March 20, 2010

A real-life 1960’s Mad Men-style ad man: my dad

Dear Blog, today we are celebrating the birthday of another hero of mine: my dad. He’s turning 84 and persists daily in being a very cool and amazing person. I could discuss any number of interesting things about him, from his childhood in a rooming house during the Depression, to his current expertise at websurfing and devotion to YouTube. But in view of the popularity of AMC’s series “Mad Men,” I thought our readers might be particularly interested in his experiences as a real-life ad man.

Here is a photo of us enjoying ice cream cones circa 1963, the same year as “Mad Men,” takes place.  As you can see, my dad sported a look totally in tune with the gang at Sterling Cooper. (In fact, he bore a remarkable resemblance to Pete Campbell.) Back then he worked as a copywriter for a prominent ad agency in Milwaukee called Klau Van Pietersom Dunlap.

How much was it like Sterling Cooper? Well, he tells me if there were that many sexual shenanigans going on in the office, he wasn’t aware of them. However, the three-martini lunch was definitely an institution for many in the biz. And certainly the place of women in the Ad Game was very much like on the show; anyone aspiring to be like Peggy had a hard row to hoe.

Dad was promoted to a vice president at KVPD in 1968, an occasion I remember as very exciting to me at age twelve. A vice president! That sounded so important! I recall Dad telling me at the time though that it was not something I should go bragging about to my friends. He thought that kind of behavior was something to be avoided--a good lesson for me to learn.

Is it plausible that someone with a humble background like Don Draper could really rise to such prominence at an important agency? That sure wouldn’t happen today, but things were different in the 1960s. My dad always felt bad that he didn’t get to go to college, but his intelligence and writing skills made that no obstacle to his success. Those talents were what got him into advertising in the first place (at GE Medical), and it was hard work and skill that landed him at the agency and brought him great success over the years to come.

Blog, I just had to laugh during one episode of “Mad Men,” when they referred to “the Kimberly Clark account.” In fact my dad had the Kimberly Clark Papers account (meaning stationery and printing papers)! Perhaps his coolest project ever was an award-winning campaign involving the creation of a book about that famed tourist attraction, the House on the Rock. The book was designed to show off various types of Kimberly Clark papers. Dad interviewed HOTR creator Alex Jordan and wrote the copy. It turned out to be an amazing little book, back when HOTR was amazing and still little.

What about all the frightening office politics? Also very true to life, Blog. The old Ad Game is exciting but not always fun. When I was in high school things got pretty hairy, and eventually KVPD was merged into a larger firm, Hoffman York, not too unlike the situation on Mad Men this past season. Dad emerged unscathed, and began his in-house marketing career in 1975 as Advertising Manager of Master Lock. I realize we’ve passed out of the Mad Men era now, but Dad had some fun exploits at Master that are worth mentioning.

Master Lock is most famous for its “Tough Under Fire” campaign, which continued for many years and predated my dad. He worked on this campaign with Master’s agency, Cramer-Krasselt. That of course entailed working on the renowned series of Super Bowl ads that showed a lock being shot with a gun and still refusing to open. In 1989, a 30 second spot cost $675,000. But as Dad told a Milwaukee Journal reporter that year, “You aren’t buying 30 seconds, you’re buying 76 million people.” (In 2010, make that $3 million and 90+ million viewers.)

Dad interfaced often with the media and the public on topics related to locks and security. He also dealt with requests for using Master Locks in movies, like the time he took a phone call from Wes Craven. Yes, that Wes Craven. Mr. Craven wanted to use Master Locks in his movie “Nightmare on Elm Street.” They had a very amusing conversation; Dad had to laugh at the idea of the locks appearing in a slasher film. Wes Craven said, said “It may not be Shakespeare but the money is no laughing matter!” He even sent Dad an autographed photo of Robert “Freddy Krueger” Englund. Alas, Blog, it has been lost to prosperity, but it’s bright in my memory!

One of the most interesting times Dad ever had was when he was involved with the production of a 15 second TV commercial for Master’s “Tough Stripes,” lock, a high-tech bike lock introduced in 1987. He got to work both with models painted black and yellow and with a live tiger, as you see in these awesome photos, Blog! For 15 seconds of footage it took a day’s shoot in Toronto and two days of production time in Chicago.

Dad retired in 1991 but for several years afterwards had a small freelance advertising business. It’s in the blood, what can I say? Today I do in-house marketing in a position a bit like his at Master Lock, his granddaughter Katie does production art and internet interactive work at Cramer-Krasselt (yep, the same Cramer-Krasselt!), and his other granddaughter Amanda works in ecommerce at Kohls corporate.

Oh, and Dad’s a very passionate fan of “Mad Men.”

A big happy birthday to my awesome father, Russell A. Bauer! Want to send birthday wishes to a real 1960s Ad Man? Put your comments below...he’s also a big fan of this blog. :-)


  1. Happy Birthday, Mr. Bauer!

    And Diana, I'm so glad to learn you're still writing. I'm an old school Hockey Snacks fan. My sister probably told you we saw The Fantasticks last weekend ONLY because it was featured in Captain Eternity and we absolutely loved it.

    That was a pretty funny conversation with friends of ours.
    "So you're going to a show tonight? Which one?"
    "The Fantasticks."
    "Never heard of it. What's it about?"
    "I have no idea."
    "Um, then why do you want to see it?"
    "Well, it's the favorite of a character in a book that I like."

    I'm thrilled to learn that LBR Press is still chugging, and I bought the first two LBR books just today though I've read them before. You do great work so thank you for your vision and your determination.

  2. Happy Birthday to a wonderfully interesting man! How fun to get to know a little about the dad of one of my favorite FB peeps! The apple definitely didn't fall far from the tree, as I can see where Diana got her writing talent! May your day be full of love and happiness!!

  3. Happy 84th to your Daddy, D!!
    I really enjoyed reading this - made my face smile.

  4. Happy birthday Russell!
    What a wonderful interesting story, Diana. I am a big fan of Mad Men and it is set in an interesting time period. My parents got married 1958, my father was an officer on the Holland-America Line and spent long periods at sea. My mother was a kindergarden teacher and wanted to continue working after they got married. She managed to keep her job for another couple of years, but it was not easy. Married women were not supposed to work outside the home. It was also frowned upon that she didn't get pregnant immediately. She was only 23 when she married! My sister was born in 1963, my parents were the new young and modern generation. And that puts a smile on my face, they have been married for almost 52 years.

  5. What a wonderful essay, mom!!!! I just read it aloud to Chris and we both agreed he's lived such a colorful life! (I mean this write-up is just a fraction) I hope Grandpa had fun...we should go to his place sometime (sans basketball haha!) and listen to some stories :)

  6. To Alanna:

    My publishing house is indeed still chugging: had a fabulous year in 2009 with our best sales ever and four new book releases. ( I am so, so tickled that some people saw a show just because it was featured in a novel of mine. That's not something that happens every day! Thanks for the book order, too!

    To Renee: You are so sweet! I had to explain to Dad what "FB peeps" was, but now he's up on that lingo. :-)

    To Shad: Thanks for sharing your great story! Your parents sound wonderful, and I'm happy to hear about their long and happy lives to date.

    To Katie: I'm glad you and Chris liked the tribute! We'll have to figure out a time indeed to get together at his place. I could listen to his "tales of yore" all day. :-)

  7. Wonderful tribute to your dad, Diana!

    Happy Birthday, Mr. Bauer! What an interesting and busy career.. and I'm sure that's just the tip of the iceberg.

  8. Thank you, Sam! And you're right, I could write a book...