The most fun you can have with your clothes on

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It turned out that the carrot was claustrophobic - that was a bit of bad luck. As he was being carried into the giant oven by two oversized gaffers he screamed, "Sid, get me out of here. Sid, I beg you, please get me out of here! I can't breathe." To make things worse, the legs of the two peas, which were folded under them, began to cramp up, and the peas started to complain. This didn't sit well with the asparagus, who, furious at the lack of professionalism of the rest of the vegetables, refused to read his line until Sid, the usually amiable director, lost his temper and threatened the asparagus that he would never work again as an asparagus or any other animal, vegetable or mineral. The vegetables - with the exception of the carrot, who, resigned to his fate, was now softly whimpering, quieted down. Then we rolled the 20-foot sheet of plastic wrap over them, and they started to sing about the virtues of being cooked in a microwave oven while protected by Saran Wrap.

This commercial was shot in 1979. It ran a few times, then the client pulled it off the air because, based on one showing for a research measurement that is no longer in existence today, it scored two points under the norm for the category. If you work in advertising as a creative, you know when you wake up in the morning that at least once a day someone will break your heart. But you also know that many times during the day you'll laugh as no one in any other profession will laugh.

When I started in the advertising business in the 1960s, I was told by creative veterans that the "golden age" had passed; the real fun was in the 1950s. The veterans were wrong. By the end of the '60s I felt there could never be a better time than the '60s. I was wrong. The '70s were better than the '60s and the '80s were better . . . and so on and so forth. The fact is, advertising gets better and better, because it is so ridiculous. We make 30-second minimovies. We go to exotic places to shoot wonderful spots. We take weeks to conceive them, months to complete them, and then the person whom we intend to see the spot waits until our pride and joy comes up on the TV screen and goes to the bathroom. Is it any wonder that we ad people are all a little bit mad?

Some 25 years after the vegetable shoot, I found myself on a shoot in the middle of Los Angeles for the World Gold Council. The scene was of conquistadors traveling the desert in search of gold. For the sake of authenticity, a Gila monster - it looked like a big fat lizard to me - was supposed to be resting on a log as the explorers rode past. Naturally a Gila monster `wrangler' was employed. He made an announcement: "If the Gila monster breaks loose and comes near you, do not move. I warn you, do not move, as his bite is highly poisonous. If you are bitten, you will die in a few minutes." He then mumbled something about having plenty of antidote for the bite, but I wasn't listening. I was counting the number of people the Gila monster had his choice of before he got to me. The Gila monster was carefully placed on the log. Then the desert silence was shattered by the sound of the "William Tell Overture." Yes, it was the ring of my cell phone. The Gila monster, not familiar with the "William Tell Overture," stared at me through hooded eyes. "Hello," I whispered. "Hello," came the loud voice of my partner. "I can't talk now, there's a Gila monster staring at me." Now the Gila monster was starting to stir. I hung up and started to get ready to run for my life.

Talking vegetables and Gila monsters in the desert. After all these years, advertising is still the most fun you can have with your clothes on. And now, at my age, it's even more fun than I can have with my clothes off.

Jerry Della Femina is chairman/CEO at Della Femina Rothschild Jeary & Partners, New York. This essay is adapted from the foreword to Mad Ave: Award-winning Advertising of the 20th Century, Universe Pulishing, 2000.

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