Working with Charlie Piccirillo / Tony Romeo Remembers.
It was my pleasure to watch, and later work with and learn from Charlie Piccirillo for about five years,
while at Doyle Dane Bernbach. I had often spoken to Charlie in the elevator, while riding up or down
from the eighth floor, and although the ride was short, I always learned something from Charlie, on
the craft of making good advertising.
Charlie often spoke about ideas and concepts, working with account people, and the art of staying
young. In the late evening hours, if I was fortunate enough to meet Charlie in the lobby while waiting
for the elevator to head home, Charlie would make some quip about the day, and it was as if his well
crafted remarks impressed me like a well crafted headline.
Charlie never wasted the words he spoke, and every one of those short, crisp sentences were filled
with creative wisdom. He was never flustered by anything, including account people, or office politics.
For Charlie, it was always about the idea. When I ran in to Charlie in the computer filled bullpen, with
the latest technology that started to fill the DDB studio, Charlie was there, cutting and pasting his
boards, moving around the studio, like a dancer, every move, studied and without waste. Dignified.
Silent. No bullshit. His eye ever on the idea.
One lucky day, I was assigned to work with Charlie on a product that Charlie had worked on with
someone else. At the time, I was an art director, but anyone who knew Doyle Dane, the titles of art
director and copywriter were always blurred. Charlie was an art director in title, but also a gifted writer.
I was listed as an art director, but was assigned to Charlie as a writer.
Charlie had designed the characters of a product known as Quilted Northern, with Charlie’s unique
animated drawings of the featured “Quilters.” The Quilted Northern Quilters, all had distinct
characters, and brought the product to life. As we worked together, Charlie would keep reminding me
of each characteristic that made each “quilter” unique. We laughed, had amazing fun, while we both
played off each other as we wrote the scripts.
We took turns drawing the characters, and writing each board. This “blurred” working relationship was
a joy to be a part of. What was wonderful about Charlie is the way in which he always would keep us
focused on what needed to be stated in each concept, and we enjoyed the playfulness of the words
that each character would say in the spots.
As we approached the final stages of putting together the boards, Charlie would arrive in my office
carrying scissors, a glue pot, scotch tape, a set of Magic Markers, and various frames, that either he
or I had drawn. As Charlie picked up his scissors, scotch tape, and the rest of his equipment, the
board began to take shape. There was something amazing about the way he truly crafted each board
that always brought a smile to my face. I sat there and watched the master at work.
Computers had little to do with our boards, except for the copy I printed out to be placed in each
frame, by the cut and paste method that Charlie had perfected at this point. Putting a board together
by this method seemed to add to the animated character of those boards. The boards retained the
human touch of Charlie Piccirillo
I remember working with Charlie perhaps one more time, prior to his leaving DDB, and it was on an
assignment for Lay’s Potato Chips. We reminisced about how we both used to look forward to eating
at a Deli on the Lower East Side, where all the waiters used to be gruff and tell you what to eat. The
chips were called
“Deli-Style Lays Potato Chips”. Those memories from real life formed the basis of the commercial that
was produced a few months later at a production cost of just under $1,000,000 dollars. It appeared on
the Super Bowl.
It is ironic, that on the last day before Charlie Piccirillo left the agency, the entire agency, especially
the Creative Department, met in the very same Fifth floor lobby where Charlie used to share his bits
of remarkable wisdom with me, just prior to leaving for the night.
This time, the Creative Department stood shoulder to shoulder listening to Charlie as he spoke about
his love of advertising and his many years at Doyle Dane Bernbach. He held in his hands an 11×14
pad of paper, a few markers, and a pencil, and pointed out that the craft of creating great advertising
was in the way these tools were used to put on paper, an idea that would relate to the consumer in a
new and imaginative way.
Computers, it was pointed out, were nice, and the placement of stock art that most creative people
had come to use in their presentations, were no match for a great idea, that might be better portrayed
with something that may not have ever been thought of before.
Charlie was and remains a great advertising legend that can still hit it out of the proverbial ballpark. It
was an honor to be in the same room with Charlie the art director and Charlie the copywriter. Perhaps
more importantly, the Charlie Piccirillo, who remains a wonderful and solid human being.
DDB Art Director