The Real Mad Man Says Creating Buzz is Not Creating a Brand

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Keith Reinhard is unlikely to confirm speculation that he's the legend behind the legendary Don Draper on AMC's long running Mad Men — even on the eve of the series finale.

After all, Reinhard has yet to confirm another piece of eternal speculation: A rumor that he paid a guy at his ad agency $50 to chase a "beautiful young woman, now my beautiful wife of 38 years, into my office."

Starting to see the parallels with Don Draper? So did Ad Age, which recently referred to Reinhard as one of the stars of the "Real Mad Men Diaries:"

Don Draper and Peggy Olson might be pitching Burger Chef on "Mad Men," but in real life during that time Keith Reinhard, then a creative at Chicago's Needham Harper & Steers, was busy landing McDonald's for the agency. At the time, the fast-feeder was just going national and it had a massive budget by 1970 standards: $35 million."

Reinhard is the chairman emeritus of DDB Worldwide, one of the world's largest advertising agency networks with 206 offices in 96 countries.

Quite the Guy


DDB is one of the three main advertising networks within the Omnicom marketing services group. And back in 1986, Reinhard helped architect Omnicom through the three-way merger of BBDO, Doyle Dane Bernbach and Needham Harper.

Reinhard is quite the guy in advertising circles. Ad Age called him the industry's "soft-spoken visionary" and one of its top 100 industry influencers. The Wall Street Journal has included him on its well-known "Creative Leaders" campaign.

Coming from the creative side of the business, he's best known for a slew of popular ads that are probably still stuck in your head. They include McDonald's and its "You Deserve a Break Today" campaign, which Ad Age voted the No. 1 jingle of all time back in 1999.

Mad Men will sing its swan song Sunday night. In advance of the big goodbye, we sat down with Reinhard to discuss advertising, then and now.

Sobel: How well did Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner capture the Mad Men era?

Reinhard: He accurately portrayed the times and much of the environment we worked in.

A few years ago, I was honored to present a Lifetime Achievement Award to Matthew on behalf of the Clio Awards. The presentation took place in Las Vegas and in my introduction I told the story of how I met my wife — it could have been a “Mad Men” segment.

I had noticed this attractive young account trainee who had just joined the agency but, as the agency’s Creative Director, I really had no occasion to interact with her or even be introduced to her. But one night when I was working late, my office door was open, and suddenly that very cute young trainee burst into my office. “Mr. Reinhard,” she said, “May I hide in your office?”

I said, “Of course, but what are you hiding from?” She named a Senior Vice President and said, “He’s been drinking and he’s chasing me down the hall.”

To this day I’ve never confirmed the rumor going around the agency at the time that I paid the guy $50 to chase that beautiful young woman, now my beautiful wife of 38 years, into my office.

Sobel: What do you recall about that big McDonald's win?

Reinhard: A $35 million budget back in 1970 was huge compared to the budgets of most of the other clients we were working with at the time. I was the lead creative on the pitch team and my job was to answer two of the 10 questions McDonald’s had given to each of the competing agencies.

My two questions were: “What would your approach be to Ronald McDonald?” and “Does McDonald’s have a single attribute so strong it should be considered our Unique Selling Proposition?”

Our answer to the Ronald question was that we would find a way to strengthen his personality — that perhaps in order for him to be a hero, there should be a villain. That eventually led to the creation of the Hamburglar, which in turn led to the creation of McDonaldland and all the other characters.

As for the USP question, we said that McDonald’s had many “selling propositions” — different for moms, dads, kids, meal occasions — and that we would present all those compelling “selling propositions” within an appealing and irresistible “Unique Selling Personality.” I’ll never forget changing the slide in my Don Draper-like carousel, changing the slide from “USP = Unique Selling Proposition” to “USP = Unique Selling Personality.”

Sobel: Tell us a bit about your 2014 book “Any Wednesday.” Can you share some of your best stuff from it?

Reinhard: When I became CEO of Needham Harper, that agency was already international. And while nothing can substitute for personal visits from the CEO, I wanted to try to create a personal presence everywhere on a regular basis.

This was way before email and social media, so I decided to write one-page memos, letting everyone in the network know what was going on, who was doing great work, winning accounts and winning awards. I also wanted to share inspiring stories and communicate the values that we so passionately believed in.

I thought that midway through any week, people might welcome a positive comment, a bit of good news or an inspiring thought. I decided to call these memos “Any Wednesday,” not because they had anything to do with that old Broadway show about the guy who met his oddball mistress on Wednesdays, but because the title “Any Wednesday” would allow me to write it on Wednesdays and I wouldn’t have to write it every Wednesday.

I soon learned that if I didn’t write it every Wednesday, I might soon stop writing it altogether.

After the merger that created Omnicom in 1986, I became CEO of DDB and continued writing the weekly memos to the enlarged network.

So for a couple of decades, I wrote it every Wednesday and people looked forward to receiving these weekly notes, all of which were typed on ruled paper, but typed across the lines to remind readers that rules are made to be broken.

It was a way to establish a continuing presence and at the same time, communicate our core beliefs about advertising and life in general. As for some of the best stuff in the book, I used several jazz stories and musical metaphors.

In one memo I report a conversation with Wynton Marsalis, whose enormous musical talents have earned Grammys for both jazz and classical recordings. When I asked him how he feels when he puts his heart into a composition that goes unappreciated by critics and the public, he thought for a moment and said: “It can’t just be weird, man. People gotta dig it.”

What great advice for creative people in advertising! There are also lots of notes on the importance of values and beliefs in forming a corporate culture. I tried to choose, in this collection, a series of memos with relevance beyond advertising. And I’ve been pleased that purchasers include several non-advertising firms that bought copies for all their managers.

Sobel: You have said passion is one of the most important qualities you look for in a person. Can you elaborate?

Reinhard: The recipe for creative achievement has three ingredients: 1) Talent, which God gives you. You either get a little or a lot or something in between. There’s nothing you yourself can do about the size of your gift. 2) Skill, which you can develop through education, training and practice, practice, practice. And 3) Passion, which I believe can trump the other two ingredients.

How many times have we seen people with great talent fail to achieve or realize their potential? And how many people with skills have never applied them? Without passion, all the talent in the world and all the skill will avail for little.

The power of passion is truly awesome. A twentieth century Greek philosopher, Nikos Kazantzakis, went so far as to say, “By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it. The nonexistent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired.” That’s powerful! My passion was to create, along with smart and able colleagues, a worldwide network of agencies built on the insights and beliefs of Bill Bernbach. Many said that couldn’t or shouldn’t be done. But passion and persistence made it happen.

Sobel: Advertising has changed drastically since your early days in the business. Is this change for the good?

Reinhard: Advertising has changed dramatically just as most other aspects of our lives, thanks mostly to the advancement of technology. But the task of advertising has always been one of connecting consumers with brands and brands with consumers. It’s just that, thanks to technology, we now know a lot more about the people with whom we want to connect and almost every day we’re given new tools to help us make those connections.

We’ve always said that word of mouth is the best medium of all. Augmented by word of web, it’s even better. So while we obsess about all the changes, it behooves us to remember the basics that haven’t changed. Chief among these is human nature itself — the obsessive drives that motivate the people we’re trying to influence.

As they always have, people seek brands that will help them survive, help them succeed and help them take care of their own — kids, pets, parents etc. People want brands that will help them be loved and admired and that will in some way enrich or improve their lives.

Having been around for the Creative Revolution of the last century and lived through the Digital Disruption of this century, I’m predicting a new era that, for want of a better handle I’m calling the Ultimate Revelation. And what will be revealed in the Ultimate Revelation? Among other things it will become clear that there is a profound divide between creating a buzz and creating a brand.

There’s an important difference between a one-off stunt and an enduring brand story. There’s a difference between an algorithm and an insight into human nature and between mere contact and true connection. Finally, there’s a wide gulf between big data and a big idea. So yes, the tools and techniques may change, but the task is the same and the craft is forever.