A Time in Advertising’s Camelot
A Time in Advertising’s Camelot – The Memoirs of a Do-Gooder
Starting With A War
I was not part of advertising’s Camelot – the Advertising Council – in l942. I was part of the U.S. Army and not a very happy part. I was “The Kid in Upper Four,” if any of you remember that famous World War II ad showing a youngster in his BVD undershirt lying in an upper berth in a blacked-out troop train; arms behind his head on a pillow, his eyes wide open, wondering where he was, and where he might be going. I don’t mean I really was that kid, but he spoke for me and millions of others like me as his words inspired magazine readers to buy War Bonds. I didn’t know where that ad came from but I know I wanted to thank the person who wrote it for sharing my loneliness, fear, and homesickness, and for helping me realize that someone out there cared. I still thank that copywriter. Not only for what he or she did for the GI’s morale and my own, but for introducing me to the world of advertising’s Camelot. I never dreamed that I would someday be part of that world.
Eighteen years later I was back in New York, having a ball as VP for Advertising at the Chase Manhattan Bank. We were in the throes of turning that great corporate bank’s image inside out, making it a “people’s” bank with the memorable campaign that helped change all bank advertising, “You have a friend at Chase Manhattan.” Ted Bates was our retail agency, Compton did our corporate work and Doremus our trade publications. Ted Bates, then running his agency and Bart Cummings then running the Compton Advertising agency, were very active in the world of advertising’s Camelot, the Advertising Council, from its beginning, and encouraged me to serve as the Volunteer Coordinator (a.k.a. Advertising Manager) for one of the Council’s new campaigns on the Balance of Payments. Presumably I knew something about that arcane subject because I was with a famous bank. What I didn’t realize was that George Champion, chairman of Chase, (David Rockefeller was president) was opposed to the way the government was trying to solve the problem, and here I was, one of his trusted staff executives, working as a volunteer for Jack Connor, former head of Merck & Company who had become the Secretary of Commerce, the Ad Council’s ‘client’ (non-paying of course), for the Balance of Payments Campaign.
To George’s credit he never remonstrated with me and I was grateful that disruptive conflicts of interest simply did not exist between business concerns and the Council’s pro bono publico efforts. Of all the difficult problems I later ran into as president of the Council, I never had one bit of pressure put on me to toady to a commercial interest. On the other hand, the do-gooders who emerged in the succeeding years of domestic strife, the anti-nukes, the anti-government, anti-business protesters, would never accept this assertion on my part. Surely any creature of the commercial world as the Council was, would have to be a patsy for business. But the work we did was substantially in the public interest. It spoke for itself and was our apologia pro vita sua.
Simply put, The Advertising Council provided the government and private philanthropic organizations like the Red Cross with action provoking advertising that moved Americans to take positive steps to help them-selves, their communities and their country. The campaigns were created free of charge by advertising agencies. Massive free time and space were contributed by the media; newspapers, magazines, trade papers, out-of-door posters, radio, and later, television. Lots of planning, organizing and financial support was needed to implement this extraordinary work. American corporations and its leaders volunteered their time and resources resulting in campaigns like Smokey Bear, CARE, the Peace Corps, the United Negro College Fund, and Crime Dog McGruff, hundreds in all that were monumentally successful.
But in a practical sense the Balance of Payments campaign was a failure, no fault of the volunteer agency, Ted Bates, which under the creative tutelage of Rosser Reeves, Jerry Gury and Don Booth, did great work. It featured that masterful comedian, Jack Benny, in black and white television Public Service Advertisements (PSA) asking an off – camera Secretary of Commerce plaintively, “Is my dollar, (taking one out of his bulging wallet) is my dollar as good as gold? Tell me, please, Mr. Secretary.” And he got a good answer. But delightful as the advertising was, it didn’t work, because the Ad Council had neglected its own criteria, which said that the public had to be able to do something specific about the problem presented in the advertising. It was a dilemma in 1965 just as it is today, as the Council decides what campaigns to accept and what to turn down as un-doable if there was no action message.
One morning in early l966 I was invited to breakfast at the Union League Club by Don McGannon who was then president of Westinghouse Broadcasting and vice chairman of the Ad Council’s Board. There were two other Ad Council directors with him that I knew slightly- Ed Ebel of General Foods and Clay Bookhout of TIME. I figured I was going to be fired as the Volunteer Coordinator on the Balance of Payments campaign. But the scrambled eggs were good and so was the company. I didn’t realize that I was meeting with the selection committee to recommend a new Council president, since Ted Repplier, its first president, was about to retire. Don asked me if I would accept the position if it were offered to me. Totally surprised, I picked my face out of the scrambled eggs and said I would, pending the approval of my wife, my immediate boss at the bank, Gene Mapel, who was an unmitigated genius and head of marketing, George Roeder, Executive VP, David Rockefeller and George Champion, President and Chairman, respectively. I mention all these men to indicate that leaving the bank as an officer in those days was almost like leaving the priesthood. You just didn’t do so cavalierly.
I had one other stipulation – that I would not be elbowing out either of the Council’s two vice presidents, Allan Wilson or George Ludlam, who had been my bosses during my previous tenure and whom I greatly admired. Nor would I be doing so with the two executives who had been on a par with me. Hank Wehde or Gordon Kinney, who had stayed at the Council for so many years when I had left to accept that great opportunity at Chase Manhattan. I was assured that the Board had deter-mined to go outside for a new president.
Ironically, I had been hired by the Ad Council as Campaigns Manager right after leaving the Air Force in l954. Before I resigned my com-mission, while stationed in the Pentagon. I had been a ‘client’ of the Council, non-paying, except for the out-of pocket production costs, per usual Ad Council practice. The Council had saved the Air Force’s bacon when it accepted a campaign to recruit civilian volunteers for the Ground Ob-server Corps. Up to that time, l952, the Air Force had tried vainly to recruit people to spot enemy aircraft, which would have come at us from the Soviet Union. The Korean War was still dragging on. Both the Red Chinese and the Russians were supporting the North Koreans. Should conditions worsen even more, our country was vulnerable to air attack, particularly from the east and from over the North Pole. Our radar was spotty; aircraft could come in underneath it anyway, and we had only one or two air defense bases on our northern border from Maine to Washington.
I had learned a lot more about the War Advertising Council after l942 when I was “the kid in upper four.” It had helped sell billions of dollars worth of War Bonds. It had breathed life into the image of “Rosie the Riveter” as the ideal for women to get into war work. It convinced the American people to conserve energy, save fats, keep war information “un-der your Stetson”, because “a slip of the lip could sink a ship”, on and on, hundreds of campaigns that included one still going today – Smokey the Bear, saying, “Only you can prevent forest fires,” and saving millions of acres of forest in the process.
Originally conceived for fear of the Japanese firing shells on west coast forests, Smokey became a peacetime problem solver and a children’s icon, with one volunteer advertising agency, Foote Cone and Belding, still going strong after almost sixty years. What a manifestation of my awe, my admiration, and my affection for the thousands of volunteers like Lou Scott and Jim Felton who inhabited the world of wonderful wordsmiths who did this kind of pro bono publico work – and whose counterparts do so today!
When I finally came face to face with the people at The Advertising Council, the word “War” having been dropped, I was working in public relations at Air Force Headquarters in the Pentagon. It was l951 and I had risen from buck private to Lt. Colonel. I was 3l years old and most of that rank was attributable to the decision I had made in l945 to remain on active duty while all of my friends and millions of others couldn’t get out of the service fast enough. We had demobilized over l0 million men – the Soviet Union – none. I had become convinced as I sat in on top level briefings for the press that we would eventually go to war with Russia and even though it was not the popular thing to do, I stayed on and never regretted it. Two years later, my boss, “Rosie” O’Donnell, then a Major General, encouraged me to apply for a regular commission in what had become the United States Air Force, under the Unification Act of l947. We were now on a par with the Army and Navy. I was then a captain, the lowest officer rank allowed in the Pentagon. “The Kid in Upper Four” had grown up in a hurry.
The Iron Curtain had descended in Europe and the Cold War was upon us. Less drastic than World War II perhaps, but the kind of crisis the Ad Council was uniquely qualified to help alleviate. And so in l95l when I was assigned to the job of promoting the Ground Observer Corps, the first thing I did was to accompany my new boss, Major General Sory Smith, in calling upon the Ad Council for help.
We flew their key people to our air defense facilities all over the country and even up to North Bay, Canada, for briefings from the Royal Canadian Air Force and visits to their air defense facilities, all to show how really vulnerable we were to aerial bombing. When you fly with people on non-luxury, stripped-down military aircraft sitting on the parachute someone strapped on you when you got on board, you develop a sense of camaraderie.
The rapport I established with Council President Ted Repplier on those flights never left either of us. He became so devoted to the Air Force he encouraged his son, Teddy, to apply to the newly founded Air Force Academy and young Ted wound up as a hot jet pilot and an excellent officer. I in turn, became devoted to the Ad Council. Any advertising group that would go to such lengths to learn what the client’s problems and objectives were so that its staff could take on the creative challenges effectively, had to be A-okay.
Our deal with the Ad Council was clinched when I lined up General Hoyt Vandenberg, then the Air Force Chief of Staff, to fly up to New York to address the Council’s Board of Directors at its monthly meeting at the Hotel Pierre. As luck would have it, the weather was horrible that day. All the New York airports were socked in and General Van would not exercise the privilege he had of coming down through the clutter of air traffic to make his landing ahead of the others. His crew radioed the LaGuardia Tower and they patched General Smith, who was on board, through to me via telephone to the hotel anteroom. I got the bad news that it would be at least two hours before they could possibly land.
In desperation I said to my boss, “If they can put you through from the LaGuardia Tower and I can hear you now, why can’t we have General Van give his speech from the plane to the tower by radio, with the phone company picking it up on a special line they could set up directly from the tower to the hotel. There it could be patched into their public address system and into the meeting room.” The speech was scheduled for one hour from the time we were talking, but since only one person could transmit at a time, we had to have General Vandenberg begin speaking in one hour and continue to the end without knowing if he was getting through. Now mind you, we weren’t talking about a blase radio reporter, we were talking about the Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force. If it didn’t work he was well aware of my name, rank and serial number. My fate, as someone once said was on the line!
Somehow in the next 50 minutes I was able to reach the head of Air Force Command Communications in the Pentagon, who gave AT&T a ton of business. He gave that great company the picture: get the La Guardia Tower to brief the Air Force radio operator aboard the aircraft; have the AT&T people set up a line to the hotel, have the hotel patch through to the meeting room and at l200 hours be ready for General Van to start speaking. I then passed the word to the presiding chairman in the next room. It sure got his attention and the entire Board of Directors was transfixed, watching the clock as all other business was suspended and some hotel mechanics fussed with the PA system. At twelve o’clock the general’s voice came through like magic over the drone of the C-54’s engines as they circled New York in a holding pattern.
It was high drama indeed. Never before (or since), had a major speech been delivered from a military aircraft circling the city to a hotel meeting room. To this day I don’t know how it really worked, or why, but it did. Bingo!, the Council Board voted to accept the Ground Observer Corps recruitment campaign in spite of an already crowded docket. The volunteer advertising agency, Ruthrauff and Ryan, was quickly named, the media responded generously and within three years over a million Americans, young, old, male, female, forest rangers and lighthouse keepers, who-ever, volunteered to stand in fire towers, on hilltops and rooftops for at least four hours a week, spotting aircraft and reporting them to air defense command control centers throughout the country, with fighter aircraft being dispatched when no identification could be established.
Of course the Russians never attacked, but on a couple of occasions came pretty close and those civilian observers were out there, trained and ready to spot any intruders thanks to some talented persuaders from Madison Avenue.
The Ad Council’s potency as a communications force had been so well established, it’s not surprising that President Roosevelt, before his death, suggested that it be continued in peacetime. That he did so was, of course, a silent medal of honor to the world of Advertising’s Camelot.
Presidents I Have Known
That chapter title was a book by a seasoned Washington hand, George Allen who really knew a lot of presidents compared to me, The only reason I knew the ones I did was because of the Ad Council, with one exception. That was Harry Truman and the reason I met with him in his office and then in the Rose Garden for photographs was because I had written a theme song for the Community Chest’s drive in l947 which Kate Smith sang on a network broadcast on the steps of the Treasury Department with the United States Air Force Band. We had a group picture, a huge one which I have framed in my basement rec room. My song’s title was “The Red Feather,” which was the Community Chest symbol. Mills Music published it and as far as I know, never sold a copy. But they did a band arrangement, Kate Smith sang it, along with “When The Moon Comes Over The Mountain,” and we all got into the White House to meet President Truman.
Kate Smith shows President Harry Truman the “Red Feather” musical score written by Capt. Robert Keim, left, conducted by George Howard, right. I never met President Eisenhower but hurrying down a Pentagon corridor one day with his arm around General Al Gruenther, since Ike had just been recalled from Columbia University to head up NATO, he almost ran me down. So I did meet him in a way. But when I got to the Ad Council, I met with and worked out some things with Presidents Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Bush (the elder) and their aides. This process occurred intermittently, beginning practically the day I showed up at the Council. On a day to remember, the phone rang. My secretary was out so I picked it up.
“Keim,” I heard, “this is Kintner.” Kintner? Of course, the president of the American Broadcasting Company, a member of our Board. Wrong, I quickly learned. He was now an assistant to President Johnson, a right-hand man it appeared; he knew his importance and to put it mildly, he was fit to be tied. I won’t include all the profanity in what followed, but I’ll give some hints. “The boss is really upset.” That was the title most White House staffers used when referring to the president. “What about?” I asked. “Those goddam Eisenhower commercials, that’s what about!” I rolled my eyes to heaven without the slightest clue. “The Eisenhower commercials? What Eisenhower commercials?”
Kintner’s voice was normally gravelly. Now it was rasping. “Don’t you watch what’s on the tube? Well if you guys don’t, I can tell you the President does. He’s got enough television sets around him to watch all three networks at once if he wants to, and he calls me at midnight to say, Bob, there’s another one of those goddam Eisenhower Library television spots with Bob Hope on again. Where are our Savings Bonds spots? What’s the blankety blank Ad Council doing anyway?”
Now it began to come into focus for me. The Eisenhower Library people had produced their own television spots with Bob Hope as the talking head. We had nothing to do with it and we had no power over the networks or stations to ask them to stop running the Hope spots. I explained that to Kintner as best I could.
“Well, I kid you not, THE BOSS IS REALLY TICKED OFF. He wants you to bring your whole (deleted) Board of Directors down here and straighten this thing out.” I said, “Bob, we have 85 Directors. That’s too many. Let me line up about 10 or so of them who are on our Executive Committee.”
“Okay,” he grunted, “and another thing. The Bonds’ creative work is too soft. He wants to see something like the War Bonds advertising you did in WWII. Get the American people behind the poor bastards fighting in Vietnam.” He named a date and time and hung up.
I sat there. A few weeks on the job and I get this? A meeting with the President? More likely a confrontation with that hot tempered giant of a man – the leader of the free world. I’d heard and read about LBJ’s ability to persuade, or to put it another way – to get his way. And I toted up the odds. A War Bonds campaign for an unpopular war, getting more so everyday? Our non-political status shattered? The media at our throats? There was no way we could do what Bob Kintner had asked for. A further irony – we had seven agencies working as volunteers on the Savings Bonds campaign. It was that important to us. If we were playing bridge, it was our longest and strongest suit, winning all sorts of awards. It had been the Council’s first campaign in l942 requested by Treasury Secretary Morgenthau.
Leo Burnett in Chicago was the volunteer agency handling the Savings Bonds television for us. Their latest television film spot showed a young boy getting his first haircut, while the voice-over reflected on our need to keep faith with him and his country by buying bonds. The photography was perfect. The camera circled with the elderly barber moving around the boy, snipping away. It was right out of my own experience and that of any dad at his son’s first haircut. I had it on my sample reel and it never failed to get applause. It was Norman Rockwell on film. Soft, said Kintner? Yes, it was soft. It also sold a lot of bonds.
But the lines were drawn, and we had to go. I not only invited our officers and key directors on our Executive Committee but also the volunteer agencies and the networks who were represented on our Board. When I called Jack Schneider who was then president of CBS Television, he not only accepted, but offered the CBS plane to fly us to Washington and back. Meantime I received a call from the Secretary of Treasury Henry “Joe” Fowler who was technically our client. He was obviously embarrassed, knowing full well that his people had approved our work all along and that urging the public to buy bonds was one thing but to link it to Vietnam would be a disaster for us. At the time he was negotiating with other nations on the development of an international currency. It was a high stakes business and he told me that like Kintner, he’d get calls day and night about the Hope-Eisenhower spots running again, when he should have been worrying about what was an ill-fated currency anyway. We climbed aboard the Gulfstream Jet a few days later at La Guardia.
Seated, or rather strapped in comfortable chairs in a kind of lounge setting, Jack opened up. “Now what are we doing here again?” I liked him. He looked more like an actor than a network president and he smiled readily. He was jamming me a little since he had already been told what this was about. But I went through it again, trying not to mimic Bob Kintner. When I finished he said, “So one of us has to tell the President of the United States, the leader of the free world, that we can’t do what he wants us to do?” I nodded. “Well, who’s it to be?” he asked.
Nobody volunteered. “Well I’m the Council president. I guess it should be me.” My offer was tentative, but to my unhappy surprise, everyone agreed. In fairness, it really was my job. I was closest to the scene. I knew Secretary Fowler and all the people connected with the campaign. I found as a very young officer, I was more at ease with top brass like General LeMay than I was with lower ranking officers, figuring I guess, that I wasn’t a big enough target to be dumped on. I had once cracked jokes with President Truman in the Oval Office hadn’t I? But I knew all too well how different this was going to be.
Our instructions had been to go to the main entrance of the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue, which we did, only to be told by the cheer-less guard there that we should go to the West Gate, adjacent to the Old Executive Office Building. In the 21 years following I made many visits to the White House and most every time was routed from gate to gate. At first I thought there was something wrong with me but finally concluded that the Secret Service just meant to keep visitors off balance for the hell of it. Nothing like keeping people nervous about where they were at!
We had all been cleared in advance of course and our names were each checked off carefully. We were a little early but it took time and we were clustered at the guard’s desk when behind me came Secretary of Treasury Joe Fowler. “And who are you?”, the guard asked, taking Mr. Secretary aback. “You don’t know the Secretary of Treasury?” I blurted out? “He’s our host for our meeting with the President for goodness sake.” Unabashed, the guard took his sweet time about it, then waved us in. Everyone in our group was a VIP in his own right – network or agency president, media mogul, whatever. But they were all very human and when you’re ushered through the carpeted halls of the White House by no less a person than the Secretary of the Treasury, it gets to you. This was no tourist’s guided tour. This visit, like my later ones, was strictly business.
Right to the Fish Room we strode briskly, and sat down, almost I thought, like a Sunday School class, a row or two of straight-backed chairs with straight-backed occupants facing the teacher’s empty table up front. Secretary Fowler happened to be one of the nicest people you’d ever want to know. He had a shock of pure white hair over a cheerful, ruddy complexion, rimless glasses that his eyes beamed through, dressed soberly like the Wall Streeter he had been – every inch the cabinet officer and confidante of the President. He welcomed us warmly and graciously praised the Council, which he knew went back to Roosevelt and Morgenthau days. He glanced around the room and told us about some of the momentous meetings that had taken place in this very setting. Nobody was bored or impatient.
Without warning in strode Lyndon Baines Johnson, the President of the United States. I said earlier that Vernon Jordan didn’t enter a room, he invaded it. LBJ did him one better. He took over the room. We all stood up of course, and as was the custom, applauded him. Everything about him was big, his shoulders, his arms and hands, even his face and smile seemed big. After waving at us graciously he sat down behind the table. He told us again some of the Fish Room’s history, leaning back in his chair, legs out-stretched, thumbs in his belt rocking back and forth, just as I had heard others describe such performances. Then he launched into a speech, more of an oration actually, a monologue not a dialogue. Neither I nor anyone else got a chance to speak. We heard about the war in Vietnam and how much our country had at stake, how the public had to be sold on the importance of getting behind the war effort like we did in WWII. He invoked the need for good old-fashioned patriotism and I must say he was impressive in the obviously sincere and touching way he did it. This was a Baptist preacher in his pulpit and a darned good one. Probably the best. But he didn’t dissimulate. He wanted a WAR Bonds campaign and that was that.
He ended abruptly, citing a cabinet meeting or something he had to go to, saying with a big grin from ear to ear, that Joe here (an arm around the Secretary’s shoulders) would work out the details with us, spun on his heels, waving – and walked out. There I was, mentally rehearsing what I would say and he was gone. My sigh of relief must have been audible! A head-to-head confrontation with the Big Man had been avoided! Amid some clearing of throats and scraping of chairs, Secretary Fowler moved to the front of the room and said he realized the problem we were facing and hoped we’d try our best. Leo Burnett offered to work on a new strategy and share it with the other volunteer agencies for their input. Again that incredibly decent Joe Fowler shook hands with each of us, thanked each one and escorted us to the front door so we’d have the pleasure of walking down that beautiful, semi-circular drive to Pennsylvania Avenue’s iron gate and Guard House. As he did so he said, “I know you’ve heard this from others but to give you an idea of how important this is to the President, I’ll probably get a telephone call at two in the morning asking me how I thought the meeting went and to let him know how the new work looked.” “My God,” I thought, “how it looked?” There hadn’t been time to pin fresh paper on the drawing boards!
Back in Jack Schneider’s jet at National we were promptly served snacks and drinks. His feet outstretched, glass in hand, the president of CBS summed up our day at the White House. Ruminating, Jack said almost to himself, “That Secretary of Treasury was right out of Central Casting!”
Back in New York and Chicago work began furiously. I doubt that one out of ten of the agency creative people supported the war in Vietnam but they were professionals. They’d been given a job to do and they did it, swallowing hard. Time passed. It wasn’t working. Everything came out with a political tinge. Probably more campaigns were trashed than in their experience. Then someone at the Leo Burnett Agency, digging into Savings Bonds sales data, learned that men and women in our armed forces bought more bonds proportionately than any other kind of employees. They had it! Show dramatic scenes of military people in the air, on the ground, at sea, but ambiguous as to location- in combat or training? The headline: “They buy bonds where they work. DO YOU?” This was not the campaign LBJ envisioned. But it worked its way through clearances at the Savings Bonds Division. Whether they showed it to the President before we released it we never heard. Of course he saw it eventually on the air -but never raised the roof, as we feared.
As our new campaigns took hold, our visibility increased, and as our visibility increased our media exposure for the advertising increased as well.
From the book A Time in Advertising’s Camelot by Robert P. Keim
Book design and graphics by Edward Ziobron
Copyright (c) 2002 by Longview Press
Reprinted with the permission of Robert P. Keim and Longview Press
Robert P. Keim, Longview Press
Copyright © 2002 Longview Press. All rights reserved.
Just getting started? Check out our Career Guide to jump start your career.Learn More