"Beaches," a 60-second spot for AT&T cell service, broke in 1997 when the World Wide Web was a baby and tech innovations such as laptops and mobile phones promised jobholders the miracle of a smooth "cyber-commute"—even from the beach.
This ad captured the chaotic, no-such-thing-as-balanced life of a (single?) working mother in a way that rang true, unlike spots that depicted shoulder-padded mamas catching flights in time to be front row at the school play. In "Beaches," a harried mom is leaving for work when one of her girls asks if they can all go to the beach. "I have a very important client," the mom responds. "When can I be a client?" her daughter asks. Mom, glancing at her brick of a mobile phone, changes her mind and takes them to the beach instead.
I had imagined that a team of women created the spot, and that the kid's killer question came verbatim from an ad person's experience. That's the power of advertising, I guess. I caught up with the spot's writer, Kurtis Glade, now at Facebook, who says, "I'd love to say the idea came from personal experience from someone on the team, but we were all dudes except for the producer, who was single with no kids."
Glade said that director Jim Gartner feared "Beaches" would be "too corny." But pitch-perfect casting, cutting and directing, not to mention Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," juiced it up. Packed with authentic kid behavior, the showstopper came with that same kid shouting, "Hey everyone! It's time for our meeting!"
Those very human insights are so acute that this spot still connects and resonates today, even though seemingly every kid has a smartphone. Tech advances have only upped the pressure of working life, making it 24/7. Single working parents still jump through hoops and the chaos, but rarely get 60-second celebratory shout-outs from brands.