The Insanity of Advertising: Memoirs of a Mad Man

The Insanity of Advertising: Memoirs of a Mad Man

by Fred S. Goldberg


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Mad Men’s Don Draper has nothing on Fred Goldberg, and this memoir is the real story of mad men in a very mad world
This celebrated ad man cut his teeth in the late 1960s with the legendary agency Young & Rubicam, took over operations at Chiat/Day as COO for almost 7 years, and then founded his own firm, Goldberg Moser O’Neill. His client list reads like a who’s who of 20th-century innovators: Steve Jobs (Apple), Andy Grove (Intel), John Chambers (Cisco), Larry Ellison (Oracle), and Michael Dell (Dell) are just a few of the movers and shakers who turned to him when they needed ads that would make their products household names. The Insanity of Advertising presents an unforgettable glimpse into the chaos, drama, and outright wackiness that fuels one of the most of loved and hated industries in the world. Goldberg reveals behind-the-scenes dirt on what it was like to craft ad campaigns for some corporate titans, and also shares stories of the mad men who worked alongside him.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781571783387
Publisher: Council Oak Books
Publication date: 10/10/2016
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 394
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Fred S. Goldberg worked for the legendary agency Young & Rubicam for 15 years before taking over operations at Chiat/Day San Francisco and becoming COO of Chiat/Day overall. He later founded Goldberg Moser O’Neill, a highly successful ad agency, with clients that included Dell Computer, Cisco Systems, Dreyer’s Ice Cream, Kia Motors, and Electronic Arts. He lives in Marin County, California.

Read an Excerpt



One of the most difficult things about the advertising business is the resistance one gets to new ideas combined with the tendency of people to judge things that are different against a yardstick predicated on past experience.

In 1968, when I became an account executive, the very first account I was assigned at Young & Rubicam was a General Foods product called Whip 'n Chill. This was an ersatz powder concoction of mostly chemicals and preservatives, to which you added some milk or water, whipped up for a minute, and poured into pudding dishes and placed in the fridge. Voilà! Minutes later, out came a fabulous dessert that the whole family could enjoy and which they applauded.

Now you know why dads and kids were always shown applauding in those old food commercials. It was mandatory back then as an expression of appreciation and family love. Times have changed a bit.

Whip 'n Chill had been at one time an enormous success, albeit relatively short-lived. It had turned out to be a fad-type product. Now it was being purchased by a small remaining hardcore user base, and the client was only promoting it with a quarterly recipe ad and coupon in Sunday supplements. For example, to be used in a pie recipe.

The very first ad I had to present was a straight at you headline, "Whip 'n Chill Dessert Recipe," with a tasty photograph of a pie made with a package of Whip 'n Chill.

Bill Dordelman, my client, was the product manager for Whip 'n Chill. Bill was a very smart guy but tended to adhere to the party line. A very ambitious fellow who wanted to get promoted in the worst way and, I always believed, saw emulating past success as a critical part of his strategy. In fact, most of the folks who got promoted at General Foods in those days did the same thing for the same reason.

I quite easily received approval for the ad and with it a signed estimate to go and shoot the photography. It wasn't a huge challenge or decision. The ad had only the simple headline and a picture of a pie and a coupon for cents off.

At the shoot, the agency art director decided to do some experimenting, and instead of shooting the traditional food shot on a bright or white background, he chose to do it the other way around. I pointed out at the time what the client had approved and what he was expecting. Being a good account executive, I made sure we covered having the white background taken.

It turned out that there was no comparison between the final photographs. The dark background proved to be gorgeous. Much more attention getting, more mouthwatering, projecting far higher quality, and it made the pie look lip-smacking absolutely delicious. Hmmmm.

My next trip up to General Foods headquarters in White Plains was with the photographs under my arm. I arrived and took out the chromes from my portfolio bag and placed them on the light box without saying a word. They were the ones with the darker background.

Bill looked at them and looked at me and said, "It doesn't have a white background."

"That's right, but what do you think?"

"It doesn't have a white background."

"I know, but what do you think?"

"It doesn't have a white background."

"Yeah, I know, but what do you think about the way it looks?"

"It's got to have a white background."

I put the alternate version of the shot with the lighter background next to the first one on the light box.

"Bill, but it looks great and is much better than the traditional way of shooting this."

"Nah, it's got to have the light background. That's the way we do it. You're pretty new and maybe you don't know that."

I replied, "I don't agree."

I took down the chromes and packed up my bag and left and returned to the agency. I immediately went to the Y&R library and had the librarian help me find a range of recipe photographs from an array of upscale women's and fashion magazines. I pulled a dozen or so that were exquisite. I also identified about a dozen others that utilized the traditional light and white background photography. The darker ones truly made the food look sensational and much more inviting than those with a brighter and whiter background.

In addition I was able to retrieve some Starch readership scores, which clearly showed that women were more attentive to recipes that had the more inviting darker photography.

Then I convened a group of women who were bakers and all worked at the agency. I got them in a room and showed them the two photographs. It was no contest. The darker one was the winner hands down.

So, the next day I drove back up to White Plains. I met again with Dordelman. First, I put the two photographs side by side on the light box. Then I laid out on the floor all the ads and editorial photos I had found from the magazines. Then I told him about the Starch results and finally the reactions from the women at the agency.

Bill said, "Let's go with the lighter background. That's what we agreed before we shot it. That's what we have done in the past. End of discussion."

At that very moment Bob Haynes, who was the group product manager, happened to be walking by Dordelman's office, and he popped his head in the door. He looked at the photos up on the light box and he looked at the magazine ads all over the floor.

And he asked, "What's up?"

Bill hesitated and then said, "We're trying to decide which photo to use."

Haynes said, "What's to decide? The darker one is clearly the better, more appetizing picture."

He turned and walked out of the office. I packed up all my materials and the photos and headed back to the agency. I had my first ad sold with a photo that I was quite proud of. And I created one pissed-off client I had to deal with from then on.

But we had a much better ad, not a brilliant ad, but certainly better looking. And this was my first encounter with all the problems that an account person faces, and advertising agencies in general face, in trying to get advertisers to approve better, more inventive advertising.

A few years later, I was a somewhat more accomplished account person, now an account supervisor, in charge of the Jell-O Gelatin account at General Foods, which at the time was probably the most important assignment from this client. It was the oldest Y&R client, at almost 50 years with the agency.

There was a copywriter at Young & Rubicam New York named Mike Becker. Mike was quite a talented fellow and he was assigned to the Jell-O business at the same time as me. He was a good guy and we had a great relationship between our arguments. And he had a great and quite unique relationship with the client on the Jell-O business.

The client was a product manager by the name of Dick Mayer. He was a terrific guy and one of the very few executives at General Foods that had a sense of creativity, a willingness to try new things, and a set of balls.

Most all of the assistant product managers, associate product managers, product managers, and group product managers evaluated advertising in three stages: first on its legal merit, then on its strategic merit, and rarely, if ever, getting to the third, on its creative merit.

Dick was the exception. He did it the other way around. He was always looking out for an idea that could break through the usual mundane mess of advertising and marketing promotions, in this case holiday recipe ideas that filled the women's magazines at the holiday time of year.

Now Dick had made his bones on a General Food product called Dream Whip. This was another ersatz chemical-laden white powder that whipped up into a gooey sweet substance and was supposed to replicate real whipped cream. Its appeal lay in the fact that it was more convenient than using fresh cream. For a while, Dream Whip did very well as the convenient alternative, but it fell on hard times and was declining in popularity when Dick was assigned to it.

Well, he had a stroke of genius one day when he discovered that if you mixed this Dream Whip substance into a cake mix, it could make the cake marvelously higher than without it. All the cake-cooking research indicated that women craved a higher, taller end result. This idea turned the brand completely around and generated untold millions of dollars of unexpected revenue that General Foods added to its coffers.

Dick was a hero. He was given a huge bonus for his efforts on Dream Whip and was rewarded by being given the Jell-O Gelatin business to run, the most prestigious brand in the division.

This background is necessary because it was the reason that Dick believed he was the quintessential expert on selling baked goods to women all across America. He genuinely felt he knew everything about anything that had to do with recipe advertising but particularly dessert baking recipe advertising. After all, no one had had the success that he had with Dream Whip.

As it happened, we all had agreed on a strategy to promote a Jell-O cookie recipe for the holidays that year. The recipe called for using a box of Jell-O as an ingredient as well as a topping. The Jell-O made the cookies more moist and tasty and, when sprinkled, added attractive, festive red and green accents on the surface.

I was excited about this idea, which I thought strategically was a great concept. Using Jell-O in untraditional ways could conceivably broaden its usage dramatically, as just about every household in the country had a box of Jell-O waiting to be used. If we could get them to use it other than just as a wiggly, sweet, and cool dessert, that would be a positive thing for the business.

And Dream Whip and Dick Mayer had proven that it was possible to reposition products in this manner. Of course, Jell-O was even better known and used by far more households, and so it followed logically that this could be one very successful holiday promotion effort.

I was also excited about the ad that my copywriter, Mike Becker, had come up with. I grabbed it and set out to White Plains to present it to Dick and his brand management group. I had given considerable thought on what to say to convince them that this was a great ad and went over it in my mind during the 45-minute drive.

I started the meeting. Dick and his associate product manager and his assistant product manager were there. I did a little preamble set-up. And then I showed the ad. It was a rough comp but it was pretty simple: a headline and a photo of the cookies.

There was silence. Not even a whimper. The assistant brand manager was busy doodling on a pad and didn't look up. The associate brand manager was looking out the window at the leaves on the trees gently moving back and forth.

And Dick just sat there and kind of stared. Dick wore contact lenses, and back then you couldn't always tell exactly which way a person who wore contacts was looking. That was the case now.

So the silence went on for a minute or two. I didn't even get the usual: "That's interesting."

"That's interesting" is client speak for "It's not right," "It's not what I was expecting," "It's not what we agreed to," "It's not what I want." These are generally followed by a dissertation on everything that is wrong with the ad you've just presented.

They didn't respond because they had already designed the ad they wanted. And they thought we were going to present that ad. In their minds it was an easy assignment and didn't require much work or any creativity. Rather, utilize the same formula that had been so successful with Dream Whip. Show a plate of cookies made with Jell-O as an ingredient, with the recipe on one side, a cents-off coupon on the other, and a straight at you, hit 'em in the face between the eyes, nothing fancy headline like "Dream Whip Cake Recipe."

So what they were expecting was "Jell-O Cookie Recipe."

Instead, I was showing them what I believed was one of the best ads created since I had been on the account and even since I had joined Y&R. I thought it was one of the best ads I might ever be associated with.

The ad was simple but brilliant. It was clever. It was eye-catching. It made you smile. It made you get engaged with the message. It was what often makes an ad great. It made the familiar a bit strange. And the strange familiar.

The layout had as a visual a plate of cookies made with the Jell-O as an ingredient and topped with sprinkled dry Jell-O. It had a recipe on one side and a coupon on the other.

But it carried the headline "How to Make Jell-O That Crumbles."

What a smart attention-getting headline it was. Everyone expects Jell-O to wiggle, not crumble. So the reader's immediate reaction must be "Say what?"

But here I was talking to the "expert" on recipe advertising because he had turned around the Dream Whip business with ingredient ads that had headlines like "Dream Whip Cake Recipe."

After much debate and much discussion, over many days, we were at a stalemate. Dick Mayer wanted "Jell-O Cookie Recipe." I wanted "How to Make Jell-O That Crumbles."

In situations like this, where you come to a wall and can't climb over it, typically you generally seek another point of view. However, two things mitigated against going to Dick's boss: first, it wasn't a good thing to use this chip too often if you wanted to maintain any semblance of a working relationship; second, Dick happened to be a good friend of mine.

Nevertheless, I said, "Dick, we've been arguing over this too long. The deadline is upon us to close the ad. I want to take it to Hal for an opinion."

Dick just sat there with an expressionless look on his face. And his eyes had that faraway look. This time it wasn't just the contact lenses.

Even though Dick was confident in his position, no one likes to have an agency go around or above him in the corporate hierarchy. It signaled a lack of control, an unstable working relationship, and it said something about your management style and more.

But this one we were going to have to review with his boss, a fellow named Hal Scutt, and let him make the decision. I was prepared to take it even above Hal if need be, I felt so strongly about the work.

Dick set the meeting. I brought two comps. Except for the headline, the rest of the ads were identical. One had Dick's headline, "Jell-O Cookie Recipe," and one had mine, "How to Make Jell-O That Crumbles." I did my preamble; Dick did his and added a rebuttal to my arguments.

After listening to both of us and without hesitation, Hal said, "Let's go with the agency recommendation."

So we did. And I had one pissed-off client. And friend.

But I also had what turned out to be the number one, most read ad, according to Starch Reports, in Reader's Digest, TV Guide, and every other magazine where the ad ran, for the entire year.

Despite our disagreement, and it was one of very few that I had with Dick Mayer, he remained one of my very best clients and friends. As I look back, he was close to the "perfect" client and he would have relished working with a really creative agency.

A few years later, in 1974, when we were no longer working together, I received a letter from him when I became, as Alex Kroll, Y&R president, pointed out in the announcement, the youngest-ever senior vice president/management supervisor. They took a really dramatic photo of me at the time. One that I very much cherished as I did the letter I received from Dick Mayer on the occasion. By then Dick had moved on from General Foods to a much more important position at Heublein Inc. and soon would become president of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Unfortunately I never got to work with Dick again. As these things happen, we drifted apart over the years. I would have very much liked to have worked with him when I was at Chiat/Day or Goldberg Moser O'Neill. I know he would have enjoyed the experience, as would have I. And I am certain that together we would have been able to produce some brilliant things.

But we didn't, and that's the way the cookie crumbles.



One of the most difficult parts of the ad business is collecting money that is due to you or, worse, money that you need to ask for in advance. Money is always a touchy subject, and for some clients, particularly those that may not have enough of it, asking for it is an affront. Many clients take this kind of request very personally. But one of the surest ways to jeopardize an ad agency financial position is to not be vigilant in this area.

In the summer of 1973 someone at the Young & Rubicam New York office took a call from AVCO Embassy Pictures, then located in Midtown Manhattan.

"Are we interested in doing some work for Joseph Levine, the producer?"

"That's Joseph E. Levine, who produced The Graduate. If you are interested, be over here in three hours."

Well, OK, but who will we send over there? Y&R didn't have too many accounts that resembled the entertainment business, much less the movie end of it.

Someone decided that Roby R. Harrington III, a senior executive, should be the designated batter, but with a name like his, they knew they might have to dig a little deeper.

So they found me ... Freddy Goldberg. From Great Neck, Loooong Island.

That's Fred S. Goldberg. The one. The only.

I was still a pretty unique person in the account management department back then, circa 1970, with a relevant ethnic background (if you know what I mean). So, they had me and John Ferrell, a talented copywriter with whom I worked on some other accounts, provide some cover for Roby.


Excerpted from "The Insanity of Advertising Memoirs of a Mad Man"
by .
Copyright © 2013 Fred S. Goldberg.
Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

CHAPTER 2 GET THE MONEY! AVCO Embassy, Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Software Toolworks,
CHAPTER 6 HOW I GOT INTO ADVERTISING (After Spending 15 Years at Y&R),
CHAPTER 10 CHRISTMAS BALLS Ansa, Ashton-Tate, Oracle,
CHAPTER 13 CHIAT/DAY/NO/MO Goldberg Moser O'Neill,
CHAPTER 15 CISCO KIDS Cisco Systems,
CHAPTER 17 NOT THE ARMY, IT'S THE MARINES GMO: How Good Can We Get before We Get Big?,

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