Sunday, September 19, 2010

RIP Gene Case who started an agency the Mad Men way

Mourning original Mad Man Gene Case, a founder of Jordan McGrath Case & Partners where I did a stint on Bounty paper towels aeons ago. Little known fact (at least to me): The shop was launched originally as Case and Krone. Gene Case's launch partner was art director legend Helmut Krone, who in 1969, was already a name on Madison Avenue, celebrated for Volkswagen's Think Small and other campaigns Don Draper envies.

Case met Krone at Doyle, Dane Bernbach where Case, a copywriter, was assigned to LBJ's campaign against Senator Goldwater. There, Case worked on the famous Daisy commercial , still considered the most effective political spot that ever ran on TV. He left DDB to join Jack Tinker & Partners, a noble experiment in creativity established by Interpublic under Marion Harper--its sole function was creative exploration and development. (Mary Wells was another DDB writer turned Tinkerer.) But Case stayed in touch with Krone and their frequent lunches tipped off rumors they were starting an agency.

When Case teamed up with Krone, he was just 31, one of the youngest founders of a start-up then. Because it was 1969, Ad Age made it a point of record that he was also one with the longest hair. No Don Draperly Brilcreem look for Gene Case. But, a la Mad Men, he and Krone set up shop in a hotel, taking a 7th floor suite at the Plaza. A week later, they brought in Pat McGrath, an account man from Benton & Bowles, who figured out the business end of things: McGrath put up $5,000 and loaned Case an additional $5,000, bringing the start-up capital total to $15,000. (This was when $5000 meant something: the average house cost $4600) The partners agreed to take $2,500 a month each, though no one took anything for the first five months.

After a month, the new agency moved across the street to 4 West 58th St where its modest $2 million of business included Carey Limousine, Cybernetics Inc. and Nestle Decaf coffee. After a lean couple of years, they won Mennen Skin Bracer, an $1.8 million account from J. Walter Thompson and created the series of commercials Case became most famous for: "Thanks. I needed that" a mnemonic that went viral before there was viral: men would be slapped across the face or slap themselves, as demonstrated by a still-slim John Goodman in the best (sorry) copy of this spot from the 70s I could find, posted below.

But the success of Mennen couldn't heal a growing rift between Case and Krone who displayed not only creative differences, but disparities in work habits. According to a 1994 Ad Age interview with McGrath, Krone would arrive mid-morning, have coffee, read the papers, have lunch and by the time "his furnaces were fully stoked, Case, whose day began promptly at 9 a.m, would be getting ready to go home." In 1972, Krone high-tailed it back to Doyle, Dane, Bernbach where he stayed until retiring in 1988.

Case's agency thrived due to packaged goods clients, but his heart was always in politics. He did a print campaign that helped Nelson Rockefeller win a third term as governor. And in 2002, at the age of 65, he founded a shop called The Avenging Angels, an advocacy ad agency to create campaigns for liberal causes.

Like Don Draper, he was always the consummate pitchman. "He was without a doubt the best presenter of advertising who ever lived," McGrath is quoted in today's Times. "Clients were sometimes unhappy because the ads weren't as good as the presentation." Um. Like this one?:


California Girl said...

Nice tribute Helen. I didn't know him but have read quite a bit this past week. It seems "Mad Men" is making ad people more relevant outside of the industry. And the stories are so interesting.

JBaker said...

Gene Case lived across the street from me for more than twenty years. Only today, reading his obituary, did I learn his name and amazing career.

Mr. Case was extraordinarily striking in appearance, rather tall in height, a 'man's man', and the most amazing flourish of white hair - it was pure white even in his younger days.

Very charismatic, he was obviously an interesting man. Like him, his entire family were also quite stunningly attractive.

I am sorry I did not concoct a reason to introduce myself to him. We were, after all, neighbors. I can only be glad for the gentleman that he led such an amazing life. In the end, that is what matters most - that we had a great ride down the road of life.

Ad Broad, oldest working writer in advertising said...

Thanks, California Girl. I agree. Mad Men has stirred up interest in ppl behind commercials we grew up with. Ironically, public interest about the business is peaking while internal interest is slacking off. Latest Ad Age does a piece about how industry is hemorrhaging creatives who claim business isn't fun anymore.

Thanks for sharing these observations, JBaker. You were just being a good (ie unobtrusive) neighbor. Funny how often we know so little about those with whom we live in closest proximity.

Anonymous said...

What did you do on Bounty? Vicki ran the creative on that account almost entirely by herself.

Ad Broad, oldest working writer in advertising said...

I was a migrant writer on Bounty @Anonymous. The CD I worked for wasn't Vicki, though. Perhaps we're thinking about different eras?

Paul Duca said...

Are you sure about the time frame for Case's Skin Bracer campaign? I happened to watch a DVD recently of a TV show made in 1970 where a character says "Thanks...I needed that", which suggest the campaign and catch phrase was established in pop culture by that point.

Ad Broad, oldest working writer in advertising said...

Hey, thanks for trawling the archive, Paul. Good catch. Case didn't invent the phrase, he appropriated it for Mennen. Skin Bracer campaign was based on a line that was already in the culture by then. In an old 50s movie "The High and Mighty" John Wayne slaps Robert Stack who replies "Thanks, I needed that." Heavy media buys for Skin Bracer spots made the phrase so popular, it was part of comedy's lexicon for years. John Belushi picked it up for Animal House and countless SNL skits.

Anonymous said...

My memories of Gene and Helmut were that they were bigger than life; I was truly afraid of Helmut because he didn't talk much and afraid to look Gene in the eye because I had a secret crush on him. I was all of 11 at the time that my dad (Pat) joined the two of them to begin the making of what Mad Men is all about. The beautiful thing about Gene was that he listened; he listened so intently that he rarely responded. His mind was always creating. He was a master. He will be missed but his "Geneious" will live on . . .

Ad Broad, oldest working writer in advertising said...

What wonderful memories. Thank you for sharing them. Amazing to have been introduced to advertising via key players in the Mad Men era. Wondering if you wound up in the business yourself?

Vince D'Onofrio said...

I just recently learned of Gene's passing, I am truly saddened. He was one of my early mentors. In 1971 I landed my first job in the agency business at Case & Krone doing mechanicals and the usual "bullpen" work. I was fresh out of school and while I was thrilled to be in a "real" agency, I had no idea at first who these people were. I knew I was damn lucky to be there, at times a baptism of fire. The talent within those walls was truly incredible. Not only Gene and Helmut but Harry Webber, Bob Cox, Julio DiOrio, Pacy Markman as well. Oh, the tales. The ad business was never the same for me after that.

Gene taught me that you didn't have to be categorized as art or copy, that you could create utilizing both skills. Gene was as good an art director as he was a writer. A quiet, thoughtful man who when he had something to say you sure listened. I made contact with him a couple of years ago and told him how much I admired his political and social cause work done by his Avenging Angels. Thank you Gene, for the education.

To "Anonymous" who posted on April 21 — It was my pleasure to work with your dad. A real "ad man" and a consummate gentleman. And I drove and picked your family up at the airport when vacationing (Utah ski trip?). Gene and your dad had that arrangement with me whereby I would act as driver and then have custody of a company car while they were away. My duties went beyond doing mechanicals. And I loved it.

Anonymous said...

Let's acknowledge that Gene wrote one of the worst make-for-tv movies ever aired. I remember Pat sent a memo around the office telling everyone to watch that night and then we never heard a peep afterward. I think we were mostly shocked that our ad copy genius hero was a tv-script-writing disaster.

And I had the honor to watch him do a new biz pitch to Disney Co in 1982. Brilliant. Pat was right about that part.

Anonymous said...

Re: Gene Case

When we were a young fledgling company, we were one of Case & Krone’s first customers….It was a great thrill for us to see the creative outcome and the level of perfection of each piece of work that they produced for us. Gene Case and Helmut Krone created our print advertising as well as our first Annual Report in 1969. I can't remember if it was Gene Case or Helmut Krone that said: “We never did an Annual Report before …but I know that when it is finished...It will be the best Annual Report ever made.” Gene crafted the words and Helmut laid them in by hand the old fashioned way with a razor blade. When we courageously issued Cybermatics Inc.'s first Annual Report, it stopped people in their tracks…It won major awards…it was also written up by Time magazine, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, Advertising Age, The Bergen Record, and so on. As a direct result of the publicity that it received, we had to reprint it. Requests came in for a copy of it from all over the world.

As people enter our lives…some stay, some go…Gene was one striking person that made an impact and his presence quietly felt in any room and any venue. I haven’t spoken with him since the early 1970’s. I always wished that our path would productively cross again…I was doing a search on his name last night and I was stunned to learn of his passing…Godspeed! Gene

J. Roy Morris
Cybermatics Inc.