room packed with people, many women. When the door was opened, we saw a 12’ x 16’ room dominated by a long table at which sat about a dozen men who looked at us as if we had interrupted them. I remember there was a group hiss. The most striking feature, though, was the mass of logo sketches, drawings, paintings and even some plaster bas reliefs covering the walls and table, ending instantly our belief that ours was the only logo being considered.
Seats were found for us as the discussion continued, giving us a chance to study the designs. None of them were in any way outstanding. They mostly seemed to be versions of the Lufthansa speed bird. Finally the Japanese conversation ceased and our contact asked us to show what we had done. It took about ten minutes. It all had to be interpreted and I didn’t know anybody in the audience or what their interest in the project was. Their expressions were, of course — inscrutable. Mike Sloan finished with thanks. We sat down — I was soaked!
The discussion continued for the rest of the that day into the late afternoon of a second day when the Japan Air Lines President came into the room with a small entourage. There was much bowing. He seated himself and our book was laid before him and the interpreter turned the pages for him and rendered the explanation. It took about eight minutes though by then I was unable to measure time. When the President finished he said something, stood up — more bowing — and walked out. The meeting was over. Everyone gathered their papers to leave.
Mike asked the interpreter what the president had said. It was something like, “America is our most important market. Americans know best what Americans like, so tell the men from our American advertising agency we accept their design”.
The crane (Tsurumaru in Japanese) flew for over forty years — almost a record. It was replaced in 1989 by a Walter Landor design, modified radically in 2002, again by Landor.
The big news was announced by Japan Air Lines’ president on January 19,2011, “ The JAL Group today will adopt a new corporate policy and announces its decision to change its logo from April 1, 2011” going on to say, “The motif that will be used is of a soaring red crowned crane with its wings extended in full flight, an auspicious icon representing the high spirits of the Japanese people and their sensitive attention to detail.”
Funny thing. The date they said the crane/logo returns would start on April 1st, 2011, my 84th birthday.
Jerry Phillip Huff
August 25, 2011
Illustration from The Way of the Samurai. Note the Crane design.
The original Mori Samari family creast the inspiration
The Japan Air Lines Logo design presented by Mike Sloan & Jerry Huff in Tokyo in 1957.
The final version used for 40 years ‑dropped for 13 and reintroduced in 2011
A double page magazine ad appeared in Look, Life, Time, Newsweek and featured a real hostess in full Kimona.