Thursday, November 24, 2011

Lessons for Dining in France.

Lesson 1.  Too much of a good thing.
We arrived at the Auberge de Noves in Avignon after a long, tiring drive.  Bob’s hit list includes “must see sights as well as must eats meals, and he does not want to miss one of them.  This makes for exacting navigation along tiny “D” roads, and some that are mere thin black lines on our IGN Green maps. 
Truth told, I prefer driving to navigating.  Less pressure to just do as told, rather than figuring out which tiny road to take.  The music helps the long drives:  Bach, Bird, Beethoven keep our spirits up.  In the days before digital music, we travelled with a suitcase full of cassettes, Walkman, small battery operated speakers and about five pounds of AA batteries.  Music was a constant soundtrack to our driving through rural France, and in our hotel rooms morning and night.
The stone wall carried a small brass sign with the name of the Auberge, and offered a narrow gateway into the courtyard.  A beautiful dining terrace was in front of us, offering promise for a pleasant dinner.

As we pulled in, Bob told us that this one star place had been a three star eatery and was on its way back.  He also informed us that soufflé for dessert was one of the mandatory dishes.
The owner, Msr. Lanneman, came out to greet us by name, and called an impossibly small old woman over to unload our bags and carry them up the stairs to our rooms.  She managed to take all of them in one go.
 “You will be dining with is this evening?” he asked.  “Yes, we will,” came the answer.
“We reserved for four.”  “We are serving in the garden this evening.” We were told.
Then, “if you would like soufflé with your meal, I must tell the kitchen now.”  “Oui, soufflé certainment,” I replied in the few words of the language I knew.  “Bonne.”
And up we went to our lovely, antique-filled rooms in the old inn.  We were taken with the charm of the early 20th century furnishings, old porcelain and brass fixtures, and quaint WC with its overhead tank and long pull chain.  A quick wash up and down we went to sit in the garden with a coup de Champagne (another lesson learned in leisure time activity).

Dinner in the gas lit garden was pleasant.  Ample pate and amuse-bouche preceded ecrevisses a la nage, pintadeau, blood-red magret de canard, salad with foie gras, fragrant bread and sweet rich Normandy butter, cheese and two bottles of wine.
Loosening our belts, we sat back in anticipation of the soufflés, only to be puzzled when the waiter came to our table with a huge trolley of desserts.  “Non,” we waved him off. “Nous commander les soufflés,” we told him.
He looked stricken and went quickly back to the kitchen.  The owner emerged and came to our table looking abject.  “I am so sorry,” he said, “but I have forgot to tell the kitchen to make your soufflés.  I was distracted this afternoon, and made a mistake.  Jai desolé.”
Disappointed, there was nothing for it but to order dessert from the trolly, drink the sauterne we had saved and finish with a coffee.  Oh well, not a tragedy.  The meal was very good, and the place was so charming.  We made our way slowly up the stairs, bid each other “bonne nuit,” and collapsed on the fluffy feather bed in sated exhaustion.
My reverie was disturbed by a soft knock at the door.  “I guess Bob wants to tell us something,” I thought as a stood up and said “Yes.”  A muffled voice on the other side said something in French I could not quite make out.  I moved closed and said “Comment?”  Then I heard the voice clearly saying “Ici la soufflé.” 
La souffle? My god, they made the soufflés.
I opened the door to see our waiter, standing there with a large tray, containing four soufflés.  He handed me two of them, turned and went down the hall to repeat the performance at Bob and Barbara’s room.
Looking at these two beautiful specimens, fragrantly perfuming the late night air with fresh baked eggs, cream and fruit, I moaned, “there is no way I can eat this, no way at all.”  Ellen agreed.  It was all I could do to take one spoonful as a taste, and as delicious as it was, eating it would have been a gastric disaster.  What to do?  I could not put these beautiful offerings out in the hall, uneaten.  The only solution was to dispose of them, down the toilet.
This proved harder than I thought, since the light airy soufflés kept popping to the surface, and the weak flow of water from the overhead tank of the ancient toilet lacked the power to push it through the pipe.  Each pull on the chain meant waiting four or five minutes for the tank to refill, and in my state of over-fed, over-wined exhaustion, it was not fun.  Finally, the plates were empty, and I placed the tray in the hall to be collected by the night porter. “I wonder what Barbara and Bob did with theirs?” I asked Ellen.  “Bob probably ate his,” she said.  And off too sleep we went.
We assembled in the garden on a sunny morning for breakfast.  “Bonjour, bonjour,” we greeted each other.  “Sleep well?”  “Yes, very well.” And we sat quietly at table contemplating breakfast choices. 
Then Barbara said quietly, “do you know how hard it is to flush a soufflé down the toilet?”  We dissolved in laughter at the vision of the two of us, standing in our underwear, tearing bits of still warm soufflé apart with our fingers and pulling the ancient chain to dispose of the evidence.
We made it a point in future meals to make sure our request for soufflé was known in the kitchen at the start of the meal.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

True Stories of a real Mad Man: Account executive jargon.

True stories of a real Mad Man:  Account executive jargon, or "wha'd he say?" ©Joel Baumwoll

A few years out of college in 1967 and oblivious to many of life's subtleties, I took enthusiastically to my first job in a fast growing agency that was known for the intellectual capacities of its people.  "Smart" was an often used adjective whenever Grey Advertising was mentioned. 

Meeting rooms often turned into arenas where account and research staff jousted for top honors in smarts.  In this highly charged atmosphere, the research staff considered themselves to be the top of the intellectual food chain.  

To prove our points, we could trot out arcane statistical formulas (called "algorithms") in the middle of a debate about the best way to sell jelly donuts or denture cleanser.  Regression equations, "q" and "r" analysis, "psychographics" and more were all part of our arsenal.

The account executives, not to be bested, had an ace in the hole when they were behind in the score and the clock was running out.  They "knew" what the client's problem was because they had just spoken to him.  And the recommendations that the research people were pushing were not "on target."   

This tug of war went on for hours, accompanied by shouting and other histrionics.  Miraculously, at the end of the day, an answer was found.  And it was usually brilliant.  The agency grew, as did the opinions the executives had of themselves.

One afternoon, I grew concerned after three calls to Peter Rossow, account executive, went unreturned.  I wanted to find out when we were going to meet to plan an upcoming presentation to a new client. Taking the bull by the horns, I asked my secretary to schedule a meeting for later that day. 

Moments later, the phone rang.  It was a senior vice president who had the reputation for being a ferocious political infighter.  His name was Hunter Yaeger, which in English is Hunter Hunter.  He spoke with an accent called Connecticut lockjaw.

"Hi Hunter," says I.

"Since when does the research department take it on its own to set up meetings for the account group?" he asked without preamble.

"I called Peter three times and he didn't return my call,
" I countered.

"The fact that Peter didn't return your call is not a defensible fallback position,"
he shot back. 

Defensible fallback position?  I'd never heard that expression before.  Was that what I was doing?  I figured discretion was the better part of valor, so I mumbled some reply and told him to let me know when he wanted to meet. 

Not surprisingly, we met at the time and place I had scheduled earlier that day. 

Several years later, my education in account executive-speak continued at J. Walter Thompson, where several gold-cup winners in such talk toiled in custom tailored suits and well-shot French cuffs.  There was one fellow, six feet four inches, blond, clenched jaw and fighter pilot glint in the eye we used to call a towel of strength.

This came from his tendency to fold his support for any agency position the second a client indicated the slightest doubt.  Rather than fight for what our "team" decided was the right thing to do, he would jump off the ship and move to the client's side of the table.  

A towel of strength.

One occasion I was due to make an important presentation to the advertising manager of Ford, and our towel was concerned that I was going to challenge their method of evaluating commercials.  

I was.

He fell in beside me one day as I walked the hallowed halls of the executive floor of JWT.  "Are you ready to make your presentation to Ablondi?" he asked quietly.  

"Yup," I answered, revealing nothing more.

"Well you've got to be tactful," he advised me.

"I hadn't planned to insult the man," was my cute reply.

"Well," he offered,  "we have the human elements of this thing all in sync now, I wouldn't want to mess them up."

"The human elements all in sync," I mulled that phrase over in my head.  Again, deciding discretion was the better part of valor, I replied "sure Glenn.  Don't worry."  

I was to learn that keeping the human elements in sync was what Glenn got paid the big bucks for, and a big part of that was being a towel of strength.

I have since learned lots of account executive jargon and how to translate it into real English.  And keeping the human elements in sync is no mean trick.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

True stories of a real Mad Man: How I invented a train.

True Stories of a real Mad Man:  How I invented a train.  ©Joel Baumwoll

More than a few times in my life as a Mad Man, crises turned my world upside down.

Not long after I became President of Needham, Harper and Steers, a smallish New York branch of a large Chicago agency, our largest and most profitable client faced a huge threat.

Eastern Airlines decided to drop the fares on their shuttle flights from New York to Washington and Boston.  Pan Am decided to do the same and an airline price war broke out. (Neither airline exists today, which might tell us something).

Amtrak feared that the low airline prices would lure away the meager handful of riders that used their northeast corridor trains.  Graham Clayter, Amtrak's President, and Bill Norman, Executive Vice President asked the agency for ideas.

The combined budgets of the airline shuttles was more than ten times the available money to advertise Amtrak's service.  The stakes for us and Amtrak were big.  More than 50% 0f the ag4ncy's profit came from Amtrak's account.

We assembled creative teams and planners for brainstorming sessions.  A sense of urgency pervaded the meetings. The walls quickly filled with ideas for new services, train "stewardesses," computer service, fancy meals, more booze, movies and music.

Through it all, I was unconvinced that any of this would work.  Nothing on the wall made me think we had the answer.  I felt the solution was to solve a different problem than airline service.  The issue, I believed, was time.

"How long does it take to get to DC by train?" I asked an account executive who didn't work on Amtrak.  "Five hours, I think. And how long if you took the shuttle? I guess 45 minutes, an hour at most," came the reply.

There you have it, I thought.  I don't care if we had topless stewardesses and free booze.  Nothing will convince a business traveler to spend five hours on a train when he can get there in less than an hour.

I dispatched a camera crew to the airport to interview people getting off the shuttle.  I told them to ask three questions:  One, how long did this flight take?  Two, how long would it have taken by train?  Three, If the train took two and a half to three hours, would they consider it?

The answers, of course were preordained.  "Forty-five minutes."  "Five hours." "Yes."

I called Bill Norman and said I wanted to talk to him about a wild idea.  Ever the adventurer, he said come on train.

The case I made started with the statement that if all things were equal, many people would prefer the train to the plane.  More room, easier to get to and from and, the unspoken real reason, fear of flying.

"Your problem is time.  You need a TGV, a bullet train.  That's years off, I knew, so we needed a solution for tomorrow.

"Suppose," I said, "we could shave time off the trip between New York and Washington and New York and Boston.  Enough time to bring the DC trip under three hours.  If we could offer two hours and change, the equation vs. the plane doesn't look nearly as bad."

To endorse our case, we showed Norman the video tapes of shuttle fliers who said they would take the train if it were under three hours.  After all, they calculated, it takes at least half an hour to get to the airport and half an hour to get to town after landing.  The flights are often delayed, so the difference door to door is more like 30-45 minutes.  "Isn't it?"

Far be it from me to contradict their math.

"If you can create a quicker service, I propose that we brand it Amtrak Metroliner Express Service, resurrecting the Metroliner name that had been abandoned several years earlier."

Norman was a gutsy and creative guy.  He figured out how to do it, at least for one test train in the morning and one in the evening.  They were sellouts.  Three more test trains were added, and they too sold out.  So the service grew, offering four, then five and six express trains daily.  Boston was added to the service.

New York to Washington in 
2 hours and 59 civilized minutes! 

promised our ads from every taxi top, TDI display, billboard and traffic alert in drive time.

Civilized was a code word to fliers who were used to being crammed into the sardine-can planes and squeezed in and out like toothpaste in a tube.

Washington to New York in 2 hours and 59 civilized minutes! was the promise to congressmen who wanted to escape the beltway for a little R&R.

People responded in droves.  The Metroliner service sold out every trip.  

In a short time, the Metroliner service became the largest revenue producer in the system.

In 2000, sixteen years later, Amtrak announced a true TGV, the ACELA service, that makes the trip in just over 2 hours.  It is now the largest revenue source in Amtrak's system. And a symbol for America's ability to offer reliable intercity rail services that people like to use.

I may have created some new products before, but that's the first and only time I invented a train.

Even so, I pay full fare whenever I use it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Drunk and disorderly at fourteen.

Drunk and disorderly at fourteen.  ©Joel Baumwoll

I recall becoming interested in beer and booze at thirteen, not long after I learned to enjoy masturbation.   The “forbidden fruit” aspect of drinking in 1953 was probably as appealing as the buzzed feeling.  

The problem was how to get my hands on the stuff.

My early ingenuity revealed itself in the scheme I hatched to get the local liquor store to deliver bottles to my home when my parents were safely absent.  It occurred to me that a deliveryman would never hand over a box full of beer and whiskey bottles to a teenager, but he might to a nine year old.  So I drafted the services of my kid brother.

The plot called for me to be upstairs with the electric razor humming when the doorbell rang.  My brother called out, “Dad, there is a delivery guy here.”  I answered in the lowest register voice I could muster “the money’s on the table and there’s a tip for him.”  Bingo!

Thus my career as a kid boozer was launched.  My friend Bob Logan and I liked to get mildly buzzed on Saturday nights and go to the dance at Montclair High School.  The Dutch courage helped me overcome my feelings of inadequacy with the older girls I liked to pursue.

For some reason that now escapes me, if there was a reason, we decided to really tie one on this particular Saturday night.  Another strategy to get our hands on the stuff was to tell Mr. Larry, the gay antiques dealer, that we would have some drinks with him if he bought the booze.  

He was always holding out promises of fun and games if we came up to his apartment over the store and hoisted a few.  Our subtle plan was to wait for Larry to buy the bottle and then run like hell, a quart of PM rye whiskey stuffed into my coat.

Logan’s parents were going out that night, so we waited, hidden in a pigeon coop in his backyard, alternating slugs from the whiskey bottle and a jug of ginger ale.  

Ah, that was real class drinking.  The cooing of pigeons and the acrid smell of dung did not deter us from our high life adventure.  By the time his parents pulled out of the driveway, we had nearly polished off the whiskey and the mixer.

It was time to go to the dance.

Now, my recollections of a lot of things that night are very acute, but how we got from Logan’s house to a puddle of rainwater in the parking lot of the Acme supermarket is a mystery.  I remember standing in front of the large building that was Montclair High and being surprised that the building was completely dark and locked.  We’d missed the dance!  What to do now, but to go to my house, which was about fifteen minutes away.

The two of us must have stumbled and staggered through the dark streets, past houses in the poor black section of town along Central Avenue, when Bob fell on flat his face.  In the dim light of the streetlight, I saw a stream of blood running down his face from a gash over his right eye.  His eyeglass frame had opened a neat slice on his forehead that bled profusely.  Terrified that he was mortally wounded, I banged on the doors of the darkened houses asking for help.  None came.  

My next move, done with all the clarity of a completely drunk fourteen year old, was to lift Logan onto my shoulders and carry him the remaining three blocks to my house.  My brother, who was home alone, reports being traumatized by the sight of two bloody, dirty, wet and reeking figures rolling in the door like some bizarre circus act.  

Recovering my senses long enough to realize that I had a life to save (little did I know how close that was to the truth), I picked up the phone over Logan’s protests, and told the operator (we had “number please” operator service in 1954) that she needed to get an ambulance over to Three Vincent Place because “my friend was bleeding to death.”

The sharp, penetrating vapors of ammoniated salts woke me from a stupor, to a room full of white-coated men and women and a couple of blue uniformed cops, all looking at Logan and me.  

“What were you drinking?” one asked.  “Nuthin,” I protested, fearing that drinking was a serious offense.  “We wuz smoking.”  “Uh oh” the cop said, “smoking what?” “Chesserfield regulars” I shouted back, tossing a crumpled pack in the air.  It was the first time I had copped to smoking, but I figured, in my alcohol-fuzzed logic, that it was a lesser offense than whiskey.

One cop, with a particularly keen nose for the hard stuff, said "They were drinking Canadian Club.  I can smell it from here." 

I replied indignantly "Nah, we wasn't drinkin' any of that cheap stuff.  We wuz drinkin' PM.  $4.99 a quart."  Apparently, even at the tender age of fourteen, I had developed an appreciation for quality in liquor.

The next question was inevitable.  “Where’dya get it?”  Logan and I told six different and equally improbable stories (found it, took it off a drunk, masqueraded as an older guy), among which was Mr. Larry’s part in this drama. 

Poor Mr. Larry.  His goose was cooked.

The docs gave me as shot which caused me to spend the next seven hours with my face in the toilet, heaving up every thing I had eaten for the past six months.  We had come seriously close to alcohol poisoning, but I didn’t realize that until several years later.

Some months later, Logan and I were hauled before a judge, who told us two boys with IQs as high as ours (I was very impressed with this information) were off on a very wrong track, and forbade us to see each other again.

Six months later, my parents, convinced that Montclair would drive me to a ruined life, moved to an upper-middle class, mostly Jewish community, called White Meadow Lake, near Morristown.  There, they thought, I would meet college-bound kids and leave this life of indolence and drunken womanizing that I had adopted in tony Montclair.  

Little did they know.  But that's another story.

The first week we lived in the new house, I was jumped at night by four anti-Semitic seventeen year-olds (one, the son of the local Policeman, Tony George).  They were bored, beered up and decided it would be fun to drive up to White Meadow and beat up a Jew or two.  Another kid, not as able as I to get away from them, had a fractured skull for their efforts.  So much for upgrading my lifestyle.

But my parents were right about one thing.  I did go to college after graduating from Morris Hills Regional High.  And I never again was able to drink enough to get that sick.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

True stories of a real Mad Man: How a cold Bud helped to change V-8.

True stories of a real Mad Man:  how a cold Bud helped to change V-8 ©Joel Baumwoll

Gather ‘round kiddies, and you will hear a story from the ancient days of my Mad Man career.  Way back in nineteen and eighty-two, I was toiling away as President of a small New York agency, Needham Harper & Steers. 
This was in the days before the desktop computer, the cell phone and the internet.  The fax machine was high tech stuff.
Ideas were written on yellow pads, typed by secretaries on IBM Selectrics and drawn by artists with magic markers and charcoal.  Powerpoint did not exist.
Yes kiddies, it was in those primitive times when a call came in to the agency from an important client; Campbell Soup Company. 
We had been struggling mightily for years to increase our business with them, to no avail.  Spaghetti Os and V-8 juice were our only assignments.
Bill Williams, the general manger was fond of telling me (after three martinis) how crummy our creative was and how crappy our account people were.  I was told that he said that to BBD&O as well, but it was cold comfort to me.
So when Jim Emshaw, the brand manager, told our agency that he wanted a new campaign for V-8, we hopped to.  Campbell Soup Company was an important client, and I saw a chance to get more business from them.
Being the boss, I was not supposed to figure out what to do. Just give the charge, sit back, review the work and decide what to tell show the client.  That’s one thing that drove me crazy about being President.  What I was good at and loved to do wasn’t my job.  And what I was not that good at and didn’t much like, was.
Except, my brain didn’t turn off whenever there was a challenge like this one.  “The leetle grey cells,” as Hercule Poirot called them, were percolating day and night.
You never know when lightening will strike.  This time it did while I sat in the over-heated kitchen of our upper west side apartment.  I pulled open the cabinet where we kept cans of beans, bottles of ketchup, boxes of salt and the large tin of V-8.  There it sat, fat, ungainly, unattractive and warm.

Opening the refrigerator, I saw a partially opened tin, fat, ungainly and marred with a brown and red crust of dried juice around the triangular holes I had punched through the top.  Not only was it ugly, it took up a ton of space.

On the next shelf, three frosty bottles of Bud poked out above the gherkins and mysterious aluminum foil sculptures.  

I was suddenly, irresistibly thirsty.  I tilted my chair back and took a big  pull at the chilly long neck.   As the frothy stuff went down, an idea began to percolate.

Then, just like in the cartoons, a light bulb appeared over my head.
A single sentence formed in my mind
If they buy it cold, they will store it cold.
Then another:
If they store it cold, they will see it every time they open the refrigerator.
Then a third:
And they will drink it a lot more often.
So there was the answer.  Simple.  

Except making it happen was not simple at all.  Three big things had to happen. 
1.  V-8 had to be repackaged in smaller, soft drink-like containers instead of cans.
2.  Those containers had to be sold out of the refrigerated case in supermarkets and delis.
3.  Advertising had to get people to think of the product more like a refreshing soft drink than simply a “good for you, once-in-a-while vegetable juice.”
Campbell’s was an old and conservative company.  Getting them to agree to make changes as big and expensive as these was not going to be easy.
The first step was to convince Emshaw.  He was a brainy guy who seemed to be gutsy as well.  The idea was so strong, that he just might grab and run with it.
And so he did!  One of the few times in my Mad Man career that a client had the courage to challenge the status quo and fight to implement a big and risky change.
The results were stunning.
V-8 was transformed from an old and stodgy brand into a vigorous, exciting and youthful drink.
The brand was given new clothes to look more like a soft drink.


And it was sold cold.

Over time, the brand became more than one product.  

And it even extended into other fruit juices.

So as I reflect back on those ancient days, when Mad Men were roaming the range of PJ Clarks and the two-martini lunch was de rigueur, I remember the time I had a beer in the kitchen that transformed an American icon.  And I never owned stock in Campbell Soup Company.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

True stories of a real Mad Man: A firm pickle is better than a limp one.

True stories of 
a real Mad Man: 

A firm pickle is better than a limp one." ©Joel Baumwoll

My string as President ran out at Needham some time in 1984, when Keith Reinhart came to New York as CEO.

It wasn't long before I was promoted to Vice Chairman and parachuted from the 11th floor of 909 Third Avenue to my fourth career as a marketing consultant.

Pete Tannen, a friend since high school who shared an irreverent view of the world and listened to Jean Shepherd as a kid, joined me and we founded Baumwoll & Tannen Associates, Inc.  Phil Dougherty, the New York Times ad columnist, called us "The Product Doctors."

July 25, 1985

ADVERTISING; 'Product Doctors' Open Shop
JOEL BAUMWOLL and Peter Tannen, friends since high school days, are now working together for the first time as Baumwoll & Tannen Associates.

They are marketing and advertising counselors, consultants if you will, and they would be happy to take the time to explain not only what they are up to but also why there are so many marketing consultants around.

If I could convince clients to pay me to do what I was good at and loved doing, what could be better?   

(Pete no longer works with me and, unfortunately, he also refuses to speak to me, but twenty-seven years later I'm still at it.  I call myself "The Brand Doctor.")

One of the best things about my business is the wide variety of products I get to work on.  Dog food, high yield bonds, internet services, beer, universities,  tourist attractions and more make up a vast menu of businesses I've been asked to assist.  

So when the call came to figure out how to position a pickle, I didn't bat an eye.

Claussen Pickles, owned by Oscar Mayer, are different.  They are refrigerated from the moment the cucumber is picked until you fish a pickle from the jar.
The client, Joel Johnson, believed that Claussen deserved more respect than it was getting from pickle buyers.  He figured if Grey Poupon could use clever commercials to convince people that they should pay more for mustard, why wouldn't that work for pickles?
One afternoon. while I was working on this problem, a juicy burger was delivered from Burger Heaven.  I lifted the slice of pickle on the dish by one end and it bent limply down, flaccid and soft.  I wagged my hand and it flopped up and down unappettizingly.  

Retrieving the Claussens from the refrigerator, I did the same with a slice of this cold pickle.  It was stiff, horizontal to the ground and unbending even when wagged.  Holding up my hands with each slice on a fork, the comparison was, well, titillating. 

 A week later we sat in the conference room of Oscar Mayer, surrounded by the top brass and the slightly pissed-off account people from J. Walter Thompson, Claussen's ad agency.  Ad agencies just hate it when clients call in a consultant to do what they think they are best at doing.

My presentation was a simple, but dramatic one.  I started by asking "suppose we could knock Vlassics for a loop by showing people a simple picture and asking them one question?  

Slight pause for drama...and up go my hands with a fork in each.  On the left, a limp, wobbly slice of Vlassics.  On the right, a stiff, firm slice of Claussens.

"Which would you rather have?  A limp pickle or a firm pickle?
Claussen's:  The firm pickle.

Giggles and a sharp intake of breath.  Sidelong glances to see how Joel Johnson was reacting.

He loved the idea.

"Pickles, like bananas, are funny," I said.  "Let's make people laugh a little and we can knock the hell out of Vlassics."

We suggested copy like  "which pickle do you think Lawrence Taylor likes?"  or  "Does Hulk Hogan go for the limp pickle of the firm one?"

We went so far as showing a picture of the popular sex counselor Dr. Ruth, looking at both pickles and giggling.

I recommended that the entire ad budget be put into print ads showing the two pickles side by side.

Several weeks later I arrived at my office at 8 a.m. to find my partner and Steve Liguori, brand manager in our conference room cutting up pickles.  The Georgian rosewood conference table was awash in pickle juice and massacred slices of pickles.  

"What're you doing?" I asked.  Steve explained that the lawyers at Oscar Mayer had not been able to reproduce the side-by-side fork demonstration.  "The Claussen slice keeps sliding off the fork,” he said.  They will kill the campaign."

"Simple," I explained,  "turn the fork so all the points are in the slice."  Voila.  Steve packed his pickles and flew back to Madison, Wisconsin.

Eventually a somewhat tamer version of our strategy was executed by JWT.   The campaign produced big increases in sales.
COMPANY NEWS: Hold the Pickles; Counsel Adds a Twist To Vlasic vs. Claussen

Published: May 30, 1992

 Vlasic, part of the Campbell Soup Company, dominates the $623 million pickle business over all, but Claussen, part of the Philip Morris empire, has stronger sales in the smaller, refrigerated area of the business. And Claussen has been gaining share in supermarket coolers while Vlasic's refrigerated sales have been dropping. Last year, Vlasic's refrigerated sales dropped 20 percent, to $15.2 million, while Claussen gained 11 percent.
Joel Johnson sent us a wonderful letter complimenting the job we had done.

On the wings of pickle victory, Steve was promoted, went on to be a Vice President at Frito Lay, CEO of Mother's Cookies, the top man at CitiBank Retail Banking, CMO at Morgan Stanley and is currently the #2 marketing guy at GE.

Steve and I became close friends, and he has hired me for major projects at Morgan Stanley and GE.

Joel Johnson became CEO or Hormel and hired me several more times.

Me?  I'm still having fun helping clients figure out how to sell more of their products.  Proof that a firm pickle has its benefits.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Girls. Girls. Girls. A clueless youth learns about the opposite sex.

Girls. Girls.  Girls.  A clueless youth learns about the opposite sex. ©Joel Baumwoll

Seems to me one of the most important educations a kid gets as he grows to adulthood is figuring out how to deal with the opposite sex; in my case, girls. Unfortunately, most kids have to stumble along learning what they can from a motley collection of books, friends' tall stories, movies and empirical experience.

Trial and error.  And error.  And error.

My parents never saw fit to teach me about the proverbial “birds and bees.”  It was through an osmotic process that I absorbed ideas, facts, fictions and fantasies about girls.

I had the misfortune at a young age of being what girls call “cute.”  

At the tender age of four, I discovered that "older women" were attracted to me.  They liked to pinch my cheeks, run their hands through my hair and give me little squeezes here and there, while saying to my mother “oh what doll-face he is.  I hated it.

Aunt Rae's thumb-prints are permanently embedded in my cheeks.

Me 1944  
My mother was fond of dressing me up in all kinds of costumes.  Soldiers and sailors were big in the 1940s, as were Scotsman during Halloween.

Halloween 1943sm
My mother beamed, and I sort of enjoyed this kind of attention.

Mom and me 1944

By the time I got to third grade, I had some appreciation for an attractive girl, though I haven’t a clue where my standards came from.   

I distinctly remember Elaine Dix, a brunette with a buster brown hair cut, bangs and a button nose.  I used to look at her a lot.  Whether she ever looked back at me I don’t know.  

My recollection of her was so acute, that recently I scoured a fuzzy photo of the P.S. 73 graduating class of 1952 to see if I could spot this little beauty, who I had last seen fifty-six years ago

And damned if I didn’t pick her out of the ten rows of twelve year-old Bronx kids.  And she was cute.

Me and girl 1943 

The most intense experience I had with beauty was seeing a trio of little Irish Catholic girls in their white dresses, on the way to first communion.  I was awe struck at this parade of frilly femininity.  So much so that, for weeks, I had fantasies of being holed up in a secret cave with one of these little beauties, guarding her from the depredations of some bad guy.  Being her hero was satisfaction enough for my pre-puberty mind.

First communion
Not the real girls, but you get the idea.

I think by the time I was eight, I had developed the knack of acting “cute” to produce the kinds of reactions to which I had become accustomed.  A con man at an early age.

On the cusp of adolescence, at the age of ten, I was uprooted from the Bronx world I’d known to Montclair New Jersey, and started a new 4th grade class at Rand Elementary School.   

I was sort of exotic to these New Jersey kids, with my Bronx accent and city habits, and being Jewish.  That, in itself, was pretty exotic at Rand School.  Miss Reilly had us reciting psalms from the New Testament every morning before the Pledge of Allegiance.

The second week of school, a tall gangly kid named Fred Keyes came over to me.  I thought he was looking to make friends.  No such luck.  “What do you think of the girls in the class?” he asked.  Girls?  What was he talking about?  I hadn’t given a thought to girls, when my priorities were to avoid making myself look stupid to my new classmates, and figuring out how to make them think I was cool.

Montclair class pictiresm
 Fred Keyes on the far right, end of second row from top.

Gee,” I think I said, “I dunno.” And shrugged.  What could I say?

“Well stay away from Diane Fastige,” he told me.  “She’s mine.”

Of course, the next day I made a beeline to Diane to see what he was so het up about.  She was a short, cute Italian girl with the beginnings of a girlish figure, and brown hair with bangs.  

I was a sucker for bangs.

Needless to say, Diane and I became good friends.  This led to an after-school confrontation.  Fred was determined to win back the fair Diane, and he challenged me to a fight.  He was taller than I, but I was built thicker and more muscular.

The fight began with the usual push and push back and quickly deteriorated into groping, punching and rolling on the dusty slate sidewalk.  The custodian soon broke it up.  Diane invited me back to her house for some soda and recovery.  

Victory was mine.

What we did after that I have no recollection, except that I did invite her to see a movie with me.  “The Outlaw,” with Jane Russell was playing at the Wellmont, and it was a racy movie with hot scenes of heaving bosoms in haylofts.  Not that I was at a stage where I could truly appreciate what I was seeing.  But on some level, I knew it was off limits.


We double-dated with Diane’s friend Mildred Ruggerio and her beau of the time, George Gugliotta.   The three of them were late getting to the movie house, and I, not wanting to miss a minute of this film, bought my ticket and went inside to wait for them.  

Recently, I had an email conversation with Diane, and she remembers our exotic date.

But my dating etiquette had a ways to go.

Diane and I parted ways after fifth grade, since my middle school was on one side of town, and hers, the other.  And so I entered Hillside School.  It was located at the foot of Upper Mountain Avenue, one of the swankiest streets in swanky Montclair.  

Huge mansions with vast lawns and driveways longer than my street lined the avenue, and some of the girls who lived in those mansions attended Hillside.  

This was my introduction to a whole new world.  The world of blonde girls wearing white bucks and plaid scarves, cashmere sweaters with circle pins, and hairdos that looked like Sandra Dee.  

My girl radar was on high alert. Buffys, Muffys, Betseys and Sue-Anns surrounded me.  By then I had acquired the trappings of 1950s greaser, with pompadour hair, upturned collar and leather boots.

My icon...

Greaser with a yamulke..the bar Mizvah boy.  I even made the local newspaper!

My tough guy exterior and “cuteness” appealed to these girls, and I soon began to pursue them.  But holding hands was as racy as it got with these blond princesses.

By then, the idea of having a girlfriend was not foreign to me.  Of course, my goal (and that of most of my friends) was to “French kiss” them and, as we called it,  “feel them up.” 

My buddies, George, Mark Anderson and Butch Cutter traded stories of our conquests like deep-sea fishermen talking about fabled catches.  Almost all were total lies or embellished beyond reality.  Except in the case of Jackie Sullivan.  Jackie was a cute redhead with breasts developed beyond her early teen years.  Incredibly, she enjoyed kissing and being “felt up.” 

Thanks to Jackie, I began to realize that girls actually liked being fondled and kissed as much as boys did.  Before Jackie, I thought girls only did that as a favor to the boys.

Armed with this new insight, I set forth to a brave new world.  

That was to be in Rockaway, a remote town in Northern New Jersey where at the age of fifteen, my family moved.  Morris Hills Regional High School was a far cry from Montclair.  It was full of kids named Slagowitz, Rogansky and Grepschneider majoring in auto-mechanics, carpentry and beating up the few Jews who lived in the enclave on the hill called White Meadow Lake.

My introduction to the town came on a dark night when a car pulled up in front of me, blocking my way, and four kids got out and began to punch and kick me.  Fortunately, I was able to get away from them and run home.  A local policeman, after hearing my description and the name of one of my attackers, said he knew who they were.  One was his son.  Later that year, I came within six inches of smashing his face with a ten pound dumbbell, but that is another story.

Thus began my education in testosterone high.  Elvis was in full swing, and I was nothing but a hound dog, with long sideburns and a hank of thick brown hair falling over my face (sigh, where is it today?).

My teen angel was Barbara Mountford, a blonde, blue-eyed beauty who took a liking to me, and to my delight, outrivaled Jackie Sullivan in her enjoyment of sex.  Barbara was the fantasy girlfriend every kid dreams of.  She was sweet natured, willing to go anywhere, undemanding and as desirable as any Hollywood sex goddess.  

My junior and senior high years are sweetly colored by my encounters with Barbara.  In fact I recall being in bed with her on a truant day in October, 1956 and turning on the radio to hear the news about the Russians launch of Sputnik.  Barbara had launched my own Sputnik earlier in the day.

A yearbook remembrance, 1958

My regret looking back is I did not appreciate how good I thing I had.  I simply took her for granted.  Little did I know that girls like Barbara come along rarely in a kid’s life.  

Had I known better, I would have kept the relationship going at least through my junior year in college.  But, alas, ignorant of my good fortune, I allowed our affection to wither and disappear without much of a hiccup.

Barbara and me 1962
 Barbara and me on New Years Eve, 1962.  Our last date.

My sixteen year-old adolescent passions were kindled by a summer romance with a younger woman. 

Fourteen-year old Ruthie Weiser had auburn hair, a lovely smile and an Ava Gardner body.   Our dates consisted mainly of kissing and pressing our bodies against each other in any location where we had privacy, usually until three or four in the morning. 

This relationship simply faded away and the end of the summer when Ruthie and family evacuated the lake for their Brooklyn home, leaving me to long dark winters.  Another dumb move on my part not to keep it going a bit longer.

Our intense affair opened the gates to the world of serious dating, and I began to pursue girls that caught my eye.  There was the dark beauty, Irene Sirkin, who had dreams of being the next Connie Francis.

Irene Serkin and Joel Palisades Park, 1957

And the unrequited love of Diane Karnett, my high school prom queen.  Years later, Diane explained to me that I was “too nice” and she was attracted to “bad” boys.  Go figure.

Joel, Diane Karnett, Jane Brinker and beau. Prom Night 1958

But there was always my mother, who adored me through thick and thin.

Joel adored by Mom. Prom night, 1958sm

By the time I was in college, I had become a serious student, with little time or money for girls, except the one-off date to go to a Greenwich Village jazz club or hang out with on cold winter evenings.

Me in newspaper 18

Except for a little incident with Lois Greenberg, a beauty from nearby Dover, NJ who pursued me on the advice of a friend. She spotted me selling clothes on weekends in Friedlander’s Department Store.  

Smitten, I began to date Lois, and enjoyed several months of acrobatic sex in the front seat of her Buick, on the spare couch in her basement, and on the lawn of the lake clubhouse under cover of the weeping willow trees.

Lois’ mother (no doubt with Lois’ complicity) seemed to think that our relationship should lead to marriage, so there was a kind of unspoken idea that we were engaged.  

I was, as usual, clueless, and just happy to have such a willing and experienced playmate.  Tomorrow was always a year away.

After graduation, I went off to a summer in Ann Arbor Michigan, to work as a counselor at a camp for acting-out aggressive children.  The program earned me six graduate credits in Social Psych, and a summer with 45 female counselors and just 20 boys.  That was worth ten credits in girls.  

Needless to say, my engagement to Lois bit the dust and I was never to see or hear from her again. But it was a summer to remember.

The next girl I found to my liking walked in to the 500  Fifth Avenue office of the market research company where I began my career in advertising. I was twenty-two, living in a Greenwich Village apartment with two friends, and feeling oh-so-cool and bohemian in the fall of 1962.

Truth be told, I didn’t know, as the saying goes, “shit from shinola,” but I knew a good thing when I saw it.  Almost immediately I had a strong feeling of attraction to Ellen.  She had “smiling eyes” which I found irresistible, a lovely face, infectious laugh, and petite figure.  Apparently her reaction to me was similar, and we found each other in the grip of an intense relationship.  

She was adorable at one year.

Ellen at 18 months

Sassy at thirteen.

Ellen at 13

Beautiful at 18

Ellen portraitsm

My wife at 24.

Ellen sm

That was forty-seven years ago, and it seems I’ve learned how to keep a woman longer than a year or two.

Her eyes are still smiling, and mine are too.

In 1966, I discovered an entirely different kind of relationship with a girl.  That's when Lisa Quincy came into our lives.  She taught me a thing or two about caring, honesty and unconditional love. And she was pretty cute...

Lisa at 2 with fishsm

She grew into a beauty who I can always count on to keep me honest.  My son, Michael rounded out my love for family and brought us Maya.

Lisa 2007

And thanks to her, my world of love expanded even more.

Lisa and kidssm

And at seventy, my education with girls continues with my granddaughter, Hannah. And my grandson, Nathaniel, who is a total boy. And loves his new cousin,

And Hannah who loves being on stage.

Annie sings Maybesm
And 17 month-old Maya.

I remind myself that I am never to old to learn new tricks.