|He’s Got Style|
|By Lawrence Goodman|
It was the golden age of advertising.
A seemingly never-ending array of revolutionary products emerged, andclever, witty men devised now-renowned phrases like "three out of fourdoctors agree" and "space-age technology" to market them. This was thetime of snappy commercial jingles and unforgettable marketing slogans."It sits as lightly on a heavy meal as it does on your conscience,"went the ad for Jell-O. "Take a bath in the dark tonight and let thewater make love to your skin," urged a spokesman for the Lanvinperfumes and soaps. Commercials were not just a marketing tool; theywere an art form.
That was the climate in which Donald Creamer and Rob Trowbridge '52dreamed of building an ad agency as good as any. From their humblebeginnings working out of a tiny office in downtown Providence duringthe 1950s, they grew into the world's seventh biggest ad agency, withmore than $400 million in annual revenue. The Creamer TrowbridgeCompany was responsible for such memorable slogans as "Now, that'sItalian" (San Giorgio pasta), "I like the way it looks on me"(Stouffer's Lean Cuisine), and "We've got style" (Sheraton Hotels).
To memorialize these days as well as correct what Creamer believes tobe the misrepresentation of the industry on the hit television series Mad Men, Creamer has penned a book, But Wait! There's More! (Maybe).It is as much a memoir as it is an angry diatribe against today's adcompanies, which Creamer and his co-author Jim Baar say have ruinedtheir beloved business. Baar began working for Creamer in the 1970s,and the two share a dismay about what's happened to the profession inthe age of advertising conglomerates. "I have a fondness for thebusiness, and I think it's being led to ruin by the mega-agencies," hesays. "They have no interest in advertising. They only care aboutmoney."
What's gone from advertising, Creamer insists, is creativity. Backin his day, ad men were regarded as artists, he says. "I was treatedsomewhat like a celebrity," says Creamer, who now lives in Warwick,Rhode Island. "It was advertising, creativity, Hollywood. It had thatkind of aura." Creamer says he encouraged his staff to innovate. Theyspent long days brainstorming. Ad men "had a lot of freedom to expressthemselves," he says.
But such freedom didn't mean drinking in the office or chasing aftersecretaries, he insists. This is how the ad men in the show Mad Menbehave, and Creamer says, "It didn't happen that way. It didn't happenthat way at all." He may have had an occasional martini at lunch, hesays, but "there was never drinking in our offices. If I'd seen ladiesand men on my staff carrying around like they do on the show, I wouldhave fired them."
Creamer got out of the business in the mid-1980s, selling hiscompany to a British agency for $64 million. By that time, he says,"creativity was going down the drain" in the industry. Several largecompanies were gobbling up all the smaller ones in a merger frenzythat, according to Creamer, turned ad men into ordinary busy-beeworkers and their bosses into bean counters. Creamer believes there hasbeen a huge fall-off in the quality of advertising in the last fewdecades. "Instead of creative people working on behalf of a client, youhave clients buying something," Creamer says. "We used to talk about admen as people, not agencies or machines."
But Creamer is not entirely without hope. He thinks the big adagencies have become too bureaucratic and tradition-bound to fullygrasp the importance of the Internet, where small agencies with youngeremployees are now popping up to fill in the gap. "A rebirth of theadvertising industry is still possible," he says.