Shape Your Life, ’90
Joe was our VP of Broadcast Production at Cohen/Johnson. It was a big job because we were producing over 75 TV spots a year.
He was an experienced, street smart, can-do kind of guy. A former prizefighter whose tough battles in the ring helped prepare him for the wars on Madison Avenue.
But this is the story of one production where Joe almost went down for the count.
Cohen/Johnson had just made it into the finals of a new business pitch for Bally’s Health & Fitness Clubs. It was a sizable TV broadcast account so we were the perfect agency for it. But, of course, there were forty other agencies banging on their door.
Mark Johnson and I managed to get an hour-long meeting with their VP of Marketing and we gleaned an important piece of inside information. He wanted to direct his advertising at a whole new target — boomers. We seized upon this insight and decided to make it the focus of our advertising.
One morning, as I was pondering this in the shower, I came up with a line: “You don’t just shape your body. You shape your life.” When I got to the agency, I shared it with Bruce Dundore, our Associate Creative Director. He immediately saw the potential in the line and we began to discuss how we might bring it to life.
Instead of just showing people working out, we would tell an emotional story of one person…an older person…who was getting the most out of life by working out and being fit.
Bruce suggested that we not reveal that it’s an older guy right away. He envisioned shooting the spot with a series of extreme closeups…tight shots of biceps, hands on weights, legs lifting, arms rowing…but never seeing his face until the very end. That would be the dramatic moment.
We shared the script with Mark Johnson, he got excited, and we all agreed — let’s go for it! We would invest our own money and shoot a finished spot in order to win the account. The key was to find a talented director who was hungry to put a great new spot on his reel and would be willing to shoot it at cost. Enter Joe Rein.
He found the perfect director in New York and, as luck would have it, we were heading there to shoot some beautiful food footage for Jack in the Box. We decided to get both jobs done during our ten-day stay in the Big Apple.
All we needed now was the right guy to play the key role. No problem, right? Wrong! Remember, this guy had to be around 60 years old and very fit. There aren’t too many of those guys hanging around the streets of New York. But we weren’t worried. Joe Rein was on the case.
In the middle of one of the hottest Augusts on record, Joe started pounding the pavement, like a cheap detective, going from gym to gym looking for our guy. He scoured Manhattan, and when he couldn’t find him there, he took the train up to The Bronx and when that failed he hopped over to Brooklyn. Time was running out and Joe was getting a little punchy (poor choice of words, perhaps?) but he wouldn’t give up.
One hot humid night after a long day of shooting food, Joe walked into a gym that had seen its better days. Due to the intense heat and humidity, he was wearing little white tennis shorts, a strappy tee-shirt and white sneakers with no socks. He sauntered up to the counter where a big, burly manager was sitting and said, “I wonder if you could help me. I’m looking for a good-looking man about 60, well built with big muscles.” “I’ll bet you are” the manager said.
Without realizing where the conversation was going, Joe continued. “I want him to have large biceps…nice clear skin with no tattoos…and preferably no hair on his back.” “Listen buddy…” the manager tried to cut Joe off, but to no avail. “And he shouldn’t sweat too much.”
The manager exploded. “Listen pal, this isn’t the YMCA and we’re not The Village People!”
With that, Joe started backing out the door. “I’m staying at the UN Plaza Hotel, room 2115! I’ll pay cash!” “Get the hell outta here, you perve!”
Mere mortals might have given up. But two days later, as a bunch of us were sitting around the hotel lobby, Joe walked in with a good-looking well-built older man by his side – the very embodiment of what we were looking for. “Gentlemen” he said, “I’d like you to meet our guy!” Joe Rein had come through.
The director found the perfect gym and in one marathon shooting day, the production went off without a hitch. Then, on the flight back to LA, something magical happened. I had just enjoyed a couple of glasses of Chardonnay and was listening to the music in my airline headset. I was about to doze off when I heard a symphony orchestra playing a majestic piece.
I began to replay in my head the beautiful images we had just shot and I imagined how they would feel with this soundtrack. It was an epiphany. Instead of the sound design that we had originally planned – an artistic and stylized percussive treatment to simulate the sounds of physical effort — this ethereal music would take our spot to a whole new level.
The piece was called Saturday Night Waltz by the great American composer, Aaron Copland, and it became the emotional centerpiece of our Bally’s spot. (While we used it for our presentation to Bally’s, we couldn’t afford to buy the rights to run it on air, so the music you will hear is a lovely original piece that emulates the Copland score.)
This commercial also marked my official debut as a professional voice over announcer. If my voice sounds particularly mellifluous, it’s because I had a bad case of bronchitis. (With a little pneumonia, I could have had a great second career.)
On the big day of the presentation, we screened the spot for the Bally’s people. When the last note of music had played and the lights went back on, there was complete silence in the room. Then their president said, “Can we see that again?” The very next day, we were awarded the account.
And to think, it never would have happened without the fancy footwork of Joe Rein — prizefighter, producer and honorary member of The Village People.
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© 2010 Howard Cohen, All Rights Reserved
Posted: November 19th, 2010 under Advertising.