THE FIRST TV COMMERCIAL to win an Emmy was an ad for HBO. It featured a group of chimpanzees in remotest Africa speaking in the voices of famous movie characters, then peering through a window as Jane Goodall, identified as an HBO subscriber since 1978, scribbles in her journal.
“Their inexplicable behavior continues,” she writes. “Ought to go now. ‘Braveheart’ is on.”
It’s just the sort of pithy sales pitch that was for years the forte of Madison Avenue firms like HBO’s longtime agency, BBDO, whose former chairman and chief creative officer, Phil Dusenberry, has just published his autobiography, “Then We Set His Hair On Fire: Insights and Accidents From a Hall of Fame Career in Advertising.”
Dusenberry’s is one of two advertising tell-alls published this fall. The other is “Often Wrong, Never in Doubt” by Madison Avenue wildman-turned-media star Donny Deutsch.
The books are a study in contrasts. The courtly and self-effacing Dusenberry writes mostly about the ad business; Deutsch’s book is a narcissistic grab-bag of marketing ideas, motivational banter and career advice (One chapter is called “Sometimes You Have to Be a Dickhead”).
But taken together, they point to a dramatic, generational shift in the ad world. Gone is the genteel and highly conventional business that Dusenberry evokes, in which a good copy line can help turn around a flagging company. In its place has arisen a far more crass and unruly culture of hype.
DUSENBERRY’S BOOK is a lively and nostalgic portrait of the industry at a time when TV spots and taglines were the ultimate form of commercial seduction, and when Dusenberry was among the trade’s top seducers (he retired in 2002).
The story largely revolves around his efforts to come up with the marketing insights that shaped campaigns for big brands like Pepsi and Campbell’s Soup. Among his other talents, Dusenberry was a man of a thousand slogans. You can blame him for introducing the lines “We bring good things to life” and “The best a man can get” to the popular lexicon.
Dusenberry was responsible for the famous Pepsi commercial starring Michael Jackson that sent the king of pop to the hospital with second-degree burns (a publicity coup for Pepsi; hence the book’s title). And he spearheaded the Tuesday Team, the group of Madison Avenue execs behind Ronald Reagan’s re-election campaign.
Dusenberry recalls the first meeting with Reagan, when the president popped his head in the room and said, “I understand you guys are selling soap and I thought you’d like to see the bar.”
MOST MADISON AVENUE memoirs are written in the shadow of David Ogilvy’s “Confessions of an Advertising Man,” published in 1963. The memoir, which sold millions of copies and remains in print, is full of what Ogilvy considered the immutable rules of marketing. “A good advertisement doesn’t draw attention to itself,” he wrote. “It’s the professional duty of the advertiser to conceal his artifice.”
Those ideas don’t carry much weight with Deutsch.
His book has plenty of off-the-cuff theories about the brands whose images he’s helped shape, including Ikea, Monster.com and Tanqueray. But the brand that’s most captivating to Deutsch is himself. Where Dusenberry comes across as a jaunty, behind-the-scenes crafter of ad campaigns, Deutsch is the star of the show.
One chapter is called “The Power of Self-Branding.” Reflecting on his own outsize public persona on Madison Avenue, he writes “I made the Deutsch offices, the Deutsch world, into one big VIP room. I want clients to feel when they come to us that they have gained membership in a club. That’s our brand: the coolest club.”
Deutsch, who sold his company to the Interpublic Group for about $300 million in 2000, recently let slip to Fortune magazine that he has his sights set on Gracie Mansion in 2009.
An ad man as mayor of New York: It’s an idea that would give David Ogilvy fits, which is apparently just fine with Deutsch. His message to his colleagues, he writes in his typical, understated way, is “fuck the creative awards and fuck what other creatives think… the G-spot is making your mother love it, making me love it.”