I worked at Scali, McCabe, Sloves when it was regarded as the finest advertising agency in the world. The creative department was full of brash, young copywriters and art directors determined to prove themselves. Because of that, no assignment was shunned; everything was considered an opportunity.
This notion was fueled by a story going around the agency about how when Ed McCabe was just starting out as a copywriter, he was given an assignment to create a matchbook cover for a correspondence school. His solution: “Maybe if you had a better job, you wouldn’t smoke so much.” It was said that he got so famous for the solution that he could write his own ticket. (Turns out, by the way, that the story isn’t quite true. Ed himself recently told me it wasn’t him, it was Hy Abady. And Hy told me that the client didn’t actually buy the concept. The matchbook only existed on a layout board that probably ended up in the trash and in the imaginations of young copywriters like me.)
So when my partner and I were given the assignment to create a small space ad campaign to travel agents for Hertz –– we’re talking 2″ x 3″–– we took that as a challenge to do work worthy of Ed. We busted our butts to come up with trade ads the size of matchbook covers.
The ads were approved and ran before Ed ever saw them. He came storming into my office.
“Did you do these?” he demanded.
“Good. Nice work.”
High praise, coming from the guy who didn’t actually come up with the famous matchbook cover that never ran.