The Buzz

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Straphang 'em High

It doesn't take much to irk New York City's authorities these days. When New York magazine ran a bus ad a few years ago, proclaiming its own success "about the only thing [Mayor] Giuliani hasn't taken credit for," Hizzonner threw one of his infamous hissy fits. Now it's the MTA's turn. The city's Metropolitan Transit Authority was greatly offended by an ad from a commuters' rights group and an urban planning think tank, via Robbett, Rosenthal & Jennings (right). The MTA refused to carry the `livestock' poster anywhere on, in, or near its trains. So the advertisers -- NYPIRG's Straphangers Campaign and the Regional Plan Association -- got the New York Civil Liberties to file suit on their behalf. The MTA, faced with the legal threat, quickly threw in the towel. The ad will run after all, starting this month.

Bart Robbett, the art director responsible, says he wasn't surprised by the MTA's initial refusal; he's dealt with them before. "I hate to say it, but it actually made my day when they denied it. I knew it was a dumb public relations move." (He has a point. The ban drew massive coverage in the local media. The `bettertransit' site received over 100,000 hits before the posters even hit the presses.)

That the MTA relented so quickly did not surprise the ad guys either. Says Robbett, "They had no chance to win. They were just hoping we'd go away."

Sometimes it pays to straphang in there.

Virtual Jay

Imagine being able to contact Jay Chiat for some personal business advice any time, day or night, at only $4.95 a month. A new service called Umagic (www.umagic.com) makes it possible -- sort of, anyway. You won't be communicating with the living, breathing Chiat, but thanks to the marvels of artificial intelligence (A.I.), you'll be able to have email conversations with the man's virtual alter ego. The actual Chiat, co-founder of Chiat/Day and now chairman of Internet firm Screaming Media, is one of three members of Umagic's "Virtual Board of Advisors." (The other two are marketing gurus Regis McKenna and Peter Sealey.) His section of the site will debut in the fourth quarter this year.

So how does it work? Umagic staffers interview the experts about their field of knowledge, then pour all that expertise into a database coupled with high-end A.I. software. Umagic claims its brand of A.I. "demonstrates truly human qualities, such as thought, learning, memory and even the personality of the company's celebrity experts."

Chiat says that he was fascinated by A.I., and thrilled to get on board. "I see it as an interesting experiment that will have value for people who need help in business," he says solemnly.

But what if his cyberspace doppelganger is so good that the real Jay finds Umagic subscribers beating him at his own game? Chiat gleefully anticipates the day. "That's been the case all my life, people beating me at my own game," he says. "I love that!"

Designed by Dad

The last piece of advice Eric Saarinen's father, famed architect Eero Saarinen, imparted on him was, "Be the best gas station attendant you can be." The younger Saarinen's not pumping gas, but he is working on cars. He has recently completed a pair of commercials for the Chevy Suburban with agency Campbell-Ewald/Detroit. A spot called "Time Traveler" shows the Chevy at the construction sites of major American icons, including the 1963 Gateway Arch in St. Louis, designed by Saarinen senior.

What does Saarinen think Dad would say about the Arch being a part of an ad campaign? "I don't think there'd be a question of `how dare you use advertising and tarnish the purity of the Arch.' He'd be proud that I was involved."

Treehugging Optional

If you've ever felt that all you need to create that masterpiece that's running through your head is a little peace and quiet, then this is the book for you. Allsworth Press (www.allsworthpress.com) has just published the second edition of "Artists Communities," a directory of over "4,000 community residence opportunities" in the U.S. and abroad. Before you dismiss these places as playpens for tree-hugging dillettante artists, remind yourself that they are the birthplaces of many revered classics. Thornton Wilder's Our Town, Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring, James Baldwin's Notes of a Native Son and a slew of Milton Avery's paintings were all created in these "creative laboratories." So sign up. Maybe all you need to win that Pulitzer is a few months away from the office. And a diet of yogurt and granola.

Rise & Shine

According to The Creative Group, a staffing service in California, most advertising executives feel most creative in the morning. The Creative Group surveyed 200 ad folk from some of the country's largest agencies. The question: "What time of day are you most creative?" resulted in these answers: Early morning 32% Morning 34% Lunchtime/Midday 5% Afternoon 10% Evening 5% Late Night 9% Don't know/no answer 5%. The last group must have answered the question during lunchtime.

A is for Art Director

When TDA Advertising in Longmont, Colorado, was asked to design the Art Directors Club of Denver's Call for Entries, they made it easy enough for even a semi-literate AD to fill out. The result looks like a children's learn-to-write book, with illustrations done by an actual children's book illustrator. No surprise that the concept came from a copywriter, Eric Liebhauser. So will art directors feel maligned? Or don't they read anyway? Chuckles CD Jonathan Schoenberg: "Yeah, it's pretty much a non-issue."

Caffeinated Cutie

Say what you will about the Pepsi Girl, little Hallie Eisenberg (and Michael Ancevic, our Kafka guy has a lot to say about her on page 54). But the 3'10" bundle of Joy of Cola has been honored by Hollywood's Young Artist Awards organization with a special achievement prize for "outstanding young performer in a television commercial." In fact, a post-Oscar survey conducted by SAA/Research in Farmington Hills, Mich., found that the Pepsi spots starring Eisenberg, from BBDO New York, ranked as a big favorite with viewers. The young actress's response to her award was, "Cool. But I still can't make myself sound like Joe Pesci." That's a reference, of course, to Eisenberg's Pepsi persona, who has been known to speak, Exorcist-style, with the voices of Joe Pesci and Marlon Brando. Young Artist Award president Maureen Dragone calls this performance "real" and "wholesome." We know a priest who'd like a word.

Chainsaw of Fools

When Conan O'Brien wanted to help one of his show's local sponsors with a free "advertising makeover," he enlisted FCB/New York. The willing victim was Hilton Koch of Hilton Furniture in Houston, Texas, where O'Brien's show airs at two in the morning. Koch's home-made commercials provide almost as much entertainment as Conan does, albeit (probably) unintentionally. In his TV spots, Koch attacks his furniture with a roaring chainsaw, in an effort to convey that he's serious about "cutting furniture prices." This is typically accompanied by some pelvic thrusts and the enthusiastically shouted pay-off "That's a fact, Jack!" Hard to argue with that.

Regardless: the Conan tean flew Koch to New York for a brainstorm with an FCB creative team who came up with an a Madison Avenue-worthy alternative to Koch's happy atrocities. Their new and improved Hilton Furniture commercial shows slow-mo stock footage of Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and Mia Hamm, followed by Koch wielding a mercifully silent chainsaw. The implication is that these heroes, clearly, are the masters of their field. Upon seeing the FCB spot, Conan, on-camera, enthusiastically turned to Koch and exclaimed, "My thought is, you don't hear the chainsaw in that ad, yet that's the loudest I've ever heard that chainsaw."

Koch was happy with the result, too, except that he doesn't get to air it. He can't use the spot because of the sky-high endorsement fees the famous athletes command. Art director Jennifer MacFarlane was sympathetic to the powertool-wielding Texan: "He was such a sweet genuine guy. It broke our hearts to show him this ad; he was so excited, but we couldn't let him use it. So we promised to make him a real one."

And what does the creative team think the future holds for Hilton Koch? Deadpans copywriter Liza Powel, "I think he's probably going to work on his chainsaw technique, so he can rise to the top of his art."

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