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.

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