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,.