Now, at 75 (Ben claims even his grandchildren don't know his age-until now), he can't jump up on desks anymore, but he's still on the move. His latest advertising gig has him traveling back and forth to China to develop a campaign for high-end real estate where rich Chinese can take their paramours.
Ben said he was having a tough time figuring out how to depict that somewhat delicate scenario. So he ran through Tianamen Square in Beijing (and also through the streets of Shanghai, where he was helping Shanghai Film Studios develop plans for a Universal-like theme park) to clear his mind and observe people.
"You have to first connect with people if you want to sell them anything. I could read books about the Chinese, but I prefer to read the people."
The task wasn't easy. "The Chinese are a very proud, reserved, respectful people, very reluctant to open up, show emotion or even laugh among strangers. And believe me, I was not only a stranger but probably very strange looking to them as well." He must have been quite a sight-his shock of white hair bobbing and weaving among the Chinese populace, his American flag bandana around his neck.
Ben was constantly amazed at the energy of the streets, the appetites of the people, the incessant ringing and chatter of cellphones. "It reminded me of Napoleon's advice 200 years ago," Ben said. "Watch China. It's a sleeping dragon that once awakened will shake the world."
Ben is the guy who inspired the idea for some of the greatest ad lines of our time, such as "Where's the beef?" for Wendy's, Timex's "Takes a licking and keeps on ticking," and "Stronger than dirt" for Ajax detergent (which I wrote about when I was a pup).Ben says the inspiration for his Chinese real estate project came while watching "Rio Bravo," the old John Wayne flick, in a packed Beijing movie theatre, subtitled, of course. "I don't know whether it's a remnant of Marlboro's presence in China since the `70s-a small storefront poster, a kiosk ad, all conjuring up the days of the cowboy, the gunslinger-but the passion for our Old West is alive in China. I ran back to my hotel and my sketchbook." (See the result, top left.) And so was born a campaign for the Estates of Beijing Spring Valley Ranch, a 300-unit log home community in the foothills of the Shunyi Mountains.
And not your typical log homes, by any means. These beauties are over 4,000-square feet of pure luxury-unheard of in China. Pre-built in North Carolina, and reassembled at the Estates. And get this: The security officers will patrol on horseback, decked out in ten-gallon hats.
"We're not advertising homes," Ben says. "We're selling an emotion and a dream that your Chinese millionaires crave."