Phil Dusenberry Tells It Like It Was, And Still Is


Former BBDO Chairman Phil Dusenberry, the guy that worked on the Reagan campaign and the famous Michael Jackson Pepsi spot, has written a book called, Then We Set His Hair on Fire, a title nodding to the media circus which surrounded Michael Jackson's hair catching on fire while shooting the Pepsi spot. The book is great. The subtitle on the book "Insights and Accidents from a Hall-of-Fame Career in Advertising" sums up the tone of the book: humble and helpful commentary on a very successful career. It's the most enjoyable book we've read in a long time. Dusenberry takes readers through his very long and very successful career at BBDO as well as several years he spent on his own running his on shop. The book is all about the power of the Insight and how insights are related to but very different than Ideas. Many times the two terms are co mingled but after reading this book, the differences and similarities between the two are clearly understood. Ideas are great but it's insights you really want. It's the "Ah ha" moment.

In writing the book, Dusenberry says early on, he intended the book to be of interest to "the guy who owned two laundromats in Kansas City." It is that and more. The book is written in a very conversational tone devoid, thankfully, of needless business blather but filled with humorous and engaging advertising war stories including Dusenberry's involvement with the many celebrities featured in BBDO's Pepsi campaigns over the years. His stories about Michael Jackson's famed $10,000 glove falling into a urinal and Don Johnson's fat headed behavior on the set are..well...priceless to borrow a term from BBDO client VISA's competitor MasterCard.

The best thing about Dusenberry's book as that it acknowledges the basic elements of advertising which have been in place and, for the most part, have worked since advertising was invented. While some will surely take issue with this assessment, reading Dusenberry's book makes one wonder why we're all so worked up about weblogs, conversational marketing, consumer generated media, viral marketing, headvertising, behavioral marketing, contextual advertising, search engine marketing, podcasting, graffiti advertising and all other forms of "OH MY GOD NO ONE WATCHES TV ANYMORE SO WE BETTER COME UP WITH SOMETHING NEW" reactionary flailings. No doubt the media landscape is changing and is nothing like the days of Apple's 1984 spot airing on the Super Bowl but many of the same basic advertising principles are still in place. While Dusenberry did live through advertising's television advertising glory days, still celebrates it and doesn't talk about the Internet much at all in the book, he does espouse what all great advertising should try to accomplish. Aside from the mandatory moving of the sales needle, advertising should create a strong bond between the consumer and the brand. For BBDO it was and still is the creation of an emotional bond. Today, for many marketers, it's stunt marketing in reaction to a plethora of screaming marketers and too many channels through which to scream.

Some may read this book and conclude it's the blatherings of an over-the-hill, been-there-done-that creative with nothing left to do but write a book. That would be a ridiculous, uninformed assessment. The reason the book is so insightful and enjoyable is because Dusenberry was there and he did do that and...he did it really well. Now, he's passing it on the the next generation. Everyone should read his book.

by Steve Hall    Sep-16-05   Click to Comment   
Topic: Opinion   

Enjoy what you've read? Subscribe to Adrants Daily and receive the daily contents of this site each day along with free whitepapers.



Phil Dusenberry humble? Yeah, right - and Janet Reno is waiting tables at a Hooters in Yeehaw Junction.

Posted by: Manos on September 16, 2005 12:31 PM

Awhile back, I was lucky enough to work for, and alongside, this guy. A true professional, he never asked anything of us he wasn't prepared to deliver himself. He was very hard to please because his standards were always higher than just "good enough". He made us all smarter, and more committed for the experience, and brought wit and wisdom to party every time the going got rough. Those of us fortunate enough to know Phil well, were blessed to witness the insight, the energy and the perseverance that distinguished this guy from the poseurs.

Posted by: Michael Paradise on September 29, 2005 1:03 AM

I was once an art director, but never met Phil. Would like to tell him that although he is well known for "all and everything" he touched in the advertising world the best and most important creation for me was his writing "The Natural" screenplay for the movie.
Every time I see the movie I am so touched by the film but mostly the wonderful words. Thoughts such as "Your standing awful close Gus, I can't tell whether it's your toes or mine I'm feelin". Thank you Phil!

Posted by: Vincent DeLuca on October 17, 2005 12:33 PM

I worked for Phil back in 84'. He brought me from Chicago to work on Diet Pepsi. He will always impress me as a great leader. When Phil spoke people listened. Sometimes meetings would get loud and frenzied then Phil would say "I think... (almost whispered)" and room hushed to listen and we did listen.

Posted by: Scott Shellstrom on January 23, 2008 3:06 PM