Friday, May 28, 2021

A Simple Twist of Fate

As I continue to clean out the garage to make way for the art studio, I stumbled on this, the sole survivor of some advertising that but for a quirk of fate, could have changed my entire life. You can tell it's pre-digital; even the fonts are hand-drawn.
In the early 1980s, a Korean car company decided to launch its operations here in America. Nobody in America had ever heard of Hyundai, and the agency I was working for was invited to pitch the account, which was by all standards HUGE. I was a Creative Director in the west coast (Los Angeles) office, and a twenty-something wunderkind, a bicoastal creative wizard who stalked the media department for gorgeous female media buyers when I wasn't killing it with advertising awards. I was, in short, impossible. So it was no small thing when the general manager assigned me to be in charge of pitching the entire national account. That not only meant heading up the Los Angeles office's effort, but flying weekly to New York to kick ass on their team, as well.

Heady stuff? You bet. Flying first class (when first class was worth flying) and staying at four star hotels, waltzing into conference rooms in my cowboys boots/no necktie to face the lineups of account executives and creatives all outfitted in Brooks Brothers.

Remember, this was the go-go 1980s, when everything, including hair, art and cars were big and getting bigger. But Hyundai was not an 80's car. Truth be told, it was more like Volkswagen in the 1950s: smaller, more efficient, less money.

My campaign featured Judd Hirsch, the down-to-earth actor starring in "Taxi", who would walk around the car on a seamless white background, cleverly extolling the virtues of Hyundai's practicality. It was, as it were, "a sensible car for sensible people," and thus the tagline, "Built on common sense."

The campaign was quickly chosen as the lead to pitch. It took six months and about $300,000 (these are 1980 dollars), but June 23 -- the day of the pitch -- was getting near. I was all set. Winning this account would mean a ginormous raise, serious national exposure for me, and more job offers than I could handle. I slept at night dreaming of general managers lining up to hand me the keys to their agencies, pleading for me to become a partner. Then something happened on June 21:

Apparently, secret meetings had been going on for some time between our agency and another major agency. Nobody knew anything about it until June 21, when management not only announced the agencies' merger was finalized, but as a result, we were pulling out of the Hyundai pitch. The other agency already had Buick as a client, and Hyundai would have been a conflict.

In sixty seconds, my entire future went up in carbon monoxide.

Every single dream, goal and wish that was supposed to drop in my lap completely missed and went down the toilet. The twenty something wunderkind would not be taking the world by storm after all.

As a result, my life changed radically. I soon left to start my own agency, never trusting anyone in business ever again. I also kissed off that young man's dreams of New York City. I decided that going my own way meant not going everyone else's. I stayed in Los Angeles for the rest of my life, eventually living the life I never could have enjoyed so thoroughly anywhere else.

Sometimes, things work out.