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Creatives Beverages: Working Up a Big Thirst By ANN COOPE

When it comes to advertising in the highly competitive beverage category, the entertainment factor is critical. Consumers see beverages, both with and with

Foote, Cone & Belding creative directors Randy Harter and Gary Rom are in their element. It is lunchtime. And they are holding court at Bice, their favorite Italian restaurant. Two blocks away, FCB’s sparkling glass phallic symbol of an office punctuates the skyline in downtown Chicago. Swirls of smoke from Harter’s Cuban and Rom’s Davidoff cigars drift northward. Chianti bottles accumulate on the table. A waiter hovers, refilling wine glasses and discreetly emptying ashtrays. Ontario Street’s rush-hour traffic roars past.
‘This is our office,’ says the ponytailed, bearded Rom, who is decked out in mismatched denim jeans and jacket, Hawaiian shirt and Nikes. ‘Look, there’s our director.’ A man in a T-shirt and jeans waves back. Every Korfias, art director on Coors Light, meanders from table to table.
Quips Harter, ‘We find an office we like and stay out of it.’
Harter, in expensive suit and Italian loafers, sports Armani sunglasses, two silver earrings in his right ear and the obligatory ponytail and beard. He is earnestly explaining his career thus far. He studied fashion at the Art Institute of Chicago, but after two years of ‘doing things with muslin,’ switched to designing album covers for Chess Records. That was followed by a series of art directing jobs at agencies such as Grey Advertising and Lois GGK.
‘Hey, give us the short version,’ interrupts Rom, who is simultaneously conducting a conversation with Coors Light producer Jim Martin, who just happens to be having lunch at the next table.
Harter ignores him. ‘Kramer vs. Kramer was exactly my life,’ he says. Harter describes the breakup of his marriage and the subsequent 10 years as head of a single-parent household. ‘I put my career on hold,’ he says. ‘I did small ads for local advertisers.’ Fast-forward to the mid-’80s, when he returned to the ad world and a job at FCB working on Coors Light. When the time came to choose a partner, Rom’s reel took his fancy. ‘I thought, ‘He looks like fun. He’s got a good sense of humor. His writing’s solid. He’s crazy, a loose cannon and a total pain in the ass.’ I liked him a lot.’
Thus began the Randy and Gary Show, an unorthodox collaboration that has resulted in some of the funniest beer ads on TV, not to mention a lot of lunchtime business for Bice.
In 1990, the pair put Leslie Nielsen, iconoclastic star of the Naked Gun movie series, in an armchair while wearing a suit and pink furry slippers to explain why Coors Light had been pronounced the ‘official beer of the ’90s.’
‘Why would an adult male wear pink slippers?’ asks Harter. ‘Nielsen’s so out in left field, he thinks it’s OK. So he can still deliver the strategy and identify the brand.’
For their second effort, 1991’s ‘Pink Bunny,’ Nielsen donned pink bunny ears and a drum and beat his way through an ad, similar to the famous Energizer bunny. (Energizer was not amused and promptly sued Coors for illegal use of the company’s trademark, but a judge ruled the ad was an obvious parody and allowed it to run.)
But Harter and Rom’s most inspired offering yet came earlier this year with ‘Share the Six-Pack,’ which spoofed Chanel’s ‘Share the Fantasy’ campaign. Directed by ex-Saturday Night Live parody director Matthew Meshekoff, the spot has Nielsen contemplating how to win the girl of his dreams. ‘Should I go here, or there?’ he asks in a voiceover. ‘Or just put my pants on backwards?’ As he wonders if the girl will find his advances ‘a cosmic roller coaster to the stars, or just a metaphysical ride to Palookaville,’ Nielsen dives fully clothed into a pool, swims toward a beautiful woman lounging at the other end, then clambers out clutching a tray filled with Coors Light. He offers the woman a beer and topples backward into the pool. When the camera pans up, we see the pool is in the shape of a Coors Light bottle. ‘Share the six-pack,’ the voiceover commands.
‘I watch these cosmetic commercials, and they’re all pretty overblown,’ says Harter. ‘Perfume takes itself so seriously we thought this is a category we can go after. Something like ‘Should I put my pants on backwards?’ is pure Leslie. It’s just funny. We had good equity with Nielsen.’
‘Randy and Gary are a perfect example of why we’re getting more creative,’ says Eric Weber, the executive creative director recruited by FCB two years ago from Young & Rubicam/New York. And getting more creative is the reason he’s there, too.
‘This place needed harmony and unity,’ Weber says. ‘There wasn’t a lot of cross-pollination. FCB was very successful, but it was not perceived as a great creative shop.’ Weber wants to change that. He points to Coors Light and last year’s humorous Canada Dry campaign as examples. ‘We’ve made great strides,’ he says. ‘But we’ve got a ways to go creatively. I’d like us to be seen as Chicago’s most creative agency.’
‘It’s not Foote, Cone & Boring anymore,’ says Harter as he lobs instructions in Italian to the waiter. ‘I’m Czechoslovakian,’ he says by way of explanation. ‘That’s almost Italian.’
‘Almost,’ mocks Rom, whose own career began 16 years ago at Leo Burnett. ‘I imagined myself as Roger Thornhill in North by Northwest,’ he says. ‘I admired his attitude. He says, ‘You can’t kill me, I’ve got two ex-wives and several bartenders to support.’ ‘ After four years at Burnett came six years at DMB&B/St. Louis doing ‘This Bud’s for You’ with Leon Redbone, followed by a stint at W.B. Doner in Detroit. He came to FCB, Rom says, ‘because I wanted to get back to beer. It’s a lot more free-form than other products. It’s more expressive and image-oriented. And it’s a lot more rewarding.’
In addition to the Nielsen campaign, Harter and Rom are also responsible for the entire Coors Light TV output, including the ‘Now, Not Now’ campaign to promote responsible drinking and the traditional beach, babes and beer spots. ‘Our advertising works not on a single spot but on a brand image,’ says Harter. ‘But Coors wanted something fresh and different for Coors Light,’ which has been at FCB since 1983. Over the years the brand had gone through numerous catch phrases, including ‘Turn It Loose’ in 1983, ‘Turn It Loose With the Silver Bullet’ in 1985, and the current ‘It’s the Right Beer Now.’
‘The trouble with ‘It’s the Right Beer Now,’ ‘ says Harter, ‘was that we’d never told anyone why it was the right beer now. So we looked at it from a different point of view.’
Coors Light was already using Leslie Nielsen in spots keyed to Halloween (the biggest drinking occasion after New Year’s Eve). But neither Rom nor Harter believed the spots exploited the true outrageousness of Nielsen’s Frank Drebin character. ‘If Coors Light had a problem, it was that it had a hazy image,’ says Harter. ‘Coors wanted to cash in on the Naked Gun character because of its appeal to young people 21 to 34. Nielsen’s seen as irreverent. Coors is saying we’re coming into a new decade and Coors Light fits the bill. We’re the beer of the ’90s. But people are gonna go ‘Bullshit’ if you say that to them outright, so you have to do it tongue-in-cheek.’
‘We wanted to have people say, ‘Hey, that’s cool,’ ‘ says Rom. ‘The bottom line is it’s beer. It’s not gonna change your life.’
‘Coors Light has a young, fit, attractive image,’ says Harter. ‘Coors drinkers don’t take themselves too seriously. Beer is a very social product. We’re not prudes. There’s nothing wrong with having a beer.’
‘Or a few,’ says Rom. ‘You can sit there all night and drink Coors without throwing up.’
‘And that’s a positive in an age of moderation,’ says Harter. ‘The young generation is very moderate. We’re talking to people who like to have a few beers with their friends, but you gotta have a sense of responsibility. Today’s generation is Generation X. They have their own agenda. They believe in moderation. We believe in moderation. So we decided we would talk about it.’
At ages 40 and 47, respectively, Rom and Harter are faced with creating ads that appeal to twentysomethings. How do they do it?
‘We look weird,’ says Harter, who spends $200 a month on cigars and owns three Silver Shadow Rolls Royces and a Bentley. ‘We’re idiosyncratic. We’re no different from the people we’re talking to. We still get harassed because of the way we look. The whole thing is about having an open mind. Because I learned to listen to my kids, I became a better father and a better individual.’
‘As we get older,’ says Rom, ‘we have to make sure our advertising isn’t getting older, but that it’s evolving with the way they think.’
According to Bob Simon, FCB group creative director on Coors Light, ‘The Nielsen campaign’s success has been way out of proportion to the media and amount of money spent. The thing about beer is that you’re advertising a product whose users really like beer advertising. When we appear on TV, the audience is already set up to like us. Gary and Randy have made the advertising more visual. They’re brought a central attitude and point of view Coors Light didn’t have before. People get their spirit through the advertising.’
Back at Bice, Gary and Randy’s spirit is all over the place. ‘We write on beer napkins,’ says Rom, describing their modus operandi. ‘We rough things out in the roughest possible way. It’s hard to nail down who does what. There’s no delineation.’
As for the future, says Rom, ‘We’d like to keep the momentum and turn our rapier-like wit to more Coors ads this summer.’
Copywriter Harry Woods and art director Steve Feldman share an enthusiasm for Evian spring water that is infectious. It’s so infectious, in fact, that during the course of the interview we all go through several bottles, which results in many trips to the small room at the end of the corridor.
This enthusiasm has nothing to do with the fact that in the 13 years since Evian Waters of France (the company itself has been around since the 1870s) has been at TBWA/New York, the bottled water category has grown from practically nothing to a $2.7-billion industry. Nor has it anything to do with Evian boasting a mammoth 50% share of the market, despite inroads by more than 700 new competitors. No, these two creative directors actually like the stuff.
‘Once you start drinking a bottle a day you can’t stop,’ says Woods, who is seated in Feldman’s nondescript gray office. ‘You feel better, your body changes, you become evangelistic. In the ad campaign we’re feeding drinkers the information they need and they end up becoming the salespeople for the brand.’
Seated at Feldman’s computer, playing a game of electronic golf, is TWBA management supervisor Robert Rosenthal, another Evian enthusiast. He’s so enthusiastic, in fact, he’s turned up at 9:30 a.m. in his baseball cap and jeans on his day off to talk about the brand. ‘Thirteen years later,’ says Rosenthal, ‘we’re still selling the benefits of water.’ Evian sales, he says, grew 25% in 1992 and will continue to grow this year.
‘At TBWA the team concept is a little different,’ says Woods, as he tries to explain the comraderie at the agency. ‘There’s less distinction here between account and creative people. Traditionally, account people have tended to look at creatives as namby-pambies who don’t want to come to work too often and creatives have looked upon account people as spineless jerks who won’t stand up for the work. Because of the changes in the business you can’t have these kind of rivalries anymore. A large part of how I get what I want is in collaboration with an account person.’
Woods and Feldman, partners for five years, have used that synergy to Evian’s benefit. ‘People are losing water all the time, so you have to become proactive about replacing it,’ says Feldman.
Proactive might be the word that sums up Woods and Feldman’s latest effort. While Evian’s long-term philosophy has always emphasized the health and fitness connection via TV, print and radio campaigns (and through its sponsorship of the 1992 U.S. Olympic Team), the new print campaign marks a shift in that approach. In a 16-page magazine insert that Rosenthal claims is the first of its kind in the beverage category, Evian embraces a cradle-to-grave philosophy. Beautifully shot by photo-journalist Tim Bieber, each double-page spread shows a different stage of life and explains why drinking eight glasses of water a day is important.
‘It’s not just an attitude,’ says Woods. ‘In the ’80s health and fitness was defined by working out. But over the years the concept of well-being has changed. Now it’s more spiritual and more to do with feeling good about yourself.’
‘We all sat down and started to discuss the job print has to do,’ says Feldman. ‘All of a sudden we wanted to do a special insert. We knew that one page should lead into another and they should all lead to a single cohesive message for different stages of your life.’
‘We spoke to hydration specialists, to baby and medical doctors,’ says Woods. ‘We spoke to everyone we could think of about what happens if your brain becomes dehydrated. Your brain is 70% water. If you become dehydrated you think less.’
‘We’re not saying stop drinking beer,’ says Feldman. ‘Evian is not a replacement.’
‘I love beer,’ says Woods. ‘I love Absolut, too. But Evian is different. We have something to say. We’re not looking for a Michael Jordan, or any kind of borrowed interest.’
‘There’s a huge difference between what we and Coca-Cola do,’ he continues. ‘They’re part of the national wallpaper. Coke is there and you drink it. They’re more about distribution, i.e., getting McDonald’s or Burger King to sell Coke. That’s why it’s probably OK for Mike Ovitz to do Coke’s advertising. It’s just a creative message. Coke is it. Coke is God-like. We don’t look at ourselves as part of that war between Coke or Pepsi or Snapple. We’re Evian. And the truth is, it’s good for you. We’re not trying to do something that’s bad for you.’
The insert cost $1 million and runs in current issues of Rolling Stone, HG and The New Yorker. ‘After interviewing 25 magazines we decided that these were the ones that made the difference,’ says Rosenthal. ‘They attested to the diversity of the audience of core Evian drinkers, plus best prospects.’
While TV demonstrates what Rosenthal describes as the fullness of the message, print offers depth. Designed to run just once as an insert, individual pages will appear throughout the year in magazines, backed by ads on billboards and bus shelters. ‘We looked for ways to squeeze the most out of the message,’ says Woods. ‘This is the most dramatic and encompassing explanation yet. It’s the bible of hydration.’
‘Evian led the way with the concept of health,’ he adds. ‘They invented the category and took a leading role. And drinking water is an important thing you can do every day. It’s a cumulative thing. The bottle of water you drink today will have an effect 10 years on. It’s a combination of working out and feeling good about yourself.’
Feldman and Woods first worked together on a series of award-winning print campaigns for Absolut vodka back in 1988. Feldman, who started his career designing album covers for The Bay City Rollers, joined TBWA 15 years ago. Woods arrived at the agency after the closing of Scali, McCabe, Sloves’ ill-fated Los Angeles office, where he spent five years.
‘There’s not much difference between an art director and copywriter anymore,’ says Woods. ‘We’re inbred.’
‘Or rye-bred,’ says Feldman, who was best man at Woods’ wedding. ‘I’m a borscht-belt comedian at heart.’
‘We’ve started finishing each other’s sentences,’ says Woods.
‘And each other’s meals,’ says Feldman.
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)