The Mad Ad Man

I noticed him through my window – storming our office like the beaches of Normandy, determined and wading through the asphalt in cement shoes. He must have been 100.

My phone rang.

“There’s a gentlemen here who wants to speak with whoever is responsible for our new ad campaign?”

I guess that’s me. The multi-million dollar ad campaign that launched last week. Television. Print. Digital. Social Media. The full mix, multiple national pubs, daily TV time over the next 18 months, even an “interactive website experience.”

“Is that you?”

Yes. I’ll be right there.

He looked like the grumpy old man from Pixar’s UP, but he wouldn’t know what that meant. He introduced himself as Hank Tinley. I helped him into one of our conference chairs. I was pretty close, he was 90, and had been an ad man in the 50′s. He wanted to have a word with me.

I had a feeling I was about to get a lecture from a geriatric Don Draper.

“I bet somewhere in this building, you’ve got a framed print of your new ad hanging on the wall!”

Nice to meet you. And I didn’t say so, but yes, we actually did – I got a little nervous.

“You see, that’s what they do! These art people are screwing you.”

I wasn’t about to tell him that I am technically the “art people” for this company. I flipped to a few of our ads in the magazines sitting on the table, asked which ads he had seen.

“Yeah that’s the one,” slight disgust, pointing a finger at me “how can you even call this an ad!?” Shaking his fist with real passion.

He wasn’t overly belligerent and he was surprisingly lucid. He wasn’t familiar with our company, industry or products, but I could tell he had decades of experience as an ad man. He spoke with great technicality on point size, bleeds, margins, process colors. He told me an ad needs to sell (hitting the table for emphasis), cause action (table again), not just look pretty. He didn’t blame me, but maybe he saw me as the one person who could save my company from this catastrophe.

He teared up a few times.

“Do you know what color men hate? Red! And you know what color is very similar to red? orange!” more banging.

I turned around pointing to the orange wall with our logo and explained that orange is our brand color. That we are extremely well known in our industry for using orange. We’d even seen several new companies in our same industry this year who’ve mimicked our color palette.

Pointing at me, quieter, “Orange is a piss-ass color.”

Moving on.

He asked why we hadn’t included our address on the ad? How would people know where to find us!? (I didn’t ask how he had found our building.) I showed him the web address at the bottom of the ad and explained this is how most people would find out more about our company. I didn’t even want to go into what the little bird with @OurCompany meant. There were other minor critiques, all strictly from a 50’s mindset. They weren’t necessarily relevant, but they also simplified things to such a level, that it honestly was a fantastic reminder of what’s at the core of good design and advertising.

In the end he still thought our ad was the worst thing he had seen since Volkswagen’s “Think Small” campaign, but he also admitted that so much had changed that he would have to trust I knew what I was doing. He would hand me the baton, but he made me promise to have a talk with the art people and set them strait.

I told him I definitely would. He deflated like the giant balloon I kept picturing above his house.

I asked him about his experiences in advertising. And he told me some really wonderful stories. He had a client once who would blow their entire budget on a one-page full color ad in a national pub. “One insertion - complete idiot.” So he borrowed a hat from his father and drove to their office. He convinced the CEO to let him create a quarter page black and white ad, and he would run it twice a month in other pubs. If they didn’t see a better response he would cover the cost of the entire ad spend himself. (Roughly 6 months of his salary.)

Of course, whether at that time or through the passing of memory, the client saw significant growth due to Mr. Tinley’s ad plan and the rest was history. He went on to work on some major accounts in Detroit, and he still drove the same brand today. American made. “Not that ‘think small’ junk.”

He thanked me for my time, and knew I had a lot to go take care of now. I helped him out of his chair, gave him my arm and helped him retreat back to his Detroit sedan. I thanked him for his passion, and caring enough to come down in-person to share his concerns. I told him that I hoped I still had that same passion when I was his age.

And I really do.

Later I wrote him a thank you note, and included one of our company hats and an ink pen. I’m sure he’ll be surprised that I was able to find his address, and unfortunately the hat and pen were both orange.

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