Commentary by Randall Rothenberg


A Family Tradition Ensured

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Microbiologists may never locate it, but evidence exists there is an advertising gene. It has expressed itself in the cases of the Jordans (Jim, J.J., et al) and Deutsches (David and Donny) and also can be found lurking in the DNA of the Emmerlings.

Jonathan Emmerling, whose card proudly identifies him as a copywriter at Gotham in Manhattan, is a slightly refracted version of his father, John. John prefers bow ties and braces and Jonathan t-shirts and jeans, but they are both tall, angular and full of zest when confronting the essence of advertising: solving problems with words, pictures and ideas. Jonathan -- whose mother is noted style maven Mary Emmerling -- offers evidence (as do the other, more advanced advertising offspring) that there is a future for the agency business.

Nurture, not nature
He also is support for a countertheory that it is nurture not nature that accounts for these progeny. Consider the regimen Emmerling senior put his children through, almost from the moment they could hold a Crayola.

"I wanted to nurture the kids creatively, not in any way advertising creative, just creatively," John recounted over a recent lunch. "So when they did drawings, I'd frame them and hang them up, instead of just taping them up." Later, he paid his son $3 an hour to come to his agency's office to draw cartoons. Jokes got $2 more; "fivers," they called them.

They never talked about advertising and for a while it looked as if the kid would be a poet. At age five, he drafted a five-line verse that read, in part, "If war ever starts, I will go to an island/Far off the coast of the Hamptons." But, whether in the blood or from the training, advertising was there. John still carries the earliest piece of proof: a drawing by Jonathan, age 3, captioned, "Daddy, my stomach has a headache."

Passing down learning
John says he was doing unto his son what his own first mentor, Hanley Norins, the creative chief of Young & Rubicam in San Francisco in the 1950s and 1960s, had done to him. "What I learned from Hanley," John said of the copywriter who wrote the immortal words "Brylcreem, a little dab'll do ya" "is enthusiasm: Jump-up-on-your-feet-and-sell-an-idea." Where better to do that than in an ad agency? So, having discarded his earlier ambitions (astronaut and film director), Jonathan placed what one might now see as the inevitable call. "Dad," he asked, "advertising -- is creative, right?"

The son's career has been a happy one. As a summer intern at Y&R, he actually saw a spot produced, one of Philip Morris Cos.' youth anti-smoking ads. That led to freelance at the agency during his senior year at New York University, a post-graduation job and even a Super Bowl commercial.

Getting laid off
Getting laid off in the ad recession failed to damp his enthusiasm ("Advertising was always like that, right?"), although he sees its impact around him. "The most striking difference between his ad industry and my ad industry," Jonathan, now 25, said, gesturing across the table toward his father, "is he takes joy in anything he does creatively, which he got from Hanley. But I don't see as much joy in others."

No matter. During his two years at Gotham, he's found a creative mate in Art Director Steve Giraldi -- no relation to commercials director Bob Giraldi, his dad's creative partner at Y&R -- and they have even found satisfaction in their work for Ensure, the nutritional supplement.

"I love solving a marketing guy's problem in 10 words," says Jonathan Emmerling, a clip on the old guy's braces if ever there was one.

Randall Rothenberg, an author and longtime journalist, is chief marketing officer at consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton.

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