Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Some Of The Best And Funniest Comebacks And Retorts By Advertising Leaders To Clients

I received a note from my friend, Steve Lance, who is a great copywriter, now a partner with Paul Kurnit at PS Insights.  He told me a funny story.  It reminded me of a several I have heard over the years and thought I would share a few of them.  If you have any great retorts or comebacks, please share them with me; I love funny advertising stories.

Here is Steve’s story.  When Donald Trump launched Trump airlines in the early 1990’s, he wanted to hire the greatest advertising agency.  He chose Chiat\Day.  They produced some terrific work for the airline, both print and television.  Apparently, the work was not to The Donald’s liking.  He wrote a nasty and threatening letter to Jay Chiat on his Trump personal letterhead.  Jay, in turn, responded by hand to Trump on his own letterhead and attached the letter he had received from Trump.  Jay Chiat’s note read:  “Donald, I thought you should know that some lunatic has stolen your stationery.  Jay”. Trump fired the agency, but Jay Chiat and his employees had the last laugh.

In the late 1960’s Larry Ellman was one of the city’s major restaurateurs.  He owned the Cattleman, Steak and Brew and Beefsteak Charlies, among others.  He was opening a new restaurant called the Orangerie and hired Delehanty, Kurnit and Geller (DKG) to do the advertising and design the menus, table-talkers and other printed work.  Shep Kurnit presented all the wonderful work to him.  Larry Ellman rejected because it was too nice and too tasteful, particularly the menu.  He wanted the agency to change everything from the design to the type face.  Shep looked at Ellman and said, “You hired a chef, but you wanted a short-order cook.”  The agency resigned the account.

Shep Kurnit had another one which I wrote previously (for more detail), but is worth repeating.  While pitching the Mexican tourist board, the Mexican Minister of Tourism asked the assembled presenters, “If I give you the account, what will you give me?” (He was rubbing his fingers in the universal sign of money.)  Without missing a beat, Shep Kurnit looked at him and, said, “We’ll give you back Mexico.”  DKG did not get the business.

In 1984, there was a major fire in the Haunted House attraction at Great Adventure (before it became Six Flags) Amusement Park.  Eight people were killed.  Business at the park took a nosedive despite very good work by its agency, Della Femina Travisano & Partners.  The client came to the agency, and, as these things go, they were going to blame the agency’s work for the lack of business.  An executive from Great Adventure was lecturing the agency and blamed their advertising for not being strong enough.  At one point he said to the assembled group, “What do we have to do to get more business?”  The account executive (now unidentified), looked at the executive and said, “Stop killing people.”

There are many stories about the late, great Bill Bernbach.  This is one of my favorites, but I don’t know who the client was.  Apparently, he was presenting a print campaign which contained long copy.  The client balked, saying something like, “The copy is too long.  Only 10% of the people who see the ad will read it.”  Bernbach’s immediate response was, “Good.  The copy is for the 10% who will read it.”  The ad was approved.

This is one from both an account person and a client.  A senior account supervisor was meeting with a person who ran a very small, entrepreneurial division of a major company.  The corporate office asked the agency for a favor to create a newspaper ad for this division, which it had recently purchased. This particular division had never advertised. The client came to the agency and met with the account group to discuss what was needed.  The account supervisor asked a series of questions designed to elicit the necessary information.  The client became very angry about being asked about his business and did not like the suggestions the agency people were making.  He looked at the account supervisor and very pointedly said, “Kid, are you telling me how to run my business?”  The account person had a great response, “No, sir.  I would never tell you how to run your business.  But I can tell you how to run your advertising.”  The client, who by this time was most belligerent, said, “When my company was bought, I made several million dollars.  Have you ever made even a million dollars?”  The account person had a great comeback.  He said, “No, sir.  But if you had been doing the kinds of things we are suggesting, you might have made twice as much when your company was bought.”  The client ended the conversation saying, “What would I do with all that money.  I can’t spend the money I got.”   And in that brief sentence, the client explained the essence of being an entrepreneur. 

A major worldwide advertised brand would not allow its US agency to cast any minorities in its TV commercials.  Ironically, the client made a formal and serious request to have its work submitted for the diversity awards.  This is absolutely true.  The creative director looked at the client and said, “Sure.  You let us cast a non-blond this year.”

And finally, a young and highly successful female creative director was in a client meeting presenting a major campaign.  The client was older and very old-school and sexist.  The client, being pejorative and snarky, said to her, “And so sweetheart, how old are you?”  The creative director responded, “Old enough to run your business.”

Thanks to all of you who shared these stories and keep please keep them coming.


  1. Sometime in the '80s. An agency in London was pitching British Rail. Client team arrives the morning of the pitch. The agency receptionist was not initially at her desk, and when she did appear, she was disheveled and the Clients whiffed the scent of stale booze and cigarettes coming from her direction. The Clients were provided lukewarm coffee and made to wait. Rumor has it, perhaps embellishment, that newspapers littered the lobby floor and a puddle of urine, appeared in the corner. Being polite British gents, they endured for a bit before losing their patience. At this point they were led to a conference room. They asked the new business leader 'why there was office was in such a state and why they were kept waiting in such deplorable conditions?' The guy, Charles Saatchi is alleged to have said, 'We wanted to show you we undertand your business.' They were hired on the spot.

  2. Footnote. They didn't have a presentation. No plan B. Went all in on the tactic Saatchi wanted. Respect.

    1. I actually think I had heard that story before, but the point is well taken. Once upon a time agencies had balls. What they did is far better and more effective than spending millions on a presentation. Imagine Publicis allowing that to happen today!


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