Cliff Freeman, an award-winning writer and creative director behind many witty TV commercials including one for Wendy’s in which an old woman with a rugged voice yells “Where’s the beef?” At the sight of a small burger patty in an oversized bun, died on September 5 at his home in the borough of Manhattan in New York. He was 80 years old.
The cause was pneumonia, said his wife, Susan (Kellner) Freeman.
Over a career spanning nearly 40 years, Freeman’s ancient sense of humor set brands apart – first in the Dancer Fitzgerald Sample ad agency, then, from 1987 onwards, in his own small agency, Cliff Freeman & Amp; The partners.
“Cliff has always done some of the funniest and smartest commercials on television,” Jim Patterson, president of North American operations for J. Walter Thompson, told the Tampa Bay Times in 2005. Freeman’s Work, a he added, “is always fresh and original. “
For the Almond Joy and Mounds candy bars, Freeman coined the lyrics to the song “Sometimes you feel like a nut. Sometimes you don’t.” For Little Caesars, he scripted (and dubbed) the toga-clad Roman gnome that says, “Pizza! Pizza! and “Cheeser! Cheeser!”
For Philips, Freeman’s “It’s time to change your light bulb” campaign featured an ad in which a man inadvertently flirts with a beefy worker in an elevator, instead of the beautiful woman he thought was next to him before. that the lights do not go out.
And for Outpost.com, an online computer retailer looking to market itself, gerbils (not real ones) were fired from a cannon, aiming at the second “o” of an Outpost sign.
“Almost all of our clients are Davids versus Goliaths,” Freeman told New York magazine in 1993. “We have to win with wit.”
In 1984, Wendy’s sought to differentiate its burger, the modestly named Single, from McDonald’s Big Mac and Burger King’s Whopper. Research revealed that the Wendy’s Single patty was larger than the Big Mac and Whopper patties.
Working with director Joe Sedelmaier, Freeman created separate commercials, one with three old women and one with three old men, peering into the chewy hamburger bun before seeing the small patty inside. The breakout version was the one with the women, especially screaming octogenarian Clara Peller, who demands to know where the beef is.
“It went viral around the world before the term was coined,” Dan Dahlen, former national advertising manager for Wendy’s International, said in a telephone interview. “And as we entered the election, Walter Mondale turned to Gary Hart” – during a debate among the candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984 – “and asked: ‘Where is the beef? ? ‘”
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Freeman was still at Dancer Fitzgerald a year later when he wrote another popular Wendy’s commercial, which promoted the chain’s breadth of food choices by parodying the lack of choice in Soviet society. In a mock Russian fashion show, a stocky woman struts a catwalk, modeling the same shapeless dress for daytime, evening (accessorized with a flashlight) and swimsuits (with a beach ball) .
Freeman said it was his favorite commercial, in part because of the response.
“The whole Russian government protested,” he told the Wall Street Journal in 2003. “How many reactions can you get more than that?”
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Clifford Lee Freeman was born February 14, 1941 in Vicksburg, Mississippi, near Jackson, and moved with his family to St. Petersburg, Florida, when he was 6 years old. His father, James, and mother, Lillian (Pennebaker) Freeman, owned a dairy business and motels.
After graduating with a BA in Advertising from Florida State University in 1963, Freeman joined Liller Neal Battle & Amp; Lindsey, an Atlanta agency. He moved to McCann Erickson in 1968 and two years later to Dancer Fitzgerald, where he worked for 17 years.
Pizza chain Little Caesars was one of the first accounts Freeman won after setting up her own agency, and remained a key customer for 11 years as she battled for market share against competitors. such as Pizza Hut and Domino’s.
“Well, you know, pizza is a fun product,” Freeman told Luerzer’s Archive, a trade magazine, in an interview in 1998. “Everyone sits down and eats pizza together, so you have to having fun when you advertise it. You certainly can’t take it seriously. “
An advertisement designed by Freeman emphasized the extensibility of pizza cheese, for a burlesque effect (a baby rides wild in his high chair around the house while holding on to a slice). In another, a clumsy employee of an unnamed rival chain tries to impress a customer by contorting an origami-style pizza box in the shape of a pterodactyl (highlighting his offer of a pizza and a box, per compared to the two of Little Caesars’ pizzas at a low price).
These ads helped increase Little Caesars sales by 138% from 1988 to 1993. Nonetheless, after sales stabilized and Little Caesars considered switching advertising agencies, Freeman terminated the association. of his company with the chain in 1998.
Over the years, Freeman’s agency has won numerous Clio Awards for its advertising excellence. He won the award for commercials created for clients such as Little Caesars, Philips and Outpost.com, and for a series of commercials for Fox Sports’ NHL coverage that showed how basketball, bowling , billiards and golf would be better if played more physically, like hockey.
Fox Sports marketing manager Neal Tiles told the New York Times in 1998 that he chose Freeman’s agency because it took “strategic creative risks” on so many campaigns.
But Cliff Freeman & Amp; The partners only lasted 11 more years. Amid a recession, management turmoil and customer departures, it closed in 2009.
Besides his wife, Freeman is survived by his son, Scott; his sister, Chase McEwen; and his brother Hunter. Her marriage to Ann Angell ended in divorce.
Freeman was well aware that markets such as fast food were hyper-competitive, but he tried not to take his job too seriously; success, he argued, often required a touch of humor.
“I think when you slam the competition people have a hard time accepting unless you do it in a really fun way,” he told Luerzer’s Archive. “Then they are able to accept it.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.