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Take the ‘A’ Train

OOH …Here’s One Thing

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photo by Bebo2good1


OOH …Here’s One Thing  


by Jim Johnsen,
Managing Director, Johnsen, Fretty & Company




Take the ‘A’ Train

Not sure about you guys, but with the Tour de France now in full force (after a 2 month delay), it feels like there is a little normalcy back in the world.  If you want to follow the rider with the biggest swagger, look up Peter Sagan.  The guy has more Instagram followers than Lamar, Outfront and Clear Channel combined.  For good reason.  He often rips wheelies during the stages, just for fun.  On a more serious note, the Colombians might have a shot for once.  


Okay Johnsen, whats the point?  I received a call from the one and only eponymous Dr. Z last week. He started the call not with “hello”, but with “you’ve got it all wrong”. I said thank you, but “SOSDD” (attribution – JC Clements).  He said, “no really, this domination thing got kicked off well before you allude to in your article…in fact you may have still been in diapers at the time.” I’ve got to say, Z man has elocution beyond comprehension. Must have to do with his excellent wit, his time in the Bronx schoolyards and his early start in account management during the heady days of Madison Avenue.


Anyway, I put my phone on mute, poured myself a double and hit the voice recorder app. What followed was a magical piece of outdoor folklore. Back when a guy with a few nickels and a glockenspiel could talk his way right into the New York subway franchise without fear of some billion dollar multinational sweeping it from under his feet. Back when guys like Karl Eller, Dan Simon, Steve Adams, Arte Moreno, Bill Aflebaum, Marvin Schwartz, Tom Martin, Brian McCarty, Jerry Joyce and a whole host of other intrepid entrepreneurs with a dream in their pocket, a passion for the ad racket, and unbridled ambition, could really make shit happen. Of course, it helped that Chase Manhattan Bank back then loved the business and was quite willing to advance 95 cents of every dollar. And then when the guys in the media department at Chase defected and went across the street to CIBC things got even more interesting. Apologies, I digress.


I let Z know that I am taping him and he responds with “Remember the scene in the Godfather II when Hyman Roth is talking to Michael and he says we are bigger than U.S. Steel?” I said, “yes, they were in Cuba right?” He says, “do you remember what he was wearing?” I say “help me out.” He says, “nothing…that way they know for sure he is not wearing a wire.” Boom, just like that another subtlety to the movie that makes it the greatest of all time. https://youtu.be/Rmxluz27Q-4


Here is Z speaking…”As you know I was from the liquor business, I worked for Seagrams and McCann and I knew everyone in the business from Bronfman down.  One day I went into Seagrams office to renew an urban panels contract and I went into one of the brand manager’s offices, Angelo Vessalo.  While I am there, I figure I might as well try to up-sell Angelo on train interior cards on the cross town shuttle. Now are you sitting down? He says to me, “I want the whole city”. Speechless, which I never am, I ask him what gives. He says we have a new cognac coming out called Cordon Rouge and we want to make a big splash. Angelo then says, “let me ask you something, can I buy the entire car on all the subway trains? I mean could we do something like this?” I say to him, ya you could…but you can’t afford it. He then says to me, “try me”. Next thing I know, he is handing over $60,000 (which back then meant something) and we hand install the entire subway system, both the placards and the squares. The response from this campaign was so overwhelming that they are back in our face looking to do the same with Captain Morgan’s rum shortly thereafter. From there it built to the point where brand domination became ‘de rigueur. Of course, “station domination” got added much later, after Bill and Marvin sold New York Subways Advertising Co to Gannett, and Bill performed miracles turning around TDI. And for your gee whiz file, my colleagues at McCann Erickson, Steve Leff the Media Director, Bob Polmain and the rest of that team should really be credited with the domination play, as they made a phenomenal decision to buy up every TV ad spot during sports programming for Miller Lite, catapulting that nascent brand into the stratosphere.”


Well you heard it here first folks. As Picasso is believed to have said “Good artists copy, great artists steal”.  My guess is we haven’t heard the whole story on domination just yet. I will say, I love domination when I see it. It’s got tremendous punch, it eliminates the noise…and we get to charge a shit ton for it.  I’m hoping we see new variations on this theme going forward.  


Lest you think my musical taste stops at rock, I leave you with Mel Torme’s Take the ‘A’ Train. Tonally speaking, he may have had Frank beat IMHO.  But then again there is NO ONE like Frank.  



Jim Johnsen



Securities transacted through StillPoint Capital Member firm FINRA/SiPC


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1 Comment
  1. Gary says

    Love the article !
    That GF scene was shot at the Hotel Embajador
    In Santo Domingo . I know because I stayed in that room with the balcony more than once.
    As for the brand train I was hired to sell it when Gannett bought it my first sale was Hennessy and I took at the A train for years to Washington heights
    Everything comes back eventually!
    Cheers !
    Gary B

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