Monday, August 17, 2009
OK, I can understand why Campbell feels blindsided by the decision to make him a co-head of accounts with Cosgrove. Pete’s a nasty little weasel, as his dealings with women have shown, and he has a well-developed sense of entitlement, as we saw when he insisted he was the man for the job that eventually went to Duck Phillips. But I was surprised that his reaction was more “how could they do this to me” than “I’m gonna leave that Cosgrove bastard in the dust.” Cosgrove, by contrast, took the move in completely good humor, understanding that Lane Pryce has explicitly set this up as a competition and rebuffing Campbell’s antagonism by saying, “They want us to hate each other. I refuse to participate in that.” Later, Campbell whines to Trudy, “why can’t I get anything good all at once?”
The reason I’m surprised is that Campbell’s one distinguishing moment as an ad man—the one time he one-upped Draper (and would have lost his job for it, but for his family connections)—came when he went behind Draper’s back on the Bethlehem Steel account. Back in episode 4 of the first season, Draper had come up with a campaign involving stylized city skylines with the tag line, “brought to you by Bethlehem Steel.” Chicago, New York, and so forth, in big letters, “brought to you etc.” in a smaller font at the bottom. Walter Veith, the Bethlehem executive, objected that the ads looked more like campaigns for the cities than like campaigns for Bethlehem, and he was right; the Bethlehem account is the one campaign for which Draper’s idea was, imho, a total clunker. Contrast the “brought to you by Bethlehem Steel” with the inventive “it’s toasted” for Lucky Strike, the brilliant rejection of copywriter Paul Kinsley’s “space-age” theme for Right Guard in favor of “What does every woman want? To get closer,” and of course the jawdropping “carousel” pitch for Kodak that closed season one. The “brought to you” idea is just flat and unimaginative. Pete, seeing an opening and still smarting from Draper snapping at him, “You do your job—take him sailing, get him into a bathing suit—and leave the ideas to me,” decides to sell Veith on “Bethlehem Steel—the backbone of America” while he’s, er, taking Veith “sailing” and getting him a “bathing suit.” Veith, of course, assumes that Draper deputized Pete to do so, and credits Draper with the idea the next day; Draper, of course, responds by accepting the credit and then firing Pete on the spot. (The denouement, for those of you who haven’t seen it: when Draper is overruled by Cooper, Roger Sterling tells Campbell that he and Cooper wanted to fire him but Draper went to the mat for him, thereby blunting some of Pete’s hatred for Don. Not that that stops Pete from swiping Don’s mail and revealing Don’s seekrit identity later on.)
So Pete, for all his many faults, occasionally has a good idea, and certainly has a killer (or at least backstabber) instinct. Perhaps that will come out over the course of season three as he clashes with Cosgrove, but for now it’s all whining. I expected a bit more fight from the weasel.
And oh yes, my own tiny little experience in advertising? Thirty years ago this summer I worked (typing, clerical, a little training for copywriting) for Sussman and Sugar, a small agency that dealt exclusively in advertising for the publishing industry. Mr. Sussman had one corner office, Mr. Sugar the other. Not a very exciting firm, since it didn’t do television; it was all print, very predictable, none of that fancy Della Femina stuff or that high-toned J. Walter Thompson brand. And it was eated by Ogilvy and Mather later that year. I continued to work summer jobs like that one, and for a while planned to go into advertising after graduation. I went to graduate school instead, and saved my copywriting / creative talents for band posters and such things. I really wasn’t bad at the campus-poster drill: when I was trying to sell my little refrigerator, my ad not only sold the thing in hours but got me a call from WKCR-FM asking if I would write copy for them. But I totally would’ve gone with the “space age” theme for the Right Guard campaign, just like Kinsley did. Draper’s genius was to ignore the whole aerosol-spray thing altogether. Speaking of women and male personal-care products, has there ever been an Axe ad that didn’t suck?