I had the good fortune of starting in the communications business under the tutelage of one of the last century's giants of advertising. This was Don Gwaltney, back when he was recently retired from the Chicago home office of Leo Burnett.
I met Don by happenstance at a golf tournament, the Heritage, on Hilton Head Island. That was about 15 years ago. I was shooting video with a Canon GL2 and Don had just bought one. He asked if I would tutor him on how to use it. After a few lessons, the tutoring flip-flopped. Don started teaching me how to make ads and before long we were doing all the national advertising and website development for Spring Island, a blue chip retirement community where Don lives.
Don's Burnett background includes co-authorship of the Marlboro Country campaign, considered the most successful ad campaign of the 20th century. He wrote the presentation rationale and all the copy for the first year of that campaign and then got bored and switched over to work on Parliament cigarettes. He created two campaigns for that brand: Night People and London Discovers Parliament. Later, he also authored three other cigarette campaigns, including the infamous U.S. campaign for the French cigarette, Gauloises.
Later, in 1989, after creating dozens of other campaigns, Don was solely responsible for the creation of the most popular campaign in the history of General Motors: This is Not Your Father's Oldsmobile. According to Google, that line has been plagiarized over 600 thousand times. Unfortunately, that campaign only lasted a couple of years because, according to Don, "The Olds challenged us to beat Chevy's Heartbeat of America, which we did. My song was song of the year in the world of advertising in 1990. But, unfortunately, the Olds division of GM didn't measure up. The Olds cars GM produced were, in fact, your father's Oldsmobiles. This was the beginning of the colossal GM decline which had to be rescued with federal funding." Don was named Chicago's Creative Man of the Year in 1988 and here is a copy of one of more than a few stories written about him:
This story appeared in SCREEN, a Chicago magazine, on Dec. 12, 1988.
SCREEN’S BEST...AGENCY CREATIVE
Not Your Father’s Olds
by Dennis Rodkin
When Leo Burnett in September rolled out its spiffy fall Olds campaign, nobody was more impressed than the man in the driver’s seat, Burnett VP/group creative director Don Gwaltney, SCREEN’s Best Agency Creative. Gwaltney had watched as the simple, boppy lyric he put together for the Cutlass Supreme launch last spring grow into the cornerstone of the automaker’s biggest and most energetic campaign ever.
“We went from a campaign last year that was received less favorably than anything we’ve done in 12 years, to this campaign that broke the bank,” exults Gwaltney, treating an interviewer to his own basso very profundo rendition of the “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile” that has caught on like wildfire.
Quickly as he is to pass credit to the rest of the sizable Burnett team that crafter the campaign, Gwaltney is admittedly proud of the song, which he says “gets the generations together feeling good about each other in 30 seconds.” That’s just what the automaker ordered; Olds sales were flagging thanks to a reputation for building sturdy but undersized cars, and the entire product line needed a lift. But courting a new generation had to handled adroitly, so as not to alienate the solid customer base Olds has built.
If the song doesn’t collar consumers, the great stars will. The various spots feature the likes of Frankie Avalon, Roger Moore, the Judds, Abigail Rockwell (granddaughter of Norman), and even a pre-pregnancy Lisa Marie Presley. You simply can’t miss these commercials.
“This campaign is generating tremendous enthusiasm all around,” says Olds ad manager Gerry Card.
“That slogan is the banner we’re marshaling our forces under.” Having worked with him in various arenas since Gwaltney started covering Olds for Burnett in 1978, Card says the new campaign is exactly what he’s been expecting from the “bigger than life” adman.