Ad Legend Dusenberry Dies at 71

NEW YORK Ad legend Phil Dusenberry, the former chairman and chief creative officer of Omnicom Group’s BBDO North America, died Dec. 29 after battling lung cancer for the past year. He was 71.

Over the years, his work won virtually every industry award, including Addys, Clios, One Show Pencils and Cannes Gold Lions. He was one of the industry’s towering figures and leading creative lights for nearly five decades.

Dusenberry was inducted into the American Advertising Federation Hall of Fame in 2003 and the One Club Creative Hall of Fame in October.

He initially joined BBDO in 1962 as a junior copywriter and went on to help create some of the most memorable slogans in ad history, including GE’s “We bring good things to life” and Visa’s “It’s everywhere you want to be.” His most famous work, though, was his celebrity-filled spots for Pepsi that branded the cola as “The choice of a new generation.”

Dusenberry is credited with helping to transform BBDO from a research-driven shop into a creatively focused agency known for harnessing star power in its campaigns. The most famous example of that approach was probably the appearance of Michael Jackson in ads for Pepsi at the height of the singer’s mid-1980s popularity.

Raised in Brooklyn, Dusenberry attended Emory & Henry College in Virginia on an athletic scholarship, but left after the athletic program was cancelled. He worked as a D.J. at a local radio station and began writing ads when the lone staff copywriter fell ill.

He left BBDO in 1969 after seven years at the shop (forming his own venture, Dusenberry Ruriani Kornhauser), but rejoined in 1977 as an acd. He subsequently rose through the ranks and was named CCO of the New York flagship office in 1986. Nine years later, he was named New York office chairman and subsequently served as chairman of the agency’s North American operations until his 2002 retirement.

Dusenberry’s commitment to creativity was underscored by the phrase, “The work, the work, the work,” which became something of a BBDO mantra. In a wide-ranging October interview with Adweek editor Alison Fahey, he described the ad business during its Mad Men 1960s and ’70s heyday as “Fun, fun, fun.” He said, “We were involved in making movies, in creating drama and having a great time.”

During the same interview, he said, “The thing I miss most is the interaction with people and being involved with the work, running it through your hands, presenting the work and standing up for it and feeling proud about it. What you don’t miss are those irate phone calls from clients asking why their campaign isn’t working as well as they hoped.”

Dusenberry’s interests extended far beyond the agency world. He was a key member of the Tuesday Team that helped get Ronald Reagan reelected in 1984. Subsequently, his 18-minute documentary tribute film, Final Journey, became a permanent addition to the Reagan Presidential Library. A lifelong baseball fan, he was the co-screenwriter of the Robert Redford movie The Natural. His memoir, published in 2005, is titled One Great Insight Is Worth a Thousand Good Ideas.

“Phil was indeed one of the truly great creative leaders in the history of advertising,” said Allen Rosenshine, former global chairman and CEO of BBDO. “He had an unerring instinct for the insight that elevates a good advertising idea to an emotional and human experience. Having Phil as a partner was one of the things I loved most about being in our business.”

Roger Enrico, former chairman and CEO of PepsiCo, for whom Dusenberry crafted perhaps his best-known campaigns, said, “The advertising he did for our brands helped make them icons of popular culture and added significantly to the growth of the PepsiCo enterprise. He was a great ad man and a dear friend.”

In recent years, Dusenberry spearheaded the team that worked with former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to create the “New York Miracle” campaign that featured performances by stars like Woody Allen and Barbara Walters to help raise the spirits of New Yorkers following the 9/11 attacks. He also led the Ad Council’s Freedom Corps effort promoting volunteerism as well as the council’s more recent “Don’t Almost Give” public service push. He served as chairman of the American Association of Advertising Agencies and on the boards of the New York Coalition for the Homeless, Silver Shield Foundation and Twin Towers Fund, and he was active on behalf of “Autism Speaks.”

He is survived by his wife Susan; his stepson Ben Procter; his daughter-in-law Ilana Sparrow; his brother Harry and his wife Marcy; his brother Joseph; his sister Jean Driscoll and her husband Jack; and 11 nieces, nephews and extended family members.

A funeral mass will be held on Saturday, Jan. 5 at 1 p.m. at St. Ignatius Loyola Parish, 980 Park Ave. at 84th Street in Manhattan.

Burial will be at Oakland Cemetery in Sag Harbor, N.Y., on Jan. 6 at 11 a.m. There will also be a wake on Thursday, Jan. 3, 7-9 p.m., and Friday, Jan. 4, 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m., at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home, 1076 Madison Ave. at 81st Street in Manhattan.

Donations may be made in Dusenberry’s name to the Coalition for the Homeless Development Department, 129 Fulton St., New York, N.Y., 10038, or the St. Jude Children’s Cancer Research Hospital, 501 St. Jude Place, Memphis, Tenn., 38105.