We pulled an all-nighter. (Perhaps the only time our wives didn’t mind.)

Most famous full page United Way newspaper ad

Art Director: RON ANDERSON; Copywriter: TOM McELLIGOTT; Illustrator: RON ANDERSON

This ad was not created with the usual array of objectives, strategies, account executives, research people and clients. Instead, it was specifically created to make money for the writer and art director in creative competition against other ads.

In 1978 the Newspaper Advertising Bureau announced a $50,000 contest for unusual and innovative use of newspaper as an advertising medium. There were two categories in the contest:

The first category was for real ads. The second category was for speculative ads—ads created specifically for the NAB contest for either real or fictitious clients. And this category was where the money was. $25,000 for first place, $10,000 for second, $5,000 for third, and $1,000 to each of ten honorable mentions.

A few days before the contest was to close, Ron Anderson and I received a call from a local newspaper rep urging us to enter. We were, unfortunately, swamped with work.

The night before the date when entries were to be mailed, however, we gave in to temptation and decided to stay late at the agency in order to create entries for the NAB contest.

After I had written 40 or 50 headlines we spread them out on the floor (one headline to a legal tablet sheet). Then we voted for the ones we liked best by dropping pennies on them.

We ended up with nine ads good enough to take to layout stage. At this point I began writing copy, and Ron began pressing type (remember Letraset?), finding scrap art visuals, (tracing them on the “Lucy”) and making stats.

The next morning we sent off nine speculative layouts, plus a half-dozen existing ads for “real” clients.

A COUPLE OF MONTHS LATER WE WERE INFORMED BY THE NAB THAT WE HAD WON A NUMBER OF AWARDS, IN FACT, MORE THAN ANY OTHER AGENCY IN AMERICA.

We had two “real” ads accepted, plus six speculative ads.

We received $1,000 for a runner-up spec ad, plus $10,000 for the United Way ad.

In terms of the specifics of this ad, the copy and visual originated exactly at the same time. It started when we remembered all of the cartoons and movies we’d seen in which bums slept on park benches covered only by newspapers. From there the headline/concept came easily and naturally.

As we look at the ad today, we’re still quite pleased with it.

Writer’s footnote: Subsequent to the NAB contest this ad was actually run by several United Way chapters across the country.
Editor’s footnote: The complete unedited version of Mr. McElligott’s essay can be found in “The One Show: Advertising’s Best, Vol. 2” (New York: American Showcase, Inc., 1981).

One comment

  1. […] So here’s what I know: Minneapolis legend Ron Anderson hired Tom to work with him at Bozell’s. They did this together: (https://ampersandvertising.com/2013/10/17/we-pulled-an-all-nighter-perhaps-the-only-time-our-wives-di&#8230😉 […]

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