Someone once opined that if you could remember the 60s you weren’t there. It is a pithy statement, clever and succinct, if not entirely accurate. But there is enough truth in it to give some of us who were “there” a certain smugness, not because we survived it, but because we remember it.
I feel much the same way about working in advertising in the 70s and the 80s. I was there and for various reasons (unrelated to the prevailing and residual habits of the 60s), I should have forgotten most of what occurred then.
I haven’t. And with good reason; much of what I experienced, observed, or heard of back then is so outrageous and so unbelievable, that even if I wished I could get rid of them, I wouldn’t be able to. It’s all indelibly printed in my memory.
The 70s and the 80s are the eras of great advertising in New Zealand. The profession itself was changing. The “suit” dominated agencies were in decline, to be replaced by creativity front and centre, as the post war baby boomers entered the profession, and a pocket-sized pirate radio ship called Tiri changed the media-scape.
It was an era that produced some of our greatest-ever television advertising: Labour’s “It’s Time” (1972), the “Great Crunchie Train Robbery” (1975), KFC’s “Hugo and Holly” (1975), BASF’s “Dear John” (1981), and Toyota’s “Crumpy and Scotty” (1982) to name just a few.
However, remarkably perhaps, the ads were somewhat less interesting than the people who created them. And if advertising back then already had a credibility perception issue, then persuading people that these bizarre events and the individuals behind these ads were real and true was an even harder sell.
But I will try.
I worked for Colenso—one of the hot three; the others were MacHarman Ayer, and Saatchi and Saatchi. Colenso was notorious on so many levels. It produced the infamous “Dancing Cossacks” campaign for the National Party in the 1975 general election. It also produced some of the most bizarre scenes I experienced in advertising: the art director who used his own blood to paint an ad layout after lacerating his hand by hitting a wall when his original layout was rejected; the same art director trying to kill his writer during a creative dispute; the wonderfully named art-director/writer team, Al Rapone and Doug Maroney, and the great chainsaw massacre of 1975 when Rapone, in a fit of pique at the loss of the creative’s “rest-area” to make way for an account executive’s office, decided to demolish it with a chainsaw—while we were in it.
On a more productive note, these mad men also created many of the commercials I mentioned earlier. Colenso was also home to one of the giants of our industry—the late, great Len Potts.
Down the road in Parnell, Bob Harvey was making great advertising and a legend out of himself. Delightfully mad, Bob was one of the few suits who understood creativity. Those of us who were there can’t forget him telling the Klisser Family (Vogel’s) that he had arranged for Dr. Henry Kissinger, who was then the most famous German Jew in the world, to come to New Zealand to endorse their bread. That came as a complete surprise to the creatives in the room who had just presented something entirely different. When asked after the meeting how long he had known about Dr. Kissinger and why he hadn’t told us about it, Bob’s self-assured response was that he had made it up on the spot—that the presentation was going so badly, he had to come up with something. “It is now up to you to make it work,” was his parting shot as he skipped out of the room. Of course, Kissinger never happened.
Work hard, play hard is another often-used (and over-used) phrase. It also often used as a badge of honour; we in Colenso in the 70s, and for me later in the 80s at MacHarman Ayer Advertising, certainly thought it as such. I remember a cartoon in a Thursday magazine showing two people looking up at Colenso’s building in Whitaker Place. There is a party going on in the fourth and fifth floors (Colenso’s). One person turns to the other and says, “Colenso is starting their Christmas party early this year.” The other replies, “Nah, that’s last year’s still going.”
Later in the late 80s, that role, that reputation, was usurped by the money-men and the stock-market traders. Advertising never recovered it. Maybe, no longer wanted it.
Is it still a badge of honour for us today? Probably not.
However, it remains a memory—a beautiful memory of a time when a lot of what we did didn’t make a lot of sense. But, the ads we did? Those were ads of an age that are now ageless.