Sorry son, only the tagline lives on…

This is not your father’s Oldsmobile. The line has become a pop culture catch phrase, in the same ilk (albeit attached to worse advertising) as “Got Milk?” Try reading your morning paper and not finding a variation on it. For example, about a candidate: “This is not your father’s Democrat.” About a technological innovation: “This is not your mother’s sewing machine.” And so on. Sadly enough, more Americans are familiar with the Olds’ slogan than they are of Shakespeare’s finest sonnets. Way more.

As I remember it, a soft-spoken creative director at Leo Burnett by the name of Joel Machak wrote that famous line. Yours truly actually came up with the campaign’s tag: “The New Generation of Olds.” Both pieces were intended as lyrics. That’s right, a jingle! As a matter of fact, I was brought in (just a kid at the time) to help Joel come up with the refrain. The piece went together as follows (sing along): This is not your father’s Oldsmobile…This is the new generation of Olds.

Given it’s continued popularity I decided to write a piece about it, in 2008. Since then the story continues to provoke readers to comment on the campaign. The debate mainly revolves around who actually penned the line, including a recent missive from then creative director, Don Gwaltney. (Hi Don!)

Before I go on, let me state that all the posted arguments are more than less valid. Don Gwaltney. Ted Bell. Jim Ferguson. David Caldwell. Joel Machak. Me. We were all in the proverbial room when said campaign got said. Have a look at the string and catch up on your ad history: My post, 2008

What’s ironic is that when this campaign was in its heyday most of us were not particularly proud of it. We knew it was catchy but we also realized it was damn silly. As the commercials caught on I remember feeling pretty foolish about what I’d created. It wasn’t until years later I actually put a couple of the spots on my reel and even then I did so with trepidation. To my recollection the campaign never won a single creative award. A few years later Oldsmobile went out of business. The adline proved true to a fault. This was not your father’s Oldsmobile. Dad’s Oldsmobile was good. These cars were mediocre and overpriced.

Be that as it may, the campaign became a part of advertising history –even American history. And people want their props.

With equal parts embarrassment and pride, I give you one of the first commercials, which I wrote, for “Not Your Father’s Oldsmobile.”

Bill Shatner & Daughter \"Space Age!\"

“Hey Sven, your car needs a jump!”

After 80 years, Saab Auto is likely to shut down forever. Bought by GM a decade ago, the legendary Swedish automaker quickly turned into a liability for them. Or was it the other way around? Either way, General Motors was too big, too provincial and too screwed up to affect a suitable business plan. Car models were not updated. Dealerships were left to languor. And then the recession hit. Saab never had a chance. Unless a white knight appears pronto the car “born from jets” is crashing into oblivion.

I’ve owned Saabs for almost 20 years. I like the way they look. I like the way they handle in Chicago’s cold, snowy weather. I even like the cool, Swedish logo. I am a brand loyalist. For me, Saab is like a Mac on wheels. In 2008 I fought back skepticism about the brand’s decline under GM and bought a 9-5 Aero. As you might expect, I’m not as happy with it as I was with the one before and the one before that. The product is simply not as good. And clearly neither is the company. I suppose I acted in denial, buying the 2008, such was my affinity for the brand. And now my beloved Saab is going extinct.

Saab is not the first automobile in my life to pass away. As some of you know, in the 1990’s, while at Leo Burnett, I co-created the infamous “Not your father’s Oldsmobile” campaign. The slogan fared better than the car. Other than running on gas, Saab has little in common with Olds. Yet, it will suffer the same exact fate.

Doesn’t seem fair. It’s almost as if American thugs kidnapped the sexy Swede, dragged her to Detroit and then murdered her. Scarily, this assessment is all too accurate.

Perhaps another brand loyalist (with a few hundred million dollars) will bail out Saab before it runs out of gas. Surely there’s an outraged Swede out there. Come on Sven, your car needs a jump!

Steff on Twitter

The Happy Soul Industry on Amazon

Time for a story boys and girls. It’s a tale that requires we go back 20 years, before copywriters had Macs, before email, before I lost my hair. This story harkens back to a day when Oldsmobiles roamed the earth. And their commercials filled the airwaves. I should know; I made some of them. Including the campaign that served as Olds’ final and famous (infamous?) death gasp: “Not Your Father’s Oldsmobile.”

 Dad’s was better.

The line has become a pop culture catch phrase, in the same ilk –albeit attached to worse advertising-as “Got Milk?”  Both slogans have been co-opted literally hundreds of times, far outlasting their original intent. Try reading your morning paper and not finding a variation on either line. For example, about a candidate: “This is not your father’s Democrat.”  About a technological innovation: “This is not your mother’s sewing machine.” And so on. Sadly enough, more Americans are familiar with the Olds’ slogan than of Shakespeare’s finest sonnets. Way more.

A soft-spoken creative director by the name of Joel Machak wrote that famous line. I actually came up with the campaign’s tag: “The New Generation of Olds.” Both pieces were intended as lyrics. That’s right, a jingle! As a matter of fact, I was brought in to help Joel come up with the refrain. The piece went together as follows (sing along):

       This is not your father’s Oldsmobile…This is the new generation of Olds.

Pretty spiffy, eh? The word “generation” was key. If you recall, each commercial featured a celebrity and one of his or her offspring. This is why the campaign is so damn silly. Outside of a morbid fascination with ogling Ringo Starr’s purple-haired daughter or Dave Brubeck’s motley looking brothers, placing the kin of “B” and “C” celebrities on camera was pure folly. Though I will concede we anticipated Reality TV by 10 years! If you do nothing else today, go to the above link. Trust me.

Where’s my Cutlass Supreme?

The very first spot was for the “totally redesigned Cutlass Supreme.” The protagonist for this commercial was none other than William Shatner, appearing as; you guessed it, Captain Kirk! Riding shotgun was his lovely college-aged daughter, Melanie Shatner. A middling actress, she was pretty darn cute. She also was well endowed. And this became problematic given her wardrobe and where we were shooting. It gets damn cold in the Palm Desert at night. The diaphanous gown provided Melanie was meant to be futuristic a la Star Trek, but it did nothing to warm her up. Subsequently, her nipples went completely rigid, sticking up like Spock’s ears.

beam me up, Scotty!

While this may sound lurid and comical now, at the time (3 AM) it was a “situation.” Imagine the middle-aged suit from GM, replete in a satin Oldsmobile Racing Team jacket, making his way over to the director. “Excuse me, but we can see her nipples!”  Given we’d already shot scenes of Melanie in the gown, a wardrobe change was not possible. The solution? Duct tape. And thus her cleavage had a silver lining.

The other moment I’ll never forget was a captured piece of dialogue (unscripted) between William and his daughter. Between takes, they were side by side in the white Cutlass. Unbeknown to either, the mic was still on. Listening to Captain Kirk school his daughter about the virtues of pep and sleeping pills as a key to nighttime shooting was priceless. What a Dad. What a cad. In a way, it preceded his Emmy-winning turn as Danny Crane by some 20 years.

I know this is trifling gossip, and long past its vintage. But like everyone else, I’m beaten down from our grim economy and an evermore-depressing election. Not to mention the woes of Chicago’s sports franchises… When I was new I used to love listening to the old-timers tell bawdy stories from their shoots. Now that I have a few under my belt, I figured we could all use a respite.

I want to give props to a campaign idea that knocked me out. Not so much because of the executions (although they’re fine), but for its line. Yes, this copywriter went gaga over a sentence. It happens. I felt that way about “Curiously Strong Mints” or “Nothing runs like a Deere.”

The current object of my affection is for Secret antiperspirant. The line: Secret. Because you’re hot.

Get it? Women perspire…because they’re hot. And they’re beautiful, sexy, desirable…Hot. That’s good copy, my friends: simple, direct, and original.

Hamstrung by a difficult category, the campaign probably won’t win many creative prizes. But it’s powerful advertising. As a writer, I know how excited I would have been creating and, for that matter, presenting this idea. As a creative director I would have had a hard time concentrating on anything else.

Executed properly, that sentence -nay, that declaration- could transform Secret from a tier two deodorant to a pop culture must have. Done right “Because you’re hot” is the elusive and proverbial BIG IDEA. That’s what clients pay us to create: sentences like that. If you’re a copywriter and think otherwise I want to hear why.

I love it when advertising copy has this kind of power. Lots of clever lines get written, read and forgotten. Few become transcendent. Those lines tend to be more smart than clever. You don’t even have to like the product or the advertising to appreciate them. I worked on the original “Not your father’s Oldsmobile” campaign. That line was a perfect example. “Because you’re hot” might be another.