The Every day Heller: Lowell Thompson’s Documentary on Chicago’s Black Advert Males and Girls
Channels Changers is a documentary that chronicles African Individuals who made a major affect on Chicago’s promoting trade, because the movie’s co-creator, Lowell Thompson, says. Promoting was, as he factors out on this interview and the movie clip under, an entry level for inventive practitioners, a lot of whom realized “on the road” and produced iconic commercials and campaigns for nationwide and native manufacturers. This is a crucial lacking hyperlink within the historical past of American promoting (and myth-making).
Thompson began his inventive profession at Foote, Cone & Belding, Chicago, in 1968, as an artwork director trainee, just a few months after Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered in Memphis. He spent the following 50+ years creating promoting, artwork, books and extra.
Channels Changers is nearly completed, however wants GoFundMe assist to finish post-production. Right here, Thompson tells us extra in regards to the challenge.
Is Channels Changers the primary movie to cowl this material?
I feel so. I truly deliberate it as a guide, however then I met Cotton Stevenson on Fb. He’s a “white” retired adman who labored in a few of the identical companies I did in Chicago about 10 years after I’d been there, so we’d by no means met. He retired, moved to San Jose, went again to highschool and earned a grasp’s diploma in documentary filmmaking. He’d been watching my … er … exploits on Fb, and once I put up some issues about my memoirs, Mad Invisible Man, he known as and instructed we make it a movie.
Why has this been such a well-kept secret?
Vance Packard known as advert people “the hidden persuaders.” AfAm advert people are probably the most hidden hidden persuaders. We’re even hidden from different hidden persuaders … until they occurred to stumble upon us in one of many few companies that employed us. However to truly reply your query, I feel though advertisements and commercials are rampant, the advert trade as a topic is inherently secret. It’s kinda like what they are saying about making sausage. Folks simply wish to eat the sausage, not watch it being made. Advertisements are even worse. Folks don’t exit of their technique to “eat” advertisements. They solely like a few of them, at greatest. They don’t wish to take into consideration them, interval!
About 10 years in the past, Artwork & Copy, a documentary about a few of the prime advert inventive individuals, got here out. I feel it was excellent, however I don’t suppose many individuals noticed it. The one film I do know of that was ever made about this topic was Putney Swope. It was a characteristic movie satire directed by Robert Downey Sr. [about a white-run ad agency that by mistake elects a Black president]. I believe a part of the explanations nobody has carried out what we’re doing is that in New York, African Individuals in promoting had been much more invisible than Ellison’s Invisible Man. Though AfAm Chicagoans have traditionally been lesser in numbers than in New York, we’ve virtually all the time been an even bigger portion of the entire inhabitants. That reality gave us extra political, financial and cultural clout in our metropolis.
I wish to make certain we make this level in Channels Changers. The Harlem Renaissance within the Twenties was made well-known as a result of it occurred within the metropolis the place American media was primarily based. However the actual renaissance had already been occurring in music since Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver after which Louis Armstrong got here up from New Orleans and made the roaring ’20s roar in Al Capone’s Jazz joints on the South Facet of Chicago.
The world-famous Harlem Globetrotters? Born on Chicago’s South Facet within the mid-’20s. Abe Saperstein dubbed what was then the Savoy Massive 5 (Wendell Phillips Excessive Faculty college students who performed out of the Savoy Ballroom), “The Harlem Globetrotters.” Why? As a result of New York white elites and media individuals had been going as much as Harlem to slum and had made Harlem synonymous with “Black America.”
What’s it about Chicago that supplied alternatives that didn’t appear accessible on Madison Avenue?
Though the Black inhabitants has dropped precipitously in Chicago (it was about 40% when Harold Washington was elected mayor in 1983) within the final decade, we nonetheless make up somewhat beneath 30%. New York’s Black inhabitants progressively moved as much as 25%. I feel Black Chicago additionally had a extra cohesive tradition as a result of they got here overwhelmingly from Mississippi, Georgia and Alabama. Many extra in New York weren’t even born within the USA, being from the Caribbean, Haiti, Cuba, South America and lots of international locations in Africa. That’s why probably the most highly effective Black media names got here out of Chicago: Ida B. Wells, The Chicago Defender, Johnson Publishing (which printed Ebony and Jet). We’ll present how that media savvy and success led to the primary profitable Black-owned advert companies.
Was there a ghettoization of Black inventive administrators within the trade? Did your colleagues principally work on merchandise aimed toward Black individuals?
Oh, that’s a straightforward one. No. I didn’t work at a Black-owned company or on a “Blacks-only” account till my final days working full time. I ended my full-time profession at Burrell, as VP, affiliate inventive director. Tom Burrell was the one particular person within the inventive division above me. Earlier than that I’d labored at Foote, Cone & Belding, McCAnn-Erickson, Younger & Rubicam, Needham, Harper & Steers, J. Walter Thompson and Leo Burnett, by no means on Black accounts.
Your movie additionally brings to gentle proficient Black girls.
Sure. I began within the enterprise about the identical time as Carol Williams, who now owns what she says is the biggest independent-owned Black advert company on the earth. However there was additionally Barbara Proctor, who began her personal company within the early ’70s. And there have been a great variety of AfAm writers and a few artwork administrators like Alma Hopkins, Emma Younger and others I labored with. However in New York there was Caroline Jones, who began as a secretary at an enormous white company and went on to discovered a couple of company. The reason being the identical as AfAm males.
The place did the inventive workforce come from? Did it have something to do with Chicago’s music heritage?
In my case it simply got here in off the road. The music heritage had extra affect as suppliers, not employees within the companies, though Barbara Proctor did work within the music enterprise as a promoter and PR particular person earlier than she received into promoting. She is alleged to have helped carry the Beatles to the U.S. when she labored at an AfAm-owned file firm, VeeJay.
Did you study to be an advert man in class or by working?
I inform people I went to kindergarten at FCB and received my Ph.D. from JWT. I didn’t have a clue about promoting till I used to be smack-dab in the midst of it. That’s why I attribute my profession to Dr. M.L. King and the Civl Rights Motion. However I’d guess that the majority inventive individuals of any coloration within the enterprise in my day by no means deliberate to create advertisements and commercials for a residing. They appeared to be would-be journalists, novelists, artists, actors, and so forth.
There are some iconic advertisements that sprang from Chicago. Was there a lot cross-pollination between there and New York?
Man, am I glad you requested that query. One of many individuals I’ve been making an attempt to meet up with to interview for Channels Changers is Joey Randall. He’s a local New Yorker who got here to Chi-City within the mid ’70s, I feel. He instructed me he truly got here to Chicago as a result of he had an thought for a Coke business that featured a bunch of fellows doo-wopping. It grew to become the enduring “StreetSong” spot for Coke the put Burrell on the TV promoting map. James Glover had labored at Y&R New York earlier than he got here to Needham, Harper & Steers and did the “Morning Glory” spot for McDonald’s breakfast. Harry “the legend” Webber got here to Chicago for a couple of minutes. I ended up taking his workplace at Leo Burnett. Shirley Riley, who did a collection of Clio award-winning spots for AT&T, got here to Chicago however didn’t have a great time.
How far alongside are you with the movie? Are they different “heroes” of the trade but to be documented?
We even have virtually the entire interviews carried out. Cotton is about to get on a airplane to Florida this weekend to go to interview Tom Burrell and Ray Lyle (who was an artwork director/producer on the Uncola marketing campaign). We’re planning to begin modifying subsequent month. There are many heroes and sheroes, and never simply in Chicago. Byron Lewis, who began UniWorld, continues to be kickin’. There are some people on the West Coast who’ve carried out some nice stuff.
Graphic design was lengthy a second cousin to promoting. Was it that manner in Chicago?
Sure, so far as I do know, graphic designers lived on an entire different planet. It takes a wierd mentality to be an advert particular person, and graphic designers typically don’t make nice advert people. Neither do novelists or journalists.
What would you like the viewers to remove from this movie that has been misplaced and now discovered? Ha! That the entire multicolored mixture of media, promoting and leisure we stay with in the present day began—greater than every other place on the planet—in Chicago.