"Seagram just bought Dallas-Fort Worth -- 40 Absolut ads!" he whooped last month.
He called again a week ago. "We got Hawaii!" he shouted.
Mr. Schmidt is a force of nature. The man can't stop himself. If there's a brass ring, he's got to grab for it. Not content with his place in history -- having shepherded one of the great little creative agencies of the 1980s -- he's back in the advertising game again, this time with a gambit that's so intrusive, so in-your-face, so be-here-now, it just might be the biggest thing since product placement.
Airport luggage carousels.
Fly by night? I think not.
In the cosmology of advertising, there was the Big Bang -- Gutenberg's invention of the printing press; then, with the later discoveries of branding and broadcasting, the marketing equivalents of the Newtonian and Einsteinian revolutions. In recent years, communications physicists have busied themselves trying to find the missing matter -- those seemingly empty spaces teeming with persuasive potential. Among the movies, videogames, bathroom stalls, Web banners, checkout lines, doctors' offices, seat pockets and hotel rooms now filled with brand messages, the airport luggage carousel may very well be the quark.
"I can backlight it!" exclaimed Mr. Schmidt.
It's hard to believe that no one thought of this before. Then again, it's hard to believe that the gluon remained undetected for so long.
Bob Schmidt may be the most beloved suit ever to have trod the halls of agencydom. As a co-founder and longtime leader of Levine, Huntley, Schmidt & Beaver, he managed to hold together an agency so fraught with creative tension it always seemed ready to fly apart -- which, after his and the Subaru account's departure, it ultimately did. But during his two-decade tenure, LHS&B's combination of vaudevillian humor (Wally Cox flacking for Jockey men's underwear) and coy sexiness (Corbin Bernsen flacking for Maidenform women's underwear) won it buckets of awards and a reputation as the Jacobin party of advertising's second Creative Revolution.
SMS and Publicis, New York -- attests to his tutelage. Mr. Schmidt's credo was and remains a rare principle in an industry whose salesmen usually honor creativity only in the breach. "It's not a great campaign," he liked to say, "unless it makes the blood drain from your face."
Although, technically, he's moved into the media business, Mr. Schmidt is still trying to apply that canon in his new company, which is named, aptly, CarroSELL. The firm, with a patented process by which sequential 10-foot advertisements can easily be snapped in and out of airport luggage roundabouts, is trying to capitalize on the 20 minutes (on average) travelers must wait for luggage after exiting an airplane.
Given that many of these folks are the demographically desirable consumers who don't sit still for sitcoms, one can readily imagine advertisers' temptation to bop them on the head with a blunt sledge.
Mr. Schmidt's counsel: "Make people feel good. Use this for simple branding advertising. Stay away from copy. It's a captive audience; don't abuse them."
Some frequent travelers already may have noticed that more than a few marketers are taking that advice. Polaroid, Nissan, thestreet.
com and Citizen watches are, with Absolut, getting the runaround right now in Dallas-Fort Worth. On Oct. 1, the Honolulu airport goes up -- with Banana Republic ads. A bit earlier, Omnipoint, the wireless communications company, starts a special promotion only for Concorde travelers inside British Airways' Terminal 7 at New York's JFK. That campaign is actually storyboarded.
"Can you imagine Tommy Hilfiger buying a whole carousel? You can introduce a whole line!" Mr. Schmidt exclaims, leaving one to assume that he has pitched Mr. Hilfiger (or Mr. Klein or Mr. Lauren or at least Mr. Diesel) on exactly that. "Can you imagine someone buying out Las Vegas at convention time?"
Can you imagine Burma Shave coming back to prominence? I can. But only because Bob Schmidt is doing the selling.
"I don't sleep as well at night," he said of his newest gig. "Thirty-year-old media buyers won't take my call. Nobody knows who you are. You gotta prove your mettle every day." He stared straight at me with those don't-you-dare-say-no baby blues and concluded, "I love it. I feel 32 again."