The Horror. The Horror.
TBWA Chiat/Day Inc. won the Belding Sweepstakes award last week, which means that if you're an advertising executive you might want to wear surgical gloves when opening your mail next winter.
It's a strange Los Angeles phenomenon that some of the year's most intriguing advertising from local agencies is created not for any high-paying client, but for the campaign soliciting entries for the Ad Club of Los Angeles' annual Belding awards.
Every year, the Sweepstakes winner the Belding Sweepstakes is sort of like the Best Picture Oscar at the Academy Awards gets to design the call-for-entries campaign for the following year.
Last year, TBWA Chiat/Day decided to have some fun with the concept that the winning agency has complete autonomy to do whatever it wants with the call-for-entries. Ad agency creative types are sort of like little kids with crayons, and the clients are always making them color within the lines.
So last year, the agency spewed Crayola all over the page. It sent out a four-page direct mailer featuring a picture of two collies mating. It superimposed Rush Limbaugh's head on the body of an obese woman. And it made a suggestive comparison between a guitar and the body of a nude woman.
More conservative elements of the local ad community found the campaign extremely offensive. Letters to the editor were written. Defensive Chiat/Day execs fired back with a highly sarcastic final mailer.
For muckraking advertising columnists, it was all a dream come true.
Far less offensive and more importantly, funnier was this year's call-for-entries from BBDO West, which won the 1996 Belding Sweepstakes for a TV commercial made for Apple Computer Inc.
Copywriter Dante Lombardi and art director Rohitash Rao created an obnoxious New York headhunter named Myra, who just arrived on the "left coast" to make some "beautiful dollar" for local advertising hotshots.
Myra sent out letters to Ad Club members all over town, urging them to call her. Hundreds did, to hear a hysterical answering machine message urging them to enter the Beldings because winning the award could increase their net worth.
"I can make you a star, Bubula!" Myra shrieked, in a voice that would make Fran Drescher sound like an all-night FM DJ. "There's an opening at J. Walter in their office in Sarasota, Fla. It's a great group and they are committed to turning the place around. Now the money is only $19,000 a year, but you can live like a king on that in Sarasota!"
Dozens of people left messages on the machine, a few even seriously inquiring about whether Myra could find them a job (although most seemed to be very young people on marketing internships).
Myra was also the emcee for a somewhat chaotic awards show last week, turning up in a variety of video snippets in which she fed her dogs out of a Belding bowl and chased TBWA Chiat/Day creative director Lee Clow through the hallways of the agency's Venice office.
"I would say that she's an amalgam of all the executive recruiters I've ever known," said Lombardi. "They always call and say they have some incredible job, but it always ends up being for very little money in some backwater place."
Lombardi said he picked on J. Walter Thompson in the answering machine message because it doesn't have an agency in L.A., and he didn't want to offend anyone. Lombardi obviously doesn't work for Chiat/Day.
The part of Myra very nearly ended up being played by a man in drag. About 50 actors auditioned for the role, many of them female impersonators, but Lombardi and Rao ultimately decided on a commercial actress named Joycee Katz.
Even after spending most of her life in California her parents moved here when she was only 6 years old Katz still talks with a distinctive Manhattan accent. She has appeared in 45 commercials and played one of the stand-up comedians in the 1987 Tom Hanks/Sally Fields movie "Punchline."
Myra, Katz said, was patterned partially after her aunt Anita and partially after herself.
"She's a codependent, she's an enabler, she's a rescuer," Katz said about her character. "Going with her is kind of like going on a bipolar roller coaster. She's tough, but with a heart of gold."
The Myra campaign clearly required a great deal of time and effort from BBDO, not to mention money. The agency, with some help from the Ad Club, paid for the entire thing, although Lombardi said many vendors supplied their services for free.
Dan Turner is a staff reporter for the Los Angeles Business Journal who covers the marketing, entertainment and media industries.
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