Cotton Candy @ The Amusement Park-
I had been out of school for about three years and was working my way through the creative shops when I landed in one the larger agencies in town with the opportunity to work on a premier piece of business. It was a client that had moved its business from Ketchum McCloud and Grove, to another one right up the street called Creamer/FSR. KM&G had a strong creative reputation that launched number successful ad personalities like Hal Riney who went on to national fame. The story was that KM&G had a new ECD that had come from New York City and had a heavy handed style that was not to the liking of the Account Director, Bill, who had been handling his client’s business for the past 10 years. So he left the agency and the client decided to follow. That made Bill one of the most sought after Account Directors in the business at that time. He was being wooed by every major agency in the country but it was his desire to stay in the city he loved, Pittsburgh. He literally walked three blocks up the street to a competitor that was beginning to get noticed and had made some changes that Bill saw as a great spot for himself and his client. This move allowed Bill to begin the process of hand picking his account and creative teams to make the account transition smooth and effortless. The day he walked into Creamer/FSR, the agency immediately became the second largest billing agency in town and then became headlines in the east coast version of Ad Age. This client had national brand recognition and was the leader in its category. During this time the client and the agency would double it’s size in the next few years. It was now one year after Bill had moved the account and joined the agency that I was recruited into their creative department as an art director assigned specifically to the Stouffer’s Frozen Foods and Entrees team. This is where I really began to learn the holistic craft of advertising and marketing. I had been told over the years that your first experiences in the ad world are very critical, so I considered myself very lucky to part of their team. I was now working with a really talented bunch that was creative as they were hard working. Egos were left at the door and we worked long hours that often went into weekends, and yet we still found time to party. It was at this agency that I had the fortune to work with a very smart account team that worked with the creative department, not against it, and had a great understanding of their client’s customers. I would have no idea of just how lucky I was to experience such a culture until later on in my career. During that time the agency was going through a period of rapid growth, so much so the name of the agency changed every year I was there, it went from Creamer/FSR to Creamer Lois FSR, yes the infamous George Lois who would play a key part in this story, to Creamer/HBM to eventually Della Femina McNamee. I was now a small part of the Stouffer’s team that would go on to launch one the most successful new packaged goods product in advertising history.
When I arrived the new product had been in R&D for five years, and was now in the last year of product refinement that had met all of the client’s demands for taste and calorie count. Weight Watcher’s was the leader in the category but they were missing the customer’s satisfaction scores on taste, something that Stouffer’s products were famous for and were preparing to deliver that to their new product in development.
During those years Stouffer’s was still family owned, one brother ran the hotel and the other brother ran the food business. The brand had been developed to service the hotel and the demand for home use became so popular they decided to launch the successful Stouffer’s Frozen Foods brand that was exploding off the supermarket shelves. The Stouffer’s bright red packaging had become the brand identity while they became leader in the frozen food category. As the new product was being developed the client and agency marketing team had been working on a strategy that would go on to make history and be the considered the marketing formula on how to launch a new package goods product.
As we were working on the campaign the name was still up in the air. We placed an FPO on all pieces of the campaign using the name Big Red. The naming process was becoming one of the more challenging problems we had to solve. At the agency there was yet another brand naming meeting where all of the brand leaders on the project, including the President of the Agency Herb and the infamous George Lois, famous for his brash and colorful language, love of baseball, and his eye for beautiful women. George was the agency’s high profile Madison Avenue headliner. The naming sessions had turned into a year long marathon and during this latest session the meeting had been going on for five days and it was now in the fifth day, Friday, and there were hundreds of pieces of paper with names on them push-pinned all over walls and everyone had become frustrated with the lack of progress made. Later that afternoon a tall slim and very attractive secretary walked into boardroom to deliver a note that she handed to Bill. It was casual Friday so she was sporting her tight fitting Jordache Jeans complimented with a tight v-neck sweater top that made a memorable fashion statement. It was Denise, a recent college graduate working as a secretary for Bill in her first agency job. Now George, focused on her as she strutted in and out of the meeting room and proceeded to write on a piece of paper that he then handed to Herb. Herb, the President of the agency, held it up and looked over at George and blurted out, “Lean Cuisine! I love it”. Like wild fire the story spread throughout the agency. It had become sort of Folk Lore within in the agency.
As we began to replace the FPO with Lean Cuisine on all of our creative the Stouffer’s brand mangers and agency account team had been buying up all the frozen food shelf-space at eye level, which if you have ever been in that world you understand how important a move like that is. Over a year and half the client and agency had been expanding the French Bread Pizza line and claiming more freezer space preparing for the new product launch. We had been shooting and promoting the new French Bread Pizza Line as a camouflage to occupy all that prime shelf space. Once Lean Cuisine hit the market all Stouffer’s Marketing team had to do was remove the extended French Bread Pizza line additions off the shelves and replaced them with the new product line of Lean Cuisine. As the British would say Brilliant. The product went on to be one of the most successful launches of all time and Stouffer’s Lean Cuisine is still occupying the freezer shelves at eye level. It was a powerful lesson of how a smart client and agency management should work together and how Lean Cuisine’s namesake started out as a pair of Jordache Jeans. The creative was good, but the client’s marketing team was Brilliant.