The posh New York health club was filled with high-powered executives. Keith L. Reinhard, chairman and chief executive of the ad firm DDB Needham Worldwide, was fast-pedaling on an exercise cycle, hours after sweating through another tough day on Madison Avenue.
Suddenly, tumult filled the room. Reinhard watched executives dash away from their workouts and gather around a TV.
What everyone was so eager to watch was not a news bulletin, a closing stock market report or a presidential declaration of war.
It was a commercial.
"I never saw anything like it," Reinhard said. "Even the trainers stopped working with their clients and started watching the screen." The commercial that merited this kind of attention is the now-famous "Dancing Raisins" spot for the California Raisin Advisory Board. The animated clay raisins with the Motown sound were not created by Reinhard's firm, but by the San Francisco office of the ad firm Foote, Cone & Belding.
Still, that commercial is one that Reinhard says he admires.
And he is not alone.
When the chief executives of the nation's largest agencies get home and turn on their television sets, they see the very same commercials that the rest of us do. And, with few exceptions, they say they like the same ads that have scored high with the public.
Indeed, interviews with 10 chief executives at some of New York's biggest ad firms show that while agency chiefs may look at commercials with a different eye from the average viewer, they are generally delighted with the same dancing raisins, amused by Bartles and Jaymes or impressed with Pepsi's latest ads.
The agency leaders were asked to pick their favorite campaigns outside those created by their own firms. At first, few seemed eager to toss kudos to the competition. "Heck," said one agency chairman, "if I tell you who's good, I'm tipping off my clients who to turn to 90 days from now." Ninety days is the standard grace period that clients give their agencies after they fire them.
But who might better judge the nation's top ad work than Madison Avenue's top bosses? With a little prompting, most of the executives agreed to mention their favorites. No single campaign was named by all 10 executives. But there was one clear leader. Half of the executives interviewed gave a nod to the popular Bartles and Jaymes campaign, created by the ad firm Hal Riney & Partners of San Francisco.
"It's an arresting campaign," said Charles D. Peebler Jr., chief executive of Bozell, Jacobs, Kenyon & Eckhardt. "It seems to have found a strategic position that breaks through the clutter."
Riney's wine cooler campaign "seems to respect the viewer in a way that slick campaigns and most Madison Avenue hype does not," Reinhard said.
Still, that campaign has been a source of frustration to him.
"Even in our own agency, I'm embarrassed to say, our creative department sometimes comes up with Bartles and Jaymes-type story boards. I have to remind them that's not what we do. We want something fresh and original."
That new Diet Pepsi spot featuring Michael J. Fox also was a favorite. Created by the New York ad firm of Batten, Barton Durstine & Osborn, it shows Fox dashing out into a downpour to get a Diet Pepsi for his knockout-of-a-neighbor. "The Pepsi work talks to teen-agers in their own terms," said Edward L. Wax, president of Saatchi & Saatchi Compton. "And their slogan--'the choice of a new generation'--is strategically brilliant."
But don't give all the credit to Pepsi's ad agency, said Alexander Kroll, president and chief executive of the giant Young & Rubicam. "A great client sets off creative reverberations, and Pepsi has done that," Kroll said. "Their demands and expectations are high, and (their) ad agency has benefited from that creative swirl."
Four ad chiefs gave high marks to Los Angeles-based firm Chiat/Day, but none could pinpoint current campaigns by the agency that match the the innovative ads for Apple Computer and Nike that it produced a few years ago. "Chiat/Day has strong stuff," said William E. Phillips, chairman of Ogilvy Group. "Their advertising is always emotional, often humorous, but most important of all, it's the kind that you can always build a campaign around."
Two campaigns by Ogilvy were also mentioned. The agency's recent series of American Express commercials "have injected new life into testimonial advertising," said Donald M. Zuckert, chairman and chief executive of Ted Bates Worldwide. And Ogilvy's most recent campaign for Maxwell House coffee--which shows slice-of-life shots of coffee drinkers--is applauded by Edward H. Meyer, chairman of Grey Advertising. "It's an effort to make coffee seem contemporary," he said. "It picks up on the soft drink industry's life-style theme."