Sunday, March 04, 2007

22. Cutting My Teeth In Advertising

As an apprentice I had several bosses, Lucky was one, the boss of broadcast production, Noli Agcaoili was another and then there were the three Account Executives, Bonggoy Verano, Jes Lacson and Paul Ligones who sometimes asked me to do “gofer” jobs. I even had to do media work that consisted of calling up media reps to ask for the available airtime and to do a bit of haggling to bring card rates to a more reasonable level. In time I was able to put some organization to media work through a better understanding of how to place media and a feel for best audience time segments. This was done through observing the placements of the bigger advertisers who would have audience-rating data to back up their placements and the occasional chancing upon audience rating sheets from friends and media reps that have access to them.

Media buying principles were quite simple at that time. Clients just want to get assured that their brands were spending the least possible cost to reach the consumers within their target market. Given enough information I devised a system wherein it was possible to create standards by which media plans could be discussed more sanely and with less usage of gut feel which was the hallmark of advertising at that time. This was one step away from hucksterism. Audience estimates, haggling skills and good relationships with media reps and other officials of media houses helped in assuring our clients best placements and lowest cost for their brands’ media plans.

One of the more enjoyable tasks is television production work. My boss, Noli Agcaoili was among the pioneers and a master of the “live” television commercials. He was my mentor in this commercial genre that was popularly used in the early sixties until video tape recording made the practice obsolete. Noli, who was handicapped by polio at an early age would later found NOVA, a manpower institution which enabled the physically challenged to transcend their limitations and have gainful livelihoods.

Noli was a good mentor and soon enough I learned to go it alone. He quickly placed the whole responsibility of “live commercials” on my lap and concentrated on account management. Later I could understand why he was so eager to get out of it. “Live commercials” can be hazardous to one’s physical and emotional wellbeing. As his assistant I had to write scripts for these “live” commercials. “Live” commercials were advertisements that were aired as they were delivered in the studio. In the days when there were no video tape recordings and the cost of film production could only be afforded by the big multinational brands the “live” commercials thrived for a while but was doomed to extinction because of its predisposition to disaster. There was no room for mistakes in this type of television commercials. You don’t have the luxury of doing “takes”. The commercial went on air with mistakes and all. You would age five years each time a blooper was made on air.

One of the earlier but unforgettable booboos I committed was that for a launch commercial for a “bibingka” ready mix. This was the first time that a native cake mix variant was to be introduced to the White King mother brand, Republic Flour Mills’ established brand of cake mixes. It was a rather elaborate production. I had tinikling dancers at the background, a fiesta table setting complete with the papier-mâché “lechon” and the table for the product demonstration. The production was rehearsed a week before and everything evolved quite nicely. To lessen the odds for a mishap the script that I wrote only had a voiceover audio. There were no spoken parts between talents. No miscues, no buckling of lines, no tripping on props can happen. Twenty minutes before airtime my client called up to check on the preparations. I assured him that it was all systems go and I was going to do three more run-throughs with the blocking for good measure. After completing the run-throughs I still had ten minutes. In the rehearsals I was doing the voiceover because the voiceover talent was not yet around. At five minutes to go there was no sign of the voice talent and half in panic I readied myself to do the voicing of the commercial. Although I went through it several times during rehearsals I felt a dry constriction in my throat. The technical director gave his cue that we were now on air. I gave the signal for the action to start and as if carried by the momentum of the sequential movements in the studio I started to read. Less than halfway through the script I felt my confidence building up, and when done, I thought that I did a creditable job of it.

I congratulated the participants and thanked the cameramen, the technical director and other production staff for a job well done. As I was gathering my stuff I was told that I had a phone call. As soon as the voice on the other end came through I knew that it was my client, JCJ, the son in law of Salvador Araneta now better known as JoeCon.

Expecting a compliment I asked him what he thought of the commercial just aired. In a voice that was one octave higher he said “Roa…why did you clear your throat during the commercial! In a food commercial you are not supposed to clear your throat!” I had to clear my throat to manage a guttural apology. I was relieved that the booboo did not cost me my job. My boss received the brunt of our client’s ire, which he then relayed to me with even more intensity. This would not be the last of my tv bloopers.

In radio production I hired radio announcers as talents to do the voicing of the scripts that I have written and later on marry the sound background tape which may be a music bed or sound effects and oftentimes both. Some of the announcers that I have used who have gone on to prominence were Mari Velez, Dick Ildefonso, Nonoy David and Joe Cantada who were DJs of the now defunct DZHP. Radio commercial production was a source of extra income for me. I charged a twenty five-peso supervision fee for each commercial produced.

Our ad agency was so small that it didn’t even own a tape recorder. I had to borrow my dad’s bulky Ferrograph tape recorder whenever I did radio production work or when presenting the studies as well as the finished radio commercials to client. I was happy to be useful and also to be present in most client meetings. I was not about to allow the agency to have my piece of personal equipment be handled by anybody else. I could liken it to the little boy who owned the ball used in a game who threatened to bring home the ball if he does not get to play. I half suspected that the precious tape recorder was the reason I was retained by the agency. The management thought it would have been more costly to buy the equipment. That technological wonder was my ticket to attending important meetings and to get familiar with the discussions and decisions made at the top.

There I was, experiencing first hand the epic mental tussles and the eloquent arguments brought to bear on business decisions. Nothing beats learning coming directly from the great business thinkers and captains of industry. You also learn from the mediocrity of thought coming from the lesser lights in clients’ organization. I was determined to learn my new trade. I read all the books and periodicals on advertising and media that I could get my hands on. The readings had to be squeezed in to my busy schedule.

There was great interest and enjoyment in what I was doing. I said to myself that perhaps I have found my true calling. Little did I know that there was so much ahead of me. At 22 it was too early to say that that was it.

Work really mounted up as my “bosses” learned that I could do more things for them. With so many things being asked of me, I had to bring home some of them to cope with the burgeoning work. I did “live” commercials for Volkswagen and Radioweatlth with Tita Munoz as my talent and House of Ramie with Margie Santa Maria every week. I had fun doing Beetle advertising. It was a product that thrived on being made fun of. There was no limit to the abuse you can inflict on it because it was a smug and confident brand.

Tita Munoz, the unsinkable stage star of that time was a real trouper who made every Beetle script I came up with come to life. Even the worst scripts (god knows there were some awful ones) I have written have been saved by her performance. Margie Santa Maria, a top model then had her good looks to make up for her being an amateur in endorsements acting. I had to rehearse scripts with Margie several times before going on air. I heard that she got married to a gang mate of mine from Loyola Heights whom I have not seen since my college days but I have yet to confirm this.

I prepared media plans for all the clients’ products and sometimes visualizing print ads and was also given small clients to manage. After a few months I had a promotion of sorts and had the title of Radio-TV director. It did not entail an increase in pay but the title really gave me a high.

1 comment:

Grammy Vergara said...

I'm following you now, Ed. Grammy Vergara is my pseudonym.

How are you? I still feel depressed over the loss of a mutual friend - Meckoy. Had I been in Manila I surely would have been at the wake.

Rene Gramonte