Why? We were publishing a special section titled "50 Years of TV Advertising" and charged with selecting the 50 best commercials ever. The early going was somewhat enjoyable. We began with several hundred spots, many of them on individual 3/4-inch tapes stacked throughout the room, and it was relatively easy to eliminate great numbers as "derivative," "not focused," "pretentious" and "poorly cast." The most frequently heard plaint from the panel, though, was "How did that one even make the screening list?" As the second day ground on, we winnowed the survivors down to about 100. Then the going got rougher. Each of us had pets we felt belonged among the holy 50, and we were prepared to fight hard for them.
One particular battle centered on a Kodak entry, "Daddy's Little Girl," which chronicled a daughter from childhood to adulthood as seen through a father's eyes-and of course also through Kodak photos. The spot ended with her wedding, and her father having the first dance. The lone woman on the panel found the execution overly sentimental-I believe she said "sappy"-suggesting it blatantly pandered to "men with daughters." This happened to apply to all of the rest of the panel, several of whom may just possibly have teared up during the screening, but I couldn't say because the lighting was low. The argument raged, and by our sheer number, if not logic, we men won the day.
Bob Garfield, then as now Ad Age's ad reviewer, argued effectively for spots he felt belonged on the list, and it seems to me that he won more battles than he lost, although on several occasions he went down fighting, his orations impressive to behold.
The panel agreed that Doyle Dane Bernbach's great 1970s campaign for the Volkswagen Beetle must be represented, but when it came time to select a representative, another fight ensued. I pushed for a spot titled "Funeral," which depicted a funeral procession while the voice-over of the deceased revealed his estate of $100 billion went not to his spendthrift wife, dissolute sons or nefarious business partner Jules, but rather to a humble nephew who had the good sense to drive a Beetle.
Others on the panel argued for another VW spot, "Snowplow," which was a fine piece of creative work-"Ever wonder how the man who drives the snowplow gets to the snowplow?" But I wanted "Funeral," and although my memory may have been dulled in the ensuing years, it's just possible I threw a tantrum.
In any case, "Funeral" made the list.
Robert G. Goldsborough was an editor with Advertising Age for 23 years, retiring last December. For much of that time, he coordinated Ad Age's annual "Best" advertising competition. He also is author of eight mystery novels and of "The Crain Adventure," the history of Crain Communications Inc.