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,.
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,.
Nick-at-Nite had a big problem, and Fred/Alan needed to fix it.
Advertisers loved the Nick-at-Nite ratings (it was one of the top three primetime cable networks), but the ad sales team was inexperienced and unskilled, and they never knew how to answer the questions from the agencies media groups designed to push the cost of the spots down through the floor.
Primary among them was, “Why should we pay as much for your old black & white as for newer color ones?” Stupid as it sounds —the high ratings meant lots of the same people watching everything else on TV were watching Nick-at-Nite— the sales team thought it was a worthwhile argument.
For the first few years after the creation of Nick-at-Nite, Fred/Alan’s primary role was in the day-to-day activities of the network itself. Promotion, branding, programming, acquisitions, we were involved in every aspect of the channel.
Then, in 1988, our collaborations with MTV Networks had evolved so far that they asked us to morph our production/consulting company into their full service advertising agency. Not knowing all that much about advertising other than it seemed to pay a little better than consulting, we agreed.
Enter Noel Frankel.
Noel was an experienced ad man, a print designer and copywriter. Aside from his consummate graphic design and painting skills, Noel brought a sophisticated strategic mind and, maybe more importantly, a twisted, quirky sense of humor. Perfect for Fred/Alan, which needed to start acting like we knew what we were doing. Even though we’d invented the Nick-at-Nite television network (a first —and probably to this day— only time an agency had actually invented a whole TV network), but now we needed to prove we could also invent an ad campaign that would solve their high hurdles with advertisers.
As his first freelance project for us Noel brought in comps for the Mr. Ed’s After-shave ("A trace of saddle blanket…bouquet of pasture…"). It captured the voice we’d inpsired, but it wasn’t dependent on footage from the episodes. There was a slick, color feel that belied the show’s black & whiteness, and when the ad ran in TV Guide, Entertainment Weekly, or any of the media trade publications, it would be a blast of fresh air. No network ever had such great fun with its own shows.
Then Noel adapted the campaign for small size, one color ads, and we added copywriter Bill Burnett to his team. If anything, Bill reveled in the weird even more than Noel, and the campaign started taking on some totally surreal tones.
The other agencies took notice. All of a sudden the networks started getting incoming calls looking for media time. The young media buyers were becoming big fans of the network and wanted their clients to be associated with our cool advertising; they started agitating their clients to get on board. Nick-at-Nite had solved their big problem.
Worthless? These worthless ads really put Fred/Alan on the map as an advertising agency with a sense of advertising way different than anyone else in the country.0 comments Tagged: Fred/Alan, MTV Networks, NIck-at-Nite, Noel Frankel, TV Guide, advertising, branding, print, trade advertising, NAN,.