Poor VH-1. Conceived in a competitive fervor, less because anyone in the audience actually wanted it, more because MTV Networks couldn’t let Ted Turner grab their business. No one at the company really wanted it to succeed, under the mistaken impression that there were only so many people interested in video music (a claim backed up by research that was ill conceived, maybe on purpose). Don’t lose too much money, please break even, and the job was done.
The MTVN operators worked hard to convince itself that there was a consumer demand for the network. After all, wasn’t MTV just a rock radio station on steroids. And didn’t a more adult audience reject rock radio for more mellow music. And besides, the record industry was begging MTVN for so many favors that MTV could not fulfill them all and keep its business on track. VH-1 could serve a multitude of useful purposes.
Fred/Alan was there at it’s inception and played a pivotal role for three more makeovers during the next seven years.
In the first big change since launch at the beginning of 1985, we were convinced that VH-1 needed to sharpen its message and its target audience. Stake a claim. Self centered baby boomers that we were, it seemed obvious to us that there was an opportunity to be obvious about it, and that VH-1 was the perfect place for our obviousness.
Noel Frankel had started working with Fred/Alan as a freelance copywriter and art director, and persuaded us to become our full time creative director with two campaigns that had completely opposite affects. The Nick-at-Nite print campaign piggy backed on the twisted, successful strategy we’d used on-air to establish America’s first oldies TV network. He conceived these VH-1 ads, and the TV spots that accompanied them, using the high key photography of the famous Art Kane to provide a sophisticated attitude that VH-1 needed to have to attract our audience.
It was a good campaign. Unfortunately, VH-1 refused to support it was a network that had a focused point of view. Viewers continued to reject the channel, and within a year or two we were onward and upward to yet another “re-branding.”
…..0 comments Tagged: Noel Frankel, advertising, photography, print, trade advertising, VH1,.
We never did too much actual advertising for Mosaic Records. They’d done quite a bit before Fred/Alan got involved with the company and it didn’t really pay off for them. Besides, our catalogs were growing their business pretty well organically. So, it was pretty hard to convince them to spend their hard earned money to experiment a little.
Marty Pekar was the only advertising copywriter Mosaic trusted other than Alan. And besides being a recorded music fanatic, he had a good knack with direct response ads. (There’s a real skill. Each word counts towards convincing someone to actually order, and if it doesn’t… get rid of it. Seriously.)
The advertising worked really well. Though the exact number of orders generated has been lost to the sands of time, we can report that every placement was profitable for Mosaic Records, and added hundreds of regular customers to their catalog mailing lists.0 comments Tagged: New York Times, advertising, box set, catalog, jazz, mail order, print, Mosaic Records,.
Jazz singer and crooner Tony Bennett completely revived his career with his 1995 appearance on Unplugged. But, it was Fred/Alan that awakened Tony’s and MTV’s interest in each other in 1988. I think it was a great, funny spot, just right for the network.
This commercial was the first spot we did as a full service agency, the slickest and most expensive we’d ever done, and awakened me to the possibility that this was the beginning of the end of the game, and that I hated being part of, no less owning, an advertising agency.
To make a long story short, Alan and I had happily, productively, operated Fred/Alan as a boutique company with five employees, where we consulted on high level branding assignments of cable media properties like Nickelodeon, Nick-at-Nite, and MTV, and produced everything from promo spots to television shows. In late 1987, everything changed when Nickelodeon asked us to up the ante and become their full service ad agency, and MTV soon followed suit. Since neither of us had actually worked in an agency (though for years we’d made a lot of advertising and been agency clients) we started hiring experienced creatives, account managers, and media buyers. Strike one.
Our first big creative hire, Noel Frankel, was (is) an amazing copywriter and art director. At Fred/Alan he was directly responsible for some of our great campaigns for Nick-at-Nite and VH-1. He came up with this spot utilizing the iconic “I Want My MTV!” of LPG/Pon and Alan’s 1987 positioning of the network “TV or MTV?” and mashing it up with Tony singing adapted lyrics from Cole Porter’s “I Concentrate on You,” an unabashedly old school standard from the Great American Songbook. I was nervous; we’d never licensing anything for anything at MTV and the cost was probably going to be in five figures. Noel assured me, “If the client likes it, they’ll pay for it.” Sure, I guess, but it’s not the way we were used to doing business. Alan and I always worked as if it was our own money.
Alan and I hired our old friend, the amazing arranger Garry Sherman (sure he did all the classic Coke jingles, but also everything from the original “Good Lovin’” to Steely Dan to Midnight Cowboy) to prep the music.* We’d misunderstood a joke of Noel’s and made the track too contemporary. Strike two.
To bring the spot home we hired two more friends. Robert Small and Jim Burns were Robert Small Entertainment, and they’d design the production and Robert would direct. The entire set was built, beautifully I should add, Tony was on stage ready to shoot, when I get a call from Noel at the shoot.
“The floor’s no good. We need a shiny floor.”
Oh no, how much will that cost?
We’d never spent more than $20,000 on a whole promo campaign. Now we were approaching $100,000 for one spot alone.
“Don’t worry. The client will pay for it all!”
I called Tom Freston and Bobby Friedman at MTV. They approved the floor.
Copywriter & art director: Noel Frankel
Director: Robert Small
RSE producer: Jim Burns
Fred/Alan producer: Albie Hecht
Arrangement & recording: Garry Sherman
Executive producers: Alan Goodman & Fred Seibert
* An interesting, funny, sad aside. By the end of 1980’s the era of the live studio musician had almost come to an end for commercials. Instead of a two day $25,000 arrangement and $25,000 orchestra, people like Garry were taking a full week creating finished tracks on synthesizers and getting $5000.
When it came time to shoot the spot, we realized that actors playing musicians in the orchestra behind Tony would look phony, since they didn’t actually know how to play music. But, we could hire real musicians (of which there were plenty available, since there wasn’t much work anymore) as extras (Garry played the conductor), and believe it or not, they were cheaper to book than actors. A real shame.0 comments Tagged: MTV, commercials, advertising, MTV Networks, 1988, Noel Frankel,.
A bunch of the Alan and Fred story —at MTV (and Nickelodeon, for that matter)— happened before Fred/Alan, from 1980 until early 1983. If you’re interested, Fred’s covering some of it over on his personal blog.0 comments Tagged: MTV, Fred Seibert, Nickelodeon, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983,.
A Day in the Life from fredseibert on Vimeo.
Bill Burnett started at Fred/Alan in 1987 as a hilarious freelance copywriter, eventually becoming our creative director (and he went on to write and create cartoons for Fred in Hollywood). From his blog (check it out to see both spots, and more), here’s Bill’s take on a great campaign he created for us and our client VH-1:
One of the high points of my career was in 1988, when Don Martin, “Mad Magazine’s Maddest Artist”, agreed to make a series of ads with me at Fred/Alan Inc.You have to understand, I idolized Don Martin. I was that kid who snuck Mad Magazine into class and covered it with a Moby Dick book cover. And Don Martin was one of my favorites. With his geeky characters whose feet folded over the curb and his uncanny sense of absurdist slapstick, he cracked me up over and over.
So, there I was, charged with creating a campaign for VH-1 that would position the network as an MTV for baby boomers. What better way to accomplish that than to invoke the boomer’s bible–Mad Magazine? To the best of my knowledge we are the only people who have ever made an animated film of Don Martin’s cartoons, either for commercials or pure entertainment value. That makes these spots pretty special.
I just took a spin around the web and found that there IS a guy in Brazil who has been doing some decent Don Martin animations . You can find them by Googling “Don Martin Animation”. It’s not clear to me that he did them with Don’s blessing, but they’re kind of fun. (We did our spots with Don’s complete participation.) And apparently there was an unaired Mad Magazine special that contains an animated Don Martin cartoon.
Still, I think our ads are unique in that they remained true to the spirit of the master and also delivered a strong marketing message. These ads spoke to the prevailing thirty-something sense of living with stress and anxiety and troubled times, and the corresponding feeling of entitlement. “After all you’ve been through, you deserve your own channel.” Don’t we all feel that way? We’ve all been through a lot. We DO deserve our own channels. And with the Internet exploding into niches the way it is, we’ll each have our own channel before too long.
…..0 comments Tagged: 1988, Bill Burnett, MTV Networks, VH-1, advertising, animation, comics, commercials, television, VH1,.
From the moment Fred/Alan started doing MTV’s advertising in 1988 we’d wanted to create a print campaign that would capture the feeling of change and surprise we’d been able to inject into the on-air identity from the first seconds of the channel.
Finally, in 1990 our clients agreed to a consumer advertising in Rolling Stone magazine, which eventually would run across two years. Their (then) large scale format was perfect and we were able to commission some amazing artists to participate; to contrast our photographic music trade campaign (and emphasize our identity roots), illustration was the primary medium. Our excellent art director Tom Godici picked all the art* (with some kibbitzing from the sidelines) from both sides of the generational divide, with a mix of household names, ad biz faves, and soon-to-be’s.
Our favorite story from this campaign involved Robert Crumb. Generally, Tom would contact the artists personally, tell them something about the campaign, and emphasize we’d want their take on our headline “Just when you think you know what it is… it’s MTV.” Our only request —it was optional, and most didn’t— was that the MTV logo would be included. Crumb’s representative told us to send over some of the other artists’ work and that he’d send it over to Crumb in France, but that it was extremely unlikely he’d participate. Tom dutifully packed up the stuff with a personal letter telling Crumb we knew he hated contemporary music but we loved his work.
Months later the package was mailed back, seemingly unopened. Sure enough, the original contents spilled out, to all appearances, unread. But Tom’s eyed popped when along with all the other stuff flies out an old, yellow edged piece of onion skin typing paper with a Crumb drawing (the one up above) and a note.
“Please forward the $300. My wife is spending money faster than I can earn it.”
* By R. Crumb, Lou Brooks, Janet Woolley, Robin Nedboy & Al Harp, Marvin Mattleson, Gene Greif, Jenny Holzer, Alex Grey, Robert Yarber, Fred Schneider, Mary Ellen Mark, Bill Sienkiewicz, and Lisa Powers.0 comments Tagged: MTV, 1990, 1991, Rolling Stone, advertising, print, illustration, graphic design, photography, consumer,.
Since the very beginning (August 1981) the MTV packaging and advertising work we’d done used line illustration and animation to establish a clear identity, distinct from the all too common live action music videos or the slick motion graphics on the rest of the television networks. But photography loomed very high on our radar. Fred’s sister/Alan’s wife, Elena Seibert, is a portrait photographer, and we’d each been to collecting photography at home. Rock photographer Annie Leibovitz had recently been doing advertising campaigns for The Gap and American Express, and Fred was particularly taken by Oliviero Toscani’s”real people” campaign for Espirit.
So, 1990 rolled around, nine years we’d been developing and executing MTV’s DIY, low-fi style. It was time for a change and a music business trade magazine campaign was just the place; Billboard, Hits, maybe Cashbox. The music industry had begun to take the network for granted, assuming it was just their amazing artists(!) that was responsible for the boom in sales. F/A creative director Noel Frankel directed the first ad with Winger, and then art director took the helm for the rest. A classy, quality, photographic look, black & white, featuring top artists of the day, and lyrics from their top recording.
Unfortunately, in those days right before Nirvana broke, it wasn’t the most impressive lot. OK, half of them (Tone Lōc, the B-52’s, Living Colour) were respectable. But Paula, Hammer, and least of all, Winger? And I’m not really sure what to say about Faith No More.0 comments Tagged: 1990, Billboard, MTV, advertising, photography, print, trade advertising, Hits,.
This commercial is Alan and all his talents at their best.
Our great friend and colleague from MTV, Nancy Kadner, had bought me a Swatch when they were first imported in 1983. Two years later Max Imgrueth had set up a US office and she was running marketing. Since Swatch’s approach was essentially the same as MTV’s ever changing logo she sensed a good fit and we started plotting some stuff together. We’d loved Swatch’s first TV commercial for MTV with The Fat Boys, and when Nancy and her colleague Steve Rechtshaffner intro’d us to their manager Charlie Stettler it was a lovefest, and we became friends for three decades.
Charlie was a complete character. A Swiss national in New York City, he’d embraced hip-hop early and completely. Putting the two together for Swatch’s first Amercan commercial, he made a fee-free deal that would insure his trio national television exposure at a time when MTV refused to program hip-hop. Two years later, Swatch wanted to make a spot for their limited edition Christmas watch, Nancy, Steve, and Charlie asked Fred/Alan to create it.
Up until that point we’d only done media promotion, never anything for an actual, physical product, so we took the assignment seriously. As seriously as you could with an act that weighed almost a ton between them. Alan, our resident writer and director, constructed a spot that fused the hip-hop spirit of improvisation and the slickness of TV. The bit with the couple on the couch being interrupted by Buffy, the Human Beatbox was scripted. The “Swatch” shouts and the rap bed were improvised in the back of the shooting stage. Alan constructed the track and the graphics in the video studio in post-production.
As Alan recalls the shoot: “I remember only that Buffy had no underwear and we had to stitch two pair together; that I experienced the ultimate director humility when, with me four inches from his face directing him in the scene, I watched as his eyes settled and closed and he fell asleep (hey, it was after lunch and he was taking ‘antibiotics’); and that I had no idea what the track would be or how to end it until I heard The Fat Boys rapping ‘Ho, ho, ho’ in the next room. Which taught me the rule I live by: be 100 percent prepared and 30 percent flexible.”
…0 comments Tagged: 1985, Swatch, The Fat Boys, advertising, commercials, television, rap, hip hop,.
Over nine years, Fred/Alan only made two* music videos**, but they were both doozies. First up, James Brown and Afrika Bambaata. I mean, wow, wouldn’t it too cool to work with The Minister of the New New Super Heavy Funk?
JB was half a decade away from his latest chart hit and hip-hop was beginning to explode, completely usurping The Godfather of Funk’s excitement. A pioneering Bronx DJ, Bam had hit it big in 1982 and was looking for his way back on the charts.
Fred/Alan had been around less than a year and exhilarated by all the possibilities in front of us. We called anywhere that seemed interesting and one of those places was Tommy Boy Records. Fred had read about their trailblazing Malcolm X & Keith LeBlanc mix “No Sellout,” the first sampled record, picked up the phone and started talking to label president Monica Lynch and founder Tom Silverman, figuring (correctly) they might be kindred spirits.
In 1984, Tom called and told us about an amazing session they’d just recorded. James’ contract with Polydor had expired a few years before, and Tom snagged him for just one single, a Bambaata duet, a perfect marriage of mentor and student. Indies didn’t know too much about this music video thing (they could just about afford the record), but they’d videotaped the vocal dubs in lovely (ahem) VHS. Could we somehow make it into a video? The average video in 1984 probably cost $40,000. Tommy Boy’s budget was $5000.
We had three things going for us: Fred had a vision of James Brown’s feet, producer/director Tom Pomposello, and producer/artist Marcy Brafman. Oh, and we were so psyched to be working with James (OK, at least were working on something of James) Fred/Alan was willing to make zero dollars.
Put the original VHS footage in a Blendtec, with all this stuff plus a dash of hip-hop graffiti, and a lot of long days and night. It made a pretty happening video. Low-fi? Sure. It was shot on a home video camera, for funk’s sake.
** Neither Alan or Fred was a director, and in the final analysis, video music is a director’s medium. Besides it was really hard to make a profit.0 comments Tagged: 1984, Tom Pomposello, Tommy Boy Records, music video, television, soul, R&B,.
Writer/producer Scott Webb is probably the creative hero more responsible for the Nickelodeon you love everyday than almost any other single person. It’s not for nothing that he began at Nick as a writer/producer and went on to become the network’s very first worldwide Creative Director.
In June of 1984 Fred/Alan was asked to help revive Nick. WASEC/MTV Networks management knew the success we’d had with the ‘branding’ of MTV (though the B-word wasn’t in use yet), and thought they need to taste more of our secret sauce. The channel had the worst ratings on cable and kids everywhere disliked it intensely. We thought the reasons were clear, Nickelodeon was not welcoming to kids of all ages. It looked and sounded like it was for babies, which was exactly American children thought of it.
We thought the solution was to stop telling kids what was on (they didn’t really care) and promise them that Nickelodeon was the right place for them to hang around when they were watching television. Why? Because Nickelodeon was going to actually listen to them when it came time to pick the shows. No one else listened to kids, but we would.
Gerry Laybourne and Debby Beece, Nick’s head honchos, pretty much gave us carte blache as to how we’d pull off this task to them. We, in turn, insisted they hire Scott Webb. Scott had been through boot camp with Fred’s mentor, Dale Pon, so we knew he was whip smart, creative, and strong. He had worked for Fred at The Movie Channel, so we knew his phone number. We knew that even though he didn’t resemble any other hack promotion producer in America (he was less of a TV head than a comic book geek) he’d have exactly the right vibe to reinvent Nickelodeon —and all of television— for the future.
When he brought in the soundtrack for his first promo Debby thought we’d made a horrible mistake. It’s funny when you hear it now, but at first she thought it was too fast and that no one could ever understand it. (Put it up against any episode of The Fairly OddParents and it sounds downright sloowwww.)
Scott wrote this promo in a media vocabulary that kids would recognize. Comics was the image, “everyday” was the message (it wasn’t just Saturday morning for kids TV anymore), and fun was the takeaway.
From this day forward, Nickelodeon would never worry about kids again. Six months after “Everyday” ran, with hundreds of other creative spots that followed Scott’s model of “talk with kids, act like kids,” Nick’s image was fixed forever. They went from worst to first in the ratings, where they’ve remained for 25 years.0 comments Tagged: 1984, Nickelodeon, Scott Webb, TV spots, branding, promises, promos, television, commercials,.