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July 8, 2009
Gossage On The Brain
Please make room in your beach bag this summer for a 324 page, 10 inch by 8 inch volume of the best advertising insights ever inscribed on paper.
I’m speaking, of course, of The Book Of Gossage, published by The Copy Workshop, a collection of one book and much more—about and written by the legendary San Francisco ad man Howard Luck Gossage.
(With many apologies to the still living and still vibrant Jack Foster, author of the invaluable How To Get Ideas, Luke Sullivan, author of the encouraging Hey Whipple, Squeeze This, the brothers Chip and Dan Heath, authors of the insightful Made To Stickand Stephen King, author of the necessary On Writing: A Memoir To The Craft—books which ought to occupy space on every copywriter’s shelf. )
In this interactive age of conversation, we could do no better than to look back to Gossage. Steve Simpson, legendary Goodby & Silverstein creative director agrees. He and I both extolled Gossage recently in Adweek. Gossage was, in many respects, truly “inter-active” and an instigator of insights and tactics we celebrate today. Consider…
“An advertisement that sticks its neck out in a forthright manner, as though it expected to be spoken back to, is rare indeed; and it is too bad. For this attitude is the beginning of reality, of experience of personal responsibility. It is necessary for corporations—who are, after all, legal persons—as it is for individuals.”
“The audience is our first responsibility, even before the client, for if we cannot involve them what good will it do him?”
“People read what interests them, and sometimes it’s an ad.”
(Let’s rephrase that last line: “People [interact with] what interests them, and sometimes it’s an [application, website, etc.].”)
Gossage understood the power of a gimmick. No doubt he would have approved of Whopper Freakout. After all, he created Pink Air, the non-existent additive for Fina Gasoline back in the late 1960s—to make light of the oil industry’s additive advertising addiction. Upon learning his client, Contadina Tomato Paste, squashed the equivalent of eight tomatoes into each can, Gossage hired the comedian Stan Freberg to sing, “Who Puts Eight Great Tomatoes in That Little Bitty Can?”
His career wasn’t all gimmicks; though he did title a chapter in his book, “How to be Creative about Next to Nothing at All.” It’s in this chapter we find my favorite Gossage quote regarding advertising’s audience: “They are to be considered first and always. They are to be involved. …you [the advertiser] are there at their pleasure.”
He proposed wonderful theories for media (“If a client…presents fresh ideas that will involve his audience…he won’t have to repeat the ad any more than a newspaper has to repeat its front page the next day”). He suggested magazines refuse advertising and charge the real price for publishing content. He wrote, “When you do a very interesting ad you stick your neck out; and if the ad doesn’t work your neck gets chopped off. It is like playing golf for a hole-in-one every time.”
Gossage inspired. No less than author Tom Wolfe said, “(Gossage) somehow made you able to soar a little higher and do it with a kind of zest for your own life that you probably had not had before.”
He died of leukemia July 9, 1969 (noting beforehand that the disease was, “fatal, but not serious.”) He’d been in advertising less than 20 years. Fellow legend David Ogilvy described Gossage as, “Advertising’s most articulate rebel.”
We should all aspire to such impact. Something to consider while you’re working on your tan.

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As a writer, creative director and drummer, Tim Brunelle started in advertising in 1993 after receiving a B.A. in Jazz from the University of Cincinnati. Since then, he's worked with TBWA/Chiat Day, Heater/Easdon, McKinney & Silver, Arnold Worldwide, OgilvyOne, Mullen and Carmichael Lynch. Tim now works for his own entity, Hello Viking.

Tim has provided strategic and creative leadership to A.G. Edwards, Anheuser-Busch, Brown Forman, Goodyear, Harley-Davidson, Porsche, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Volkswagen.

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