The ad industry has lost a giant. Cliff Freeman, the creative director and copywriter behind iconic campaigns such as “Where’s the Beef” for Wendy’s, “Pizza Pizza” for Little Caesars and “Sometimes you feel like a nut” for Almond Joy and Mounds, died at the age of 80 on Sept. 5 in his Manhattan home, as first reported by The New York Times. According to his wife, Susan Kelner Freeman, the cause was pneumonia.
As a copywriter in the ‘70s at Dancer Fitzgerald Sample and in leading his own shop Cliff Freeman and Partners from its founding in 1987 through the 2000s, the Mississipi-born Freeman made an indelible mark on advertising with his desire to flat-out entertain.
He unabashedly embraced slaptick, out-there humor, and when he loved a piece of work he rewarded his staff with his infectious laugh. “What we all wanted was the laugh,” recalled Taras Wayner, chief creative officer of VMLY&R New York, who worked as an associate creative director at CF&P from 1997 to 2005. “His laugh fed you for days.”
When it didn’t pass muster, he “punished” his staffers with two words: “Not funny!” recalls Rosie Bardales, a former CF&P associate creative director who is now chief creative officer at BETC London.
Ad Age sibling publication Creativity magazine even dedicated a regular section to him, titled “The Cliff Freeman Comedy Corner.” It honored the funniest work at the time—whether or not Freeman made it.
But all those laughs also sold really, really hard.
Freeman wasn’t afraid of putting the product front and center. Wendy’s famous commercial reminded viewers how puny the patties of its competitors were—with the help of a massive bun, a lilliputian bite of beef and that unforgettable line. For Little Caesars, what could be more client-centric than repeating your signature product offering, over and over again?
That hard-working humor rang true in his other work, for Staples, Hollywood Video, Mike's Hard Lemonade, Budget, Pep Boys and more.
Here, we look back on some of Freeman’s most memorable moments. Coming out of the darkness and chaos of the last 18+ months, the hilarity will likely provide a bit of respite, and no doubt induce a chuckle or a snort. Which is exactly what Freeman would have wanted.
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Wendy’s: Where’s the beef?
The really famous one. Sure, it was funny, and it even made it into a presidential debate, but it also helped to turn Wendy’s into a major competitor in the burger wars and led to a 31% sales boost and a 24% jump in profit.