Of mugs and bunnies

We staged a garage sale a few months back, and my partner almost sold off my "Official Ad Man" coffee mug.

It was a tough enough job just keeping an eye on my father, who wanted to sell everything that he hadn't seen me use in the past 45 minutes. But when I saw one of the last vestiges of my one-time advertising agency career sitting among the cheap gas-station giveaway glasses, that was too much.

I leapt to the mug's defense.

"You can't sell this!" I yelped, clutching my mug close to my chest. "It's been with me throughout my whole advertising life. What do you expect me to drink my coffee out of when I'm stuck in the middle of writing... when I'm searching for just the right phrase... when I'm pleading for inspiration?"

"You haven't used it to drink coffee out of for 14 years."

"I didn't know we still had it," I said. "Where'd you find it?"

The mug itself isn't anything special; it doesn't have either a cute saying or a company logo emblazoned on its side (an amazing fact). It's just a simple, striped, ceramic mug that I found long ago in an import shop.

That mug, though, had been with me from my first ad job when I was still fresh out of college, through a succession of big time, New York-based ad agencies to, finally, a spot in one of Seattle's major shops.

It happens almost every time you tune in to an old movie on TV: if there is a supporting actor-type role that calls for a businessman, chances are he'll be an ad man. Tony Randall and Cary Grant were forever portraying ad men, and Ozzie Nelson (here's a trivia fact that was revealed only in the movie "Here Come the Nelsons") allegedly was once in advertising. Amazingly, even Dr. Seuss (Theodore Geisel) was once an ad man.

My advertising career took place during the late 1960s and the 1970s, a period when consumerism was just becoming popular as a political movement and the American automobile companies were perceived as having the ultimate "deep pockets." Litigation seemed rampant.

As part of my job responsibilities, I not only had to make sure that each car pictured in the advertising was exactly the car mentioned (every automobile can go through many small changes-a moved paint stripe, a color that's no longer available, etc.-during its production year); I also had to make sure all the required small-print disclaimers were included. I also had to secure all the legal approvals for each ad.

Each ad first had to be cleared through the ad agency's lawyers; then it went over to the client's lawyers; next it was sent off to the federal lawyers with the FCC, the EPA and the FTC agencies in Washington, D.C.; and then, finally, the legal staffs of each of the television networks or the publications would get to take a final shot at the ad before it ran.

Consequently, if an ad ran in the national media during the period just before the 1980s, when a more business-friendly administration came into power, you could believe every word of it. You couldn't read a single additional word into it or interpret that it meant more than it said, but it was truthful in exactly what it said. That's loosened up somewhat these days.

One ad that we did back then, which had me pouring copious amounts of coffee into my mug, concerned a Pinto station wagon and its new owner, who was starting a new business. In the back of the Pinto he had a pair of rabbits nestling, and he was supposedly about to start a rabbit farm.

As the ad progressed, the bunnies multiplied and the ad copy described how the car could handle both a growing family and a new business.

When it came time to shoot the spot, not only did both the agency's and the client's lawyers want to be present on the set; we were also required to have a representative of the SPCA present to make sure we weren't being cruel to the bunnies.

The ad's final scene required that the back of the wagon be filled with bunnies, and it was during the filming of that scene that the lawyers leapt into action.

One insisted that we have documented proof that the bunnies' total weight (each one had to be weighed) wouldn't exceed the car's load limit.

Another required that each bunny be placed in an individual cage of certain specific dimensions so that we weren't overcrowding them.

And all the while, the SPCA representative was carefully timing each bunny's exposure to the hot photography lights.

Needless to say, before the shoot was over, and in the confusion of moving bunnies from cage to cage and in and out of the back of the wagon, a few of the cage doors weren't completely latched, and we soon had escaped rabbits hopping all over the studio.

Somehow, the sight of all those high-priced lawyers scurrying about, trying to recapture all the rabbits on the lam almost made up for the aggravation.

I've just refilled my rescued mug from the coffeepot that has been gurgling all day. Let's just see what happens.... The simulated wood grain vinyl appliqués shown available at extra cost-yeah, I've still got the touch.

Gary McDaniel lives in Magnolia.[[In-content Ad]]