What I know about Charlie.



When Dom announced a new feature honoring Doyle Dane Bernbach living legends and said the first
one to be honored is Charlie Piccirillo,
I thought that’s perfect.

For me, Charlie was already a living legend years ago --- way before I met him in the early 70s.
Before I even knew Charlie, I was in awe of his work.

First and foremost, there was the National Library Week “alphabet ad.” You remember: The visual
was the alphabet. All 26 letters in a straight line surrounded by white space. And the headline read:
“Your public library has these arranged in ways that make you cry, giggle, love, hate, wonder, ponder
and understand.”

Then there was the GTE/Sylvania TV spot: “The Cat and the Canary.” Once you saw it, you never
could forget it.

And then there was the Polaroid “First Date” TV spot. (“Her first date,” says the Voice Over Cliff
Robertson. “A little blue dress going to a party with a little red jacket.”) Two adorable first or second
graders --- a little girl and a little boy --- all dressed up, going to a birthday party together. The spot
sold the virtues of Polaroid film (“more red…more blue…more yellow”). And it sold Polaroid’s ultimate
product: love.

I was lucky. I first started working with Charlie in the early 70s on the Volkswagen Beetle. And we
continued working together for the next 20 years on Polaroid, Binaca, Volkswagen again (in the mid
80s), Weight Watchers, and Mobil.

Whenever we worked together, I always had the feeling the results would be good. But starting day
one, I also learned something about Charlie. Something I kept seeing over and over for 20 years ---
Everybody likes Charlie.

Everybody --- copywriters, art directors, account people, traffic people, photographers, retouchers,
bullpen guys, production guys, mailroom guys, receptionists, secretaries, research people, producers,
directors, cameramen, editors, talent, musicians, recording engineers, clients. Everybody.

Maybe it’s because of Charlie’s calm demeanor. Maybe it’s because of his common sense. Or his
generosity. Or his willingness to help. To always do the right thing. Maybe it’s because in addition to
being so talented, Charlie is an honest, decent, regular guy.

Whatever the reasons --- Everybody likes Charlie.

For example, Charlie and I worked with a lot of different account guys. And like most creative teams,
from time to time we had disagreements with them. But there never was any shouting. Never any
pounding on the table. Nobody ever walked out the door.

We’d discuss our differences. At then at some point in the debate, one of the account guys would ask,
“What do you think, Charlie?” And Charlie’s common sense answer usually carried the day. Instead
of enemies, the account guys became allies.

When it came to turning our storyboards into film, we occasionally worked with some temperamental famous-name directors. And more than one found himself having difficulty getting an important shot.
After a while, you’d hear things from behind the camera like: “This isn’tworking.”…
“This is taking too long.”…“I have a better idea.”…“Let’s move on.”… “We can fix this in post
(production).”

“But we don’t have the shot yet,” Charlie would say. Calmly. Gently. Never threatening. It was like
magic. The temperamental famous-name director didn’t argue back. Didn’t walk off the set.
Charlie’s calm but firm approach seemed to give the director new energy, new determination to get the
shot.

Once when a director had declared a shot impossible to get, I heard Charlie suggest a way to get it.
And, you guessed it, Charlie’s suggestion quickly became the director’s idea. And later that night, after
the wrap, I recall the director toasting “how we got that shot.”

Clients liked Charlie, too.

And trusted him.

Example: When we began working together, our first assignment was to do a :60 TV spot demonstrating how well built the Volkswagen Beetle was. For the payoff, our storyboard showed a Beetle being driven into the ocean --- and floating.

No doubts, no hesitation on the part of the client. Volkswagen sent three Beetles to the shoot. And all
three floated.

Example: Nick Esty was our client on Mobil. He was the best. Nick liked to give Charlie and me a detailed
briefing before we started working on a new campaign.

Once, a briefing called for 6 copy points to be included in a :30 TV spot. I was so proud, I got all 6 in the
storyboard and the rough cut.

“You did it. You got everything in there,” said Nick, very pleased, when we showed him the rough cut.

But then, unexpectedly,Charlie spoke up.

“I think we should give Tom an A+ for getting all 6 points in the spot. But there’s too much information
here. Too many copy points. The viewer is going to be confused. We should simplify this.”

No one saw that coming. But because it was Charlie, Nick Esty listened and said: “Tell you what. I’ll
give you money to simplify the spot and re-edit it. I’ll stay overnight in New York. And tomorrow let’s
look at both versions, yours and mine.”

Next morning, when we showed the 6-points rough cut and our new simplified rough cut --- Nick made
his decision.

“Well, Charlie,” said Nick, “you proved me wrong. Expletive, expletive, expletive (all said with warmth
and humor), let’s go with your version.”

“But before you finish it up,” Nick added, “let’s all go to lunch and celebrate a great spot.”

Example: In 1983, Charlie and I went back to work on Volkswagen. (This time, for the Rabbit, Golf,
and Jetta.)

The client was Jim Fuller. Tough. Demanding. But fair. And a man who loved to advertise the tradition,
the mystique, the “heart and soul” of Volkswagen.

Shortly after we created/produced a new campaign for Volkswagen, Charlie quit. To take a better job as
Creative Director at another agency.

The account group was worried Jim Fuller would be angry. Worried that agency/client relations might
suffer.

But Jim Fuller wasn’t that kind of guy. Instead, on Charlie’s last day at DDB, Jim presented Charlie with
a specially-made plaque honoring Charlie’s talent, work, dedication. And then as Jim gave Charlie a
final handshake, he said: “If you ever decide to come back, you’ll always find a warm welcome here on
Volkswagen.”

The campaign went on to win a Clio and couple of gold medals. But I always thought that plaque and
Jim Fuller’s final words to Charlie spoke volumes more.

Everbody likes Charlie.

Tom Yobage
DDB Coptwriter