Veteran Mad Men Reunite to Sell the Senior Set

We don’t care about the old folks, but these former Doyle Dane Bernbach whiz kids do. Will a youth-obsessed industry listen to their elders?

Picture Don Draper a few years down the road, gripping an AARP card instead of a tumbler of Canadian Club, and you’ve got Don Blauweiss.

On a recent Friday morning, the 78-year-old Mr. Blauweiss was in a green Jeep stick-shift waiting for The Observer at the Metro-North station in Bronxville. He was sporting a black leather jacket, black turtleneck and a full head of curly white hair. “My red BMW is in the shop,” the self-described New Yorkquino apologized in a laidback Queens cadence.

As we stuttered through the sloping streets of the tony Eastchester suburb, Mr. Blauweiss described the AMC drama as “meticulous down to every detail—the princess telephones, the wardrobing.” He should know. In the sixties, Mr. Blauweiss got his start as a twentysomething art director at Doyle Dane Bernbach, the agency credited with setting off a “creative revolution” that transformed Madison Avenue, upending the Sterling Coopers of the world in the process.

It’s a trick he’d like to pull off again. With several compadres from the old days, Mr. Blauweiss has just launched a new advertising consultancy, Senior Creative People, targeting an overlooked demographic: his own.

“The only thing that’s somewhat different from my experience was the amount of drinking that they did,” he went on, pivoting the jeep up the hill of his driveway. “There was plenty of drinking going on. There were even a couple who might keep a bottle in the desk. But nobody, at least not at DDB, had a bar in their office. Now don’t forget! Sterling Cooper was the antithesis of Doyle Dane, so who knows . . .”

Inside the living room of Mr. Blauweiss’s buttercup-colored colonial, Chuck Schroeder, 68, and Edd Griles, 66, were waiting for us on the fleur-de-lis patterned sofa. Like Mr. Blauweiss, the two gentleman had also come up at DDB during the agency’s heyday. Mr. Griles, a teetotaler, thought the endless tippling was probably “much more an account guy thing,” adding, “It was the 60's. The copywriters and art directors were much more into pot.”

Even decades later, the agency “suits”—guys like Pete Campbell and Ken Cosgrove—remain the enemy, spoken of with a touch of contempt. Blame it on Bill Bernbach. The DDB co-founder, easily one of the century’s most influential ad men, is credited with pairing art directors and copywriters—and privileging their instincts above all else. Before Doyle, Dane, as the agency was called, “It was unheard of that you could tell an account guy, ‘Get the fuck out of my office,’ which I’ve had the pleasure to do,” Mr. Blauweiss grinned, before quickly adding, “I have to be careful because my wife was an account person.”

(As for the rampant misogyny on Mad Men, it might have been exaggerated, at least according to these guys, who pointed out that DDB’s first copy chief was a woman,  Phyllis Robinson. “But that didn't mean there weren't plenty of affairs going on,” Mr. Blauweiss admitted.)

Any Intro to Media Studies student will likely be familiar with DDB’s output in those days—campaigns like the Volkwagen “Lemon” and “Think Small” ads, which turned the traditional sales pitch on its head, or the controversial Lyndon Johnson "Daisy" spot, which only aired once, but is credited with winning LBJ the presidency. In his best-selling 1970 ad world exposé, From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor—a primary source text for the boozy exploits of Don Draper—Jerry Della Femina wrote, “Doyle, Dane is as close as you can get to what people really are and what people really think.”

In addition to their work on those ads, the Senior Creative People team had a part in iconic campaigns for Alka Seltzer, Avis, Coca-Cola, and Levy’s, among others.

But now the same guys that brought the Youthquake to Madison Avenue and helped cultivate the American fetishization of a fresh face may have their hardest sell yet: convincing the advertising world to lay aside its obsession with youngsters and put its efforts into actively courting the aging Baby Boomer demo.

Last year, the first of this group became eligible for retirement (not that they’re eager to take it). Over the next couple decades, the number of 65- to 85-year-olds is expected to balloon up to 72 million, representing 20 percent of the population by 2030. And unlike that coveted and notoriously fickle 18-to-35 demo, Boomers are sitting on around $2.3 trillion in disposable income that they can’t take with them.

Last month, along with Sid Meyers, a fellow DDB alum and one of the creators of the Daisy ad, they launched Senior Creative People. Their first client meeting is on Tuesday. But the challenge is twofold: convince clients they’ve still got it, and convince anyone, at all, to care.

“We’re targeting anybody who feels that the senior market is worth addressing and understands that we’re about the best equipped people to address it,” said Mr. Schroeder, who had flowing white hair to his shoulders and was wearing the same Steve Jobs black shirt-and-jeans ensemble as Mr. Blauweiss (“What are we, the Bobsey Twins?,” he said).

“People say, we’re going to put our senior creative people on it,” explained Mr. Griles. “That’s part of the connection of who are, okay? That we’re not just seniors. We were the senior creative people at advertising agencies, and we want to be that again.”

It was actually the memory of those heady Doyle, Dane days that inspired the boys to get the band back together. Last year, an invitation went out for the first-ever reunion of every DDB “creative” employed in the sixties. The reminder featured the craggy visage of Boris Karloff with the admonition, “Don’t wait to be decrepit. Celebrate the ’60s with us now.”

The historic reunion took place in June on the executive floor of the agency’s Madison Avenue offices, albeit on an early-bird timetable. The party started at 3pm and ended by 7. “The drinking days for most of us are over,” said Mr. Schroeder. “We went to P.J. Clarke’s after and we talked about the idea for Senior Creative People, but I don’t think anybody wound up in a Nevada house of prostitution,” he said, in reference to some bygone transgression by a former coworker named Sonny.

As part of the festivities, the organizers screened a scene from the first season of Mad Men, in which the creative team, blocked on an idea for Secor Laxatives, examines a DDB magazine ad for inspiration. “I'm just saying we can be funny, like those Volkswagen people,” Sal, the closeted art director, tells Don. “I don’t know what I hate about it the most, the ad or the car,” Don seethes between cigarette puffs, eventually conceding, “Love it or hate it, the fact remains, we've been talking about this for the last 15 minutes. . . and this is Playboy.”

As obsessives of the show will recall, that scene helped shape the idea of Sterling Cooper as being at odds with the upheaval happening outside its glass doors. Whereas, Doyle Dane, an agency run “by two Jews and an Irishman” as the joke goes, heartily embraced that ethos.

During the 1968 election, DDB was the agency of record for Hubert Humphrey, Johnson’s vice president. Meanwhile, Mr. Schroeder pointed out, “Another corner of the agency was working for Eugene McCarthy, who was running against him. And then there was a group of us who were working for Bobby Kennedy.”

Mr. Griles, who went on to direct music videos for Cyndi Lauper and Deep Purple and produce the first MTV Video Music Awards, was a 23-year-old art director assigned to the Humphrey campaign that year in Chicago. While the National Guard clashed with rioters in Lincoln Park, Mr. Griles was pitching a left-field endorsement to Humphrey’s campaign manager. The idea was nixed, he explained, because “Hubert Humphrey couldn’t be associated with anybody with facial hair.”

“Radicals!” bellowed Mr. Blauweiss.

The would-be endorser? The mustachioed superstar Sonny Bono. “We couldn’t use him,” Mr. Griles recalled. “When you look back at that election between Nixon and Humphrey, Humphrey lost by 50,000 votes. Those 50,000 votes would have been people with facial hair!”

DDB in those days was known for a soft sell that can seem quaint now. For Mr. Schroeder, the “in your face” style in vogue these days was exemplified by a recent McDonald’s spot that featured “two young smart alecks” schooled by a septuagenarian woman in ping pong. “Well, she hits the ping pong ball so hard it nearly goes through the guy’s head! I don’t really relate to that well. This senior beat up this young person? Is that not abusive?” Instead, Senior Creative People might try a different approach. “I think there’s a way of getting the message across that a senior has skills, or better still, knowledge. It’s not based on physical skills anymore, because let’s face it, none of us here are 22. It’s based on what we learned.”

To that end, the consultancy is brainstorming a public awareness initiative to change the perception of old folks. For now, they’re calling it the Senior Campaign.

“Seniors in some cultures are respected and in fact are even revered for what they know and the experience that they have,” Mr. Schroeder continued. “Not here!” He brought up a pop cultural sore point. “I happen to like The Simpsons a lot, but Grandpa Simpson is the quintessential senior joke!” he said, voice rising. “If he can’t find his glasses or he forgot to put his pants on, or if he’s talking about a conversation he just had with Napoleon Bonaparte... It’s kinda that cheap, demented, crazy old man picture that in our culture drives a lot of the thinking about seniors.”

The type of clients they picture being interested in their services would be “anything that seniors would be involved in—from AARP to Social Security, medicines,” said Mr. Griles. “Those are things that people our age have to deal with in daily life. But there are a lot of other products that they do deal with.”

“Electronics, breakfast cereals,” said Mr. Schroeder.

“Seniors drink beer,” added Mr. Blauweiss, leaning back in a wicker rocking chair.

For the most part, however, the gentlemen preferred to keep their plans under wraps for now. “We know that there are agencies out there, some of which we have worked for ourselves that are watching us now,” said Mr. Schroeder.

“DDB for sure,” said Mr. Blauweiss, with a muted grin.

“They’re sitting there in those offices saying, ‘What are these guys up to? What is their next move?’” Mr. Schroeder continued.

Thus far, Senior Creative People has turned down a couple agencies that offered to bring the team along on pitches, preferring to speak to clients directly. More progress has been made on the firm’s mentorship program (“Mad Mentors was already taken, like so many good ideas these days,” Mr. Schroeder said with a shrug).

It sounded like a standard internship to The Observer. The first kid accepted into the program built the consultancy’s website, which features videos of the men talking about their experiences. The question is whether Madison Avenue is ready to listen.

“After you put the cows out to pasture, you don’t want to see them back in the barn,” acknowledged Mr. Schroeder. “You sure as hell don’t want to see them coming at your from the television or the computer in your living room.”

Then again, if anyone can undo decades of advertising norms, it may be the men who helped defined them. “When you’ve been convincing your client for years and years and years that this is where the action is—don’t bother with these old people, they don’t really matter that much—how do you shift gears now and address this market?” said Mr. Schroeder.

“The cut-off is 39-years old, that’s it,” he added, shaking his head. “Once you hit that ceiling, they put a tarp over it.”

[gallery]  

Picture Don Draper a few years down the road, gripping an AARP card instead of a tumbler of Canadian Club, and you’ve got Don Blauweiss.

On a recent Friday morning, the 78-year-old Mr. Blauweiss was in a green Jeep stick-shift waiting for The Observer at the Metro-North station in Bronxville. He was sporting a black leather jacket, black turtleneck and a full head of curly white hair. “My red BMW is in the shop,” the self-described New Yorkquino apologized in a laidback Queens cadence.

As we stuttered through the sloping streets of the tony Eastchester suburb, Mr. Blauweiss described the AMC drama as “meticulous down to every detail—the princess telephones, the wardrobing.” He should know. In the sixties, Mr. Blauweiss got his start as a twentysomething art director at Doyle Dane Bernbach, the agency credited with setting off a “creative revolution” that transformed Madison Avenue, upending the Sterling Coopers of the world in the process.

It’s a trick he’d like to pull off again. With several compadres from the old days, Mr. Blauweiss has just launched a new advertising consultancy, Senior Creative People, targeting an overlooked demographic: his own.

“The only thing that’s somewhat different from my experience was the amount of drinking that they did,” he went on, pivoting the jeep up the hill of his driveway. “There was plenty of drinking going on. There were even a couple who might keep a bottle in the desk. But nobody, at least not at DDB, had a bar in their office. Now don’t forget! Sterling Cooper was the antithesis of Doyle Dane, so who knows . . .”

Inside the living room of Mr. Blauweiss’s buttercup-colored colonial, Chuck Schroeder, 68, and Edd Griles, 66, were waiting for us on the fleur-de-lis patterned sofa. Like Mr. Blauweiss, the two gentleman had also come up at DDB during the agency’s heyday. Mr. Griles, a teetotaler, thought the endless tippling was probably “much more an account guy thing,” adding, “It was the 60’s. The copywriters and art directors were much more into pot.”

Even decades later, the agency “suits”—guys like Pete Campbell and Ken Cosgrove—remain the enemy, spoken of with a touch of contempt. Blame it on Bill Bernbach. The DDB co-founder, easily one of the century’s most influential ad men, is credited with pairing art directors and copywriters—and privileging their instincts above all else. Before Doyle, Dane, as the agency was called, “It was unheard of that you could tell an account guy, ‘Get the fuck out of my office,’ which I’ve had the pleasure to do,” Mr. Blauweiss grinned, before quickly adding, “I have to be careful because my wife was an account person.”

(As for the rampant misogyny on Mad Men, it might have been exaggerated, at least according to these guys, who pointed out that DDB’s first copy chief was a woman,  Phyllis Robinson. “But that didn’t mean there weren’t plenty of affairs going on,” Mr. Blauweiss admitted.)

Any Intro to Media Studies student will likely be familiar with DDB’s output in those days—campaigns like the Volkwagen “Lemon” and “Think Small” ads, which turned the traditional sales pitch on its head, or the controversial Lyndon Johnson “Daisy” spot, which only aired once, but is credited with winning LBJ the presidency. In his best-selling 1970 ad world exposé, From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor—a primary source text for the boozy exploits of Don Draper—Jerry Della Femina wrote, “Doyle, Dane is as close as you can get to what people really are and what people really think.”

In addition to their work on those ads, the Senior Creative People team had a part in iconic campaigns for Alka Seltzer, Avis, Coca-Cola, and Levy’s, among others.

But now the same guys that brought the Youthquake to Madison Avenue and helped cultivate the American fetishization of a fresh face may have their hardest sell yet: convincing the advertising world to lay aside its obsession with youngsters and put its efforts into actively courting the aging Baby Boomer demo.

Last year, the first of this group became eligible for retirement (not that they’re eager to take it). Over the next couple decades, the number of 65- to 85-year-olds is expected to balloon up to 72 million, representing 20 percent of the population by 2030. And unlike that coveted and notoriously fickle 18-to-35 demo, Boomers are sitting on around $2.3 trillion in disposable income that they can’t take with them.

Last month, along with Sid Meyers, a fellow DDB alum and one of the creators of the Daisy ad, they launched Senior Creative People. Their first client meeting is on Tuesday. But the challenge is twofold: convince clients they’ve still got it, and convince anyone, at all, to care.

“We’re targeting anybody who feels that the senior market is worth addressing and understands that we’re about the best equipped people to address it,” said Mr. Schroeder, who had flowing white hair to his shoulders and was wearing the same Steve Jobs black shirt-and-jeans ensemble as Mr. Blauweiss (“What are we, the Bobsey Twins?,” he said).

“People say, we’re going to put our senior creative people on it,” explained Mr. Griles. “That’s part of the connection of who are, okay? That we’re not just seniors. We were the senior creative people at advertising agencies, and we want to be that again.”

It was actually the memory of those heady Doyle, Dane days that inspired the boys to get the band back together. Last year, an invitation went out for the first-ever reunion of every DDB “creative” employed in the sixties. The reminder featured the craggy visage of Boris Karloff with the admonition, “Don’t wait to be decrepit. Celebrate the ’60s with us now.”

The historic reunion took place in June on the executive floor of the agency’s Madison Avenue offices, albeit on an early-bird timetable. The party started at 3pm and ended by 7. “The drinking days for most of us are over,” said Mr. Schroeder. “We went to P.J. Clarke’s after and we talked about the idea for Senior Creative People, but I don’t think anybody wound up in a Nevada house of prostitution,” he said, in reference to some bygone transgression by a former coworker named Sonny.

As part of the festivities, the organizers screened a scene from the first season of Mad Men, in which the creative team, blocked on an idea for Secor Laxatives, examines a DDB magazine ad for inspiration. “I’m just saying we can be funny, like those Volkswagen people,” Sal, the closeted art director, tells Don. “I don’t know what I hate about it the most, the ad or the car,” Don seethes between cigarette puffs, eventually conceding, “Love it or hate it, the fact remains, we’ve been talking about this for the last 15 minutes. . . and this is Playboy.”

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