Carl Ally: A Study in Making a Difference Overnight
When I was roused out of a morning snooze the other day by a commercial claiming that the Chevy Volt would “save you a crap load of money” …
… I thought of my father’s best friend, Carl Ally.
He would have dismissed that giggly thing as just another form of vapid corporate prudishness. But he might also have thought to himself: There’s a client just desperate enough to be worth working for.
Carl was a 1960s adman who made the madmen look like mice. He was a former WWII fighter pilot, a frustrated novelist and a perpetually angry son of a drunken bootlegger. You know the type. No you don’t. Once, when a client didn't accept Carl’s brilliant campaign concept, he told the client, "Why, I ought to go into your office and shit in your desk drawer."
Carl was unemployable by the agency where my dad worked, so he started his own outfit, and earned a reputation as the guy a client brought in when the client was in big trouble. Carl and my dad agreed that the worst client is the one who is doing well. That client can afford to be finicky and conservative about its ads. (In those days, Chevy wouldn’t have said “crap” if it had a mouth full of it.)
The best client was a client in trouble, because that was the client that had nothing to lose, an urgent need to communicate, and no time to fool with the ad copy. They needed you every bit as much as you needed them.
This was the kind of client Volvo was in the early 1960s, when its cars weren’t selling in the U.S.
Carl came up with an ad campaign titled, "Drive it like you hate it." The campaign was from Carl's own raging gut, and utterly against the grain of the auto-glorifying style of the moment, which always showed cars in flattering lights. These mud-splattered ads saved Volvo—as Ally’s ads would also save or spur FedEx, Saab and Dunkin’ Donuts.
Why did they work? Because they were real, emotionally honest and slightly insane. (Wait for the last line.)
There are still troubled clients in the world. Are there still troubled communication people, to help them?
How about you?
David Murray is a longtime commentator on communication. The editor ofVital Speeches of the Day, he also writes for magazines and newspapers. And he blogs about his work and his life at Writing Boots.