During one of my many re-inventions, I wrote advertising copy for a big department store chain. A department store holds everything that you will ever need to create a life except maybe legal documents and an operating room. Escalating up to my writing cubby on the seventh floor, I passed a buff mannequin pedaling a bike, the Smith family of four seated at a lavish fake holiday dinner, a matronly lady demonstrating non-stick cookware and cooking baked ziti and cornbread. Frankie Laine and Vaughan Monroe (in their aging crooner days) came by on special days. While I wrote headlines for “The wool coats you want for spring. Three button closing and generous balmacaan sleeves." I could hear Frankie’s raspy voice piercing the wall. Move em on ride em in. Rawhide... Keep them doggies moving. Raaawhiddde.
Good copy was also material for our amusement. “Your friends will think you’ve struck it rich,” was a line we used to sell cheap but deep nylon plush carpeting. Occasionally we would aim at the snob factor. “This spring: ‘Crash Linen’ Crash as in fashion POW. At one time only the Pope’s summer vestments were made of this treasured fabric.”
“Is it true about the Pope’s vestments?” The advertising manager would ask. “Can we say that?”
“What, you think the Vatican FBI is going to put the cuffs on us?” was the response.
‘Fabled’ was always a coveted headline word especially when the store had their annual European Extravaganza. “From the fabled hands of Italian artisans...” was a reliable salvo. “Woven in the Outer Hebrides by fabled Scottish grandmothers...” was good because even though few knew what the Outer Hebrides were or where they were, they sounded very fabled.
On Tuesdays the copywriters met with the buyers who presented the merchandise to be advertised that week. Buyers felt copywriters were invented to ruin their sales, their careers and ultimately, their lives. Here is a typical exchange with Tony Bucciano the budget coat buyer.
“We’re not selling poetry here, girlie, just say Sale, Sale, Sale in 20 pt. type. That’s all anybody wants.”
“Tony, we’re not going to say sale, sale, sale,” Erica, the copy chief would reply.
“No, of course, not. You might sell something. You wanna write poetry or you wanna sell coats?”
There was great camaraderie in the ad department and we all went out to lunch together and drank excessively with little or no impairment. We didn’t order Merlot or Chardonnay. We drank serious drinks. One young man always asked for Bell’s Twelve and we’d all stare at him. Ooooo! Not only did he drink real whiskey but he had a special brand.