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Imitating Legendary Hollywood Producer : Adman's Towering Reputation on Line

October 13, 1987|BRUCE HOROVITZ

Jerry Della Femina has one big problem--he has to keep outdoing Jerry Della Femina.

Della Femina is that zany New York adman whose free-wheeling agency made a liar out of Joe Isuzu, and, with the help of some special effects, got King Kong to climb San Francisco's Transamerica pyramid-shaped headquarters.

Now, Della Femina has begun to imitate the legendary Hollywood producer Cecil B. De Mille.

Last week, Della Femina was in Southern California to observe the filming of one of his wildest ads yet: a re-creation of the Land of the Pharaohs on a Hollywood sound stage. The $600,000 ad for Transamerica was filmed on a set flush with Styrofoam pyramids amid four tons of sand. Cast members include 48 slaves, six slave drivers, two high priests and a couple of horses.

"We always want people talking about our ads," said Della Femina. "Otherwise they'll talk about someone else's." His agency has also created a new Transamerica TV ad that, with the use of special effects, appears to place the Transamerica pyramid building in settings where it doesn't belong--like the skylines of New York, Chicago and Dallas. The theme to the ad: "Our headquarters may be in San Francisco, but our heart is everywhere."

But what would have been Transamerica's most provocative ad of all never got filmed. Shortly after the Iran- contra hearings ended, Della Femina contacted Oliver North about playing a role in a Transamerica ad. Even before North turned down the ad, however, Transamerica backed out. The ad would have featured North standing by the Transamerica pyramid. "You may not agree with my politics," North would have said, "but I know we all believe in the security of our families."

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