A tribute to Howard Zieff. Part one

Howard Zieff was one of the pioneers of TV commercial direction.

And we at the Escape Pod were lucky enough to get a copy of his reel from someone who worked with him back in the day. So we digitized it

Howard was clearly the go-to guy for DDB and Jack Tinker and Carl Ally. And you can easily see why. His work is cinematic and crisp. And he had a deft touch with casting and talent direction.

This is one of my favorite ads of all time. It’s Cliff Freeman 20 years before Cliff Freeman was Cliff Freeman. It assumed the audience knew something of the commercial making process. And it works in a visceral manner. You can feel the acid reflux in this actor’s oesophagus.

And it’s hilarious.

Alka Seltzer “Spicy Meatballs”. Enjoy!

15 responses to “A tribute to Howard Zieff. Part one

  1. Genius.

  2. I think this is my favourite Howard Zieff commercial: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LPLNhqca0Qc

  3. yes dave. what a classic that one was. there are 35 spots on the reel. and i have to say his stuff holds up really well. a great storyteller.

  4. That was great stuff and thank you Dave for adding the VW spot!

  5. I read that the ad was eventually dropped as it failed to increase sales of the product. Did people really think it was an ad for spaghetti sauce?! Can an idea that appears to be so apt be distracting? I’ve heard that same excuse labelled at the Leonard Rossiter ads for Cinzano.
    “Getting your head down sweetie? Jolly good idea.”, will always live on in my household as I say this to my little one before her naps.
    By the way do you know who wrote the Mamma Mia ad for Alka Seltzer. Did it come out of Wells Rich Greene?
    Also, Vinny, in your opinion, who is the equivalent of Zieff today?

    • you know what john, it’s funny you bring that up. i doubt that something this undeniably hard sell and clear and endearing could fail to work back then. this was the late 60s. Mad Men era. This was Alka Seltzer’s heyday. America never ate more and worse than at that point. so i have a tough time imagining that advertising alone played that much role in the day to day success in the failure of the brand. this was its natural peak.

      but you know how advertising played a huge role in alka seltzers success? Original alka seltzer agency Jack Tinker and Partners suggesting packaging them in twos. instantly doubling usage. one works just as well.

      one thing i’ve noticed is that whenever there is a conspicuous undeniably good ad, the no talent mental midgets come out to attack because they can’t contain their jealousy. it happened recently again with the undeniably brilliant and effective Old Spice ad.

      and again with the cinzano ads. they were brilliant too. i remember those.
      one thing about the booze market i’ve observed is that if the cultural trend is going against you, advertising won’t help. were the cinzano ads too middle aged? and not 70s cool and funky enough? i can’t imagine that they failed miserably. they made a cultural impact. generally that results in at least flash in the pan spike in sales. was cinzano piss? never drank it. or martini. Or pimms.

    • not sure if he has an equivalent today john. there are plenty of good directors around today but howard had the great good fortune to be there when it was still all new.

  6. “Meatballs” was out 0f Doyle Dane Bernbach, the writer was Evan Stark and the art director was Roy Grace. Wonderful stuff.

  7. Thanks for the info Ciaran.

    Vinny, that double alka seltzer idea was fantastically imagined by Wells Rich Greene with ‘Plink Plink Fizz Fizz’.

    You never had Cinzano? Was it more like this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A6s8kpo9IDg ?

  8. Vinny,
    If you’re interested in an autopsy of this commercial, you should connect with copywriter Evan Stark, the only living member of the team that wrote and produced the spot. He has a keen memory for all the details including Bernbach’s involvement, the casting of the women (NPR’s Leonard Lopate’s mother), and the guy with the clapboard (Ronny Graham, later Mr. Dirt of Mobil fame).

    • i would love to do that tom. do you know of anyone who might have a connection to him? every time i watch that i see something new little detail. the casting is perfect. you even notice the performance of the clapboard guy.

  9. Another Zeiff commercial that just came up in a conversation:
    Titled Efficiency Expert for Hertz.
    It ran once on NBC and was pulled off the air after thousands of phone calls protesting the spot and the President/Founder of NBC (Sarnoff) seeing it on Dean Martin’s Christmas Special and calling in saying the spot would never run on NBC again.
    Brilliant job of commercial film and production; execrable job of gauging the public memory and taste.

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