CA magazine 1970 V12 No.3
“We have two countries in California. I have good friends in southern California, but I don’t think I’d like to live there. It’s like women. There’s something here that keeps me sensually stimulated. L.A. is not my kind of chick:’New York offers a tremendous creative stimulation. Do you miss that here?
“Creativity does have a lot to do with counteraction. Like you need a wall you can push against so you can make statements. Most Easterners would feel that we don’t have that wall. A New Yorker needs much more daily conflict than a creative person needs here. There’s another kind of element that exists here. Maybe it’s geographic. Most of the people here have come in the past twenty years. There’s the ocean, it’s as far as you can go. Something unique has happened. Just look at the influence we’ve had on the rest of the country, in living style, in the arts, in technology.”
San Francisco may be a great place to live, but it is not the land of opportunity for talent in design and advertising. The clients with the big bread are not here. Jobs are scarce and job seekers are plentiful, many with experienced portfolios. Many of the people I talked to have had to set up defensive systems, time periods or screening systems to protect their own time.
But there is a lot of ability and talent here. We have featured a few of these creative people in this issue, I wish that space permitted the inclusion of more.
Many of the best firms and individuals attract a major portion of their work from other parts of the country. Many have developed new directions and needs for their talents. Nick Sidjakov offered this comment: “Designers are not working in the city, they’re working on the city. They are doing more bars and great old buildings. The graphics on the buildings here are terrific. You don’t see that in Chicago or other cities. That’s really what’s happening here, the talent is channeled into these things.
“Barbara Stauffacher and Marget Larsen deserve much of the credit for giving this an impetus. They made the building owners, and bar and restaurant owners aware of what designers could do for them.”
You can’t talk about San Francisco, or advertising, without bringing up the name of Howard Gossage. He was very much in mind as I interviewed Marget Larsen and we looked at and talked about many of his great ads. Witty, persuasive ads.
Howard also gave great speeches. These, too, utilized wit and humor to sell ideas. Perceptive, imaginative ideas. He explained the process of problem solving with an example of “how to keep dogs from pissing on fireplugs :’ I wonder if anyone ever realized how much of himself he gave to these speeches. He estimated that each one took two weeks of his time.
It was a real belt to the gut when he told me he had leukemia.
Herb Caen, columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, wrote a beautiful thing when Howard died. With his permission, we reprint it here:
A Singular Man
YESTERDAY I mentioned that Howard Gossage’s middle name was Luck, and that he’d need all of it he could get. Well, it ran out for him at 4 :30 a.m. yesterday in Presbyterian Hospital. He died of leukemia, a kidney infection and other complications, but mainly, I think, he died because he didn’t want to live as a vegetable, never having had any experience at it.
If there were any justice, the flags would be at halfstaff all over town, for he was one of the most valuable of San Franciscans. He would have understood why they aren’t, though. As he once said in that wild Irish way of his : “Of course there isn’t any justice, buddy, and isn’t that wonderful? We’ll never run out of things to be angry about.”
Only, the buddy would have come out “b‑b-buddf’ He had an ingratiating stammer, along with a dramatic appearance that made him an unforgettable figure around town: flowing white hair, a perpetually gaunt, drawn and handsome face, the sad-sweet smile that seems to be the signature of so many Irish philosophers.
NOMINALLY he was in advertising-he hated the business, incidentally-but realistically, he was the archetypical San Francisco Renaissance man. Like most of the best men I’ve met, he never haggled over a bill and overtipped recklessly. Money meant nothing to him and he probably died broke . But he knew more about classical music than most musicians, he was better-read than most critics and he composed more graceful prose than most writers. I never met a more unbigoted man, even about bigots ; the worst he would say about anybody was “Wen, I can H ake him or 1‑leave him-not n‑necessarily in that order.”
WHAT WAS important about Howard Gossage? It’s a matter of style. There was nothing cheap or shoddy there, and his everyday presence made you feel that just being a San Franciscan was important. If a guy like Gossage picked this place over all others-in the face of constant offers from New York and Europe-then San Francisco had to be okay, b‑b-buddy. Editors, authors, tycoons and advertising men were forever seeking his advice, and he’d say, “If they want to see me all that much, they’ll just have to come HERE’
And come here they did, to his firehouse on Pacific. Talk about style : he was the first to buy an abandoned old firehouse and convert it into offices that were the last word in cool modern elegance. His lunches there were legendary. He’d call up David’s Deli, order a ton of everything, ask you to drop in at the last minute, and you’d drop everything to be there.
You’d find yourself building a pastrami sandwich next to Dr. Benjamin Spock. Or pouring a beer for John Steinbeck. Or listening to Buckminster Fuller. Or laughing at the bad jokes of Marshall McLuhan. (Gossage, more than any other person, was responsible for the launching of McLuhan as a household name‑a job he took on, like so many others, just for the hell of it, “let’s see if it works:’) Robert Manning, editor of Atlantic Monthly, was a Gossage luncheon regular. And writer Tom Wolfe, who invented a new style of reportage.
ALONG WITH Ogilvy and Doyle Dane Bernbach, Gossage was responsible for changing the whole concept of American advertising. Before they came along in the ‘50s. the approach was serious, heavy, bombastic. Gossage was the first to inject sophisticated humor and even-amid cries of “Sacrilege!”-the poking of fun at one’s own product. His first ads for Qantas, long ago, are still classics. For the then unknown airline, he devised a contest he headed : “Be the First Kid On Your Block to Own a Kangaroo!” And when a winner was finally selected, his headline read “Bronx Girl Wins Her First Kangaroo:’ The style” won the accolade of instant imitation.
DID I SAY he had no interest in money? In ‘53, Volkswagen was ready to begin advertising heavily in the U.S., and narrowed the competition to Gossage and Doyle Dane. Howard’s final presentation to VW’s directors lost him the million-dollar job: “I’ve been driving your car for years, and it’s a great little product. I don’t think you NEED any advertising:’ Later he confided wryly : “ I’ve always hated automobile accounts-but wow, I had no idea they were going to advertise THAT much!”
I SAW Howard for the last time on Tuesday afternoon. He looked worn and dazed, but he was trying bravely to keep up the old style. Marshall McLuhan had phoned him long distance to say “I can’t send you flowers, you’ve read all the books, so I’ll give you a joke.” Then followed a typical McLuhan pun that made no sense. “For a genius, he sure tells lousy jokes,” Howard mumbled. A couple of hospital technicians wheeled in a complicated kidney gadget. “That’s okay, boys, you can have the machine tonight,” he grinned weakly. As I started to leave, I said “I’ll be back to see you tomorrow,” and he sighed “W‑why would you w‑want to do that?” And when I reached the door he called out “Hey, b‑buddy, you’re not going to be m‑mad at me, are you?”
IT JUST dawned on me that I don’t even know Howard’s age. I guess he was 50-something, but he never talked about it, as he never talked about his years as a Navy combat pilot in the South Pacific and a lot of other matters he considered trilling. But to answer his last question, yes, I’m mad that he died. Damn mad.
I was there too.
I was a copywriter (later Associate CD) at Hoefer, Dieterich & Brown. Worked there (along with John Crawbord, Larry McDermott, and some others on the list). Main assignment (from 1968 to 78) was Shasta. I’m on the artist sites list…been painting since retiring from my own agency in 2004.
I’d Rather be In San Francisco
In the early 60’s I was with McCann/SF and went to NYC for Lucky Lager to develop a musical theme. Got a interview with Jack Tinker Associates (in the Dorset Hotel penthouse) which in those bygone days was, along with DDB, the creative pinnacle. Lotsa money was waved in my face, but back then it meant I’d never afford to return to the Westcoast where salaries were a third less than MadAve pay. But money couldn’t buy the blessings of San Francisco & environs. Later I learned that Mary Wells filled the slot, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Samm Coombs got it right.
I had my first art director’s job in a crummy little Palo Alto agency in 1954, and it took me until 1958 to get a job in a good one. From that time on, I had the privilege of working for really good agencies until I started my own in 1977 — ten years with Meltzer, Aron & Lemen and five with the agency that Samm founded, Wilton, Coombs & Colnett.
Although Mad Men gets most of it wrong, there was two aspects of madness in the system that I’ve fought against. The first, the one that everybody talks remembers, was how the whole business world didn’t seem to understand that women were just as smart as men, and often smarter.
The second was specific to our industry: the prevailing sentiment that art directors were clueless idiots. We were called “artists,” regarded as overpaid specifiers of type and buyers of photographs who really wanted to be painters and whose creative contributions were limited to “cancha cut the copy” and “cancha make the headline shorter.” Luckily for me, MA&L was smarter than that, and I was sheltered from the attitude.
Then I spent 1969 to 1972 with Lennen & Newell, the biggest agency I ever worked with. It came closer to Mad Men’s “historical accuracy” than any other place I ever saw. I didn’t really understand how the industry looked at art directors until I got to L&N. Although by then, art director-copywriter collaboration was the industry norm, we had a creative director from another era. When he saw “artists” and copywriters talking to each other, it was clear to him that they were plotting to undermine his authority. He kept them separated as much as he could.
He pigeonholed each member of the then 14-person creative department: the drudge copywriter, the far-out copywriter, the over-the-hill art director, the freak art director and so forth. Every creative assignment came to his desk only, and he’d assign it to the correct role-playing copywriter regardless of whether or not that writer had any previous experience with the client. The writer’s job was to bring him ten or twenty headlines. He’d circle one, then give it back to the writer to write the copy. Once he was satisfied with the copy, he’d hand the piece of paper to the selected art director to decorate. His goal was to create ads with “stopper headlines” and “grabber visuals.”
The capper for me was being forced to create a hellishly glowing photograph of a devil’s head to go with the headline “Hot Damn.” He thought it was a great ad. Shortly after Martin Russell and I got there (I’d worked with Martin at MAL, and we came to L&N together — the pay was a lot better), Martin gave the head of the office a he-goes-or-I-go ultimatum. He went, Martin stayed and we took over the creative department.
The trouble with an agency like that is that its culture trains its ae’s and its clients in the same kind of dumb thinking. Later, while we were cleaning up the creative department’s output, I had to do ads for one client “like the Container Corporation ads.” If you remember them, they were greatly admired overdesigned exercises in flatulent corporate ego that said nothing at all about the company or its product. I grumbled to the ae, who’d also come over from MA&L and had little patience for that sort of foolishness. He said resignedly, “We can spend their money as foolishly as any other agency.”
My three years in purgatory ended when Martin and I went to Wilton, Coombs & Colnett. Cliff Wilton was the kind of art director I wanted to be: one who understood all aspects of communication and realized that art direction and copywriting were pretty much the same job: making ads. It was clear to Cliff that, as the final person in the creative chain, the art director had life and death power over an ad’s effectiveness, and that you couldn’t really be a good art director unless you were a pretty good copywriter and vice versa. At WCC — talk about a night-and-day difference — we had three art directors, and all three wrote and produced RADIO for our clients.
From my last days at Meltzer, I’ve been a missionary for the art director-as-writer mindset. My own little contribution to change was teaching creative portfolio workshops for 20 years. My goal was to send creative people into the system who didn’t care whether they were art directors or copywriters in the hope that they’d further subvert the old system. No more Mad Men.
That’s not the way is was
Having worked in seven agencies from the mid 50s to the late 80s as a copywriter, creative director and President, I find the advertising business as depicted in Mad Men wholly foreign to my experience. For example, I never ever saw a single bottle of hooch on premises (we did our drinking off-site). Come the 60s writers and art directors wouldn’t be caught dead in a tie much less a suit (unless visiting a client). Except for Executive Art Directors, Creative Directors and the odd Copy Group Head, creatives were housed in unimposing cubicles. Whoever praised Mad Men for it’s historical accuracy” never visited the thirty or forty agencies I was familiar with. It was/is a fun business, but not that much fun!