Lee Garfinkel Responds to ‘The Legacy of Frank Lowe’

While much of what you wrote in your recent article about the Lowe legacy [Sept. 18, 2006] was true, you only got half the story. Yes, there was much villainy, duplicity and bizarre behavior. But, would anyone give a damn about the inevitable fall if the agency hadn’t risen so high?

Before Lowe became the poster child for corporate dysfunction, it was one of the only agencies to attempt a complete turnaround and actually succeed.

And that’s the glaring problem with your article. It’s all about the bad as told from the spin-doctored points of view of many of the people who destroyed Lowe. Not the people who transformed it.

So to prevent further reimagining of events overtaking what really happened, I offer the following seven points of facts and truths:

Truth No. 1: Prior to 1992, Lowe New York was a fairly invisible advertising agency.

Truth No. 2: In 1992, I came to Lowe with a team of colleagues who worked with me at Levine Huntley and BBDO.

Truth No. 3: By 1993, we created the “Obey your thirst” campaign for Sprite and won the Diet Coke business.

Truth No. 4: At the end of 1993 we merged with Scali McCabe Sloves. Within a year we had revitalized Mercedes-Benz and were creating excellent work for every client on our roster, regardless of size or category. In fact, every client made the showcase reel.

Truth No. 5: When Marvin Sloves and I became co-chairmen, we had an instant chemistry that resonated with existing clients and new clients. We won showcase accounts like Sony and Heineken. You want to write about a merger that worked, the Lowe/Scali merger worked.

Truth No. 6: Very few of the people mentioned in your article had anything to do with the initial turnaround and subsequent success of Lowe (1992-99).

But these people did. These are just a few of the unsung heroes who can rightfully and proudly say they turned Lowe into a great agency: Earl Cavanah, Bob Nelson, C.J. Waldman, Todd Godwin, Michael Vitiello, Seth Fried, Bruce Kelly, Amy Borkowsky, Tom Thomas, Andy Hirsch, Peter Cohen, Steve Doppelt, Rachel Novak, Scott Grayson, John Hayes, Jack Wheaton, Kathryn Harvey, Richard Monturo, Michael Silver, Julie Mulholland, Kevin McKeon, Teri Altman, David Kaminsky, Bob Hinden, Liz Hodge and Peter Hempel.

Truth No. 7: If you think your article told some nasty tales, you only scratched the surface. During my eight years at Lowe, I witnessed some of the most despicable behavior imaginable. But, all of this is only important for one reason: despite the obstacles, the unsung heroes continued to produce excellent work for our clients.

So, when one looks back at the farce that Lowe became in 2000, don’t let the arrogance, befuddlement and egos of the omnipotent cowards take away from the special thing so many worked so hard to create. Because in the end, it was only the beasts who killed beauty.

Lee Garfinkel

Chairman, chief creative officer

DDB New York

‘Less Is Best’ in the Ad Business

“I’m sorry I wrote such a long letter. I did not have the time to write a shorter one.”

—Attributed to various sources

This quote is so applicable to the ad business corroborating the difficult and time-consuming demand to create short-form messages vis-à-vis traditional 30- and 60-second formats [“Buyers Question Future of Short-Form Spots,” Oct. 9]. Good advertising, like good food, takes time to prepare. And in today’s world of publicly owned agency conglomerates that reward corporate profits and shareholder value, time is money. Thus, most agencies and media buying companies recognize these financial implications, and often recommend self-serving, “same old” traditional ad lengths at the expense of more “out-of-the-box” nonconventional shorter platforms.

Besides profit motivation, what creative director would want to boast a reel of five- or 10-second spots? Not many. They would much rather produce two-minute mini “epic” commercials that win awards, not build business. Unfortunately, most marketers are not savvy enough to ask the right questions regarding ad unit size/length and, thus, they rely on the leadership and direction of their agency/media service, which have a completely different set of goals. Marketers are concerned with brand sales and share of market, while agency conglomerates are interested in their own profit goals and judicious use of time and resources—a real and basic conflict of interest.

In today’s complex world of multitasking, daily changes in information gathering and entertainment via electronic platforms, the consumer is more concerned with brevity and content. “Less is best.” It’s no longer a world of “bigger is better.” Short-form messages have been readily adapted on the Web and will probably be the popular and logical choice for cell phones.

It is more difficult and time consuming to create shorter ads. I’ve seen 10-second spots outscore and outpull the best award-winning 30-second ones. Remember, advertising is an art … beauty is in the eyes of the beholder … and the customer is always right … So, agencies: “Think small” (VW’s 1960s campaign, created by Doyle Dane Bernbach).

Kal Liebowitz


KSL Media

Encino, Calif.