Like most of us in the business, you have my attention when you start talking about "creative" and about the people behind the work.
So it was predictable that I wanted to learn more about Les Waas who’s passing at 94 has been getting coverage everywhere.
After a few hours of enjoyable research, I now know a lot more about the ad man who wrote the Mister Softee jingle in 1960.
For instance, he didn’t know how to read or write music.
That’s not only amazing for a man who wrote nearly 1000 jingles over his career, it’s courageous - even outrageous (in the best sense).
A spirit of courage and crazy-creative plays out in an interview Les did for the Pioneers of Philadelphia Broadcasting - particularly when he recounted some of his Philadelphia ad agency’s ideas and campaigns.
“I would never do anything inside the box,” he said in the interview before sharing a story about a campaign for a car dealer that increased the dealer's business fivefold (the idea involved selling the dealer’s emblem to people who didn’t buy their cars at the client’s business).
He also shared a story about a car dealer that advertised such a low price it drew a huge crowd. However that didn’t work out so well once people discovered that the price didn’t include things like the engine.
While automotive was a subject he came back to a few times, Les had thoughts about the lack of advertising creative in general and radio ads in particular.
“It took a creative brain to get into advertising…I don’t think I could do something straight. That’s writing a commercial. And a lot of that you hear now on radio is just an announcer. And they do a good job and everything, but they don’t go into creativity as much as they used to…the ads or commercials don’t seem to grab your attention. Some do…but the percentage is very small.”
While listening to Les' recollections in the interview and time traveling to the advertising world of the 60s was fun and helped to tell a great backstory about the creator of the Mister Softee jingle, obviously many of these 50 year-old campaigns are, today, appropriately curiosities.
But there were relevant take-aways from this ad man, too:
Les' litmus test for success: If you can't remember it after the recording session then it wasn't a good ad.
To come coming up with new ideas, surround yourself with a lot of different people.
Act immediately when creativity or inspiration strikes. “I couldn‘t hold back coming up with a creative idea. I had to do it right away.”
Being creatively courageous requires letting go of fears that could otherwise hold you back.
After all, a man who didn't know how to read or write music created more than 950 jingles.
Oh, one more thing: make sure the advertised price for a car includes the engine.
PS: As you may know, Les Waas’ Mister Softee had lyrics (lyric sheet here)
For a real treat, you can hear the jingle’s creator bring them to life in the last few minutes of this YouTube video.
You can hear the produced version of the jingle in the first of these black and white TV spots here.