HPU’s Allan Beaver on Warhol, ‘Mad Men’ and the Golden Age of Advertising

Allan Beaver 1

Chances are you’ve seen an advertisement or a piece of artwork created by Beaver whether you’ve realized it or not. Before mentoring graphic design students at HPU, he developed the kind of career in advertising and design that is reminiscent to “Mad Men,” though he’ll tell you that the show only gets part of the period right. He worked in lower Manhattan for major advertising firms and created campaigns that introduced many household name items including Subaru, Matchbox Toy Cars and even color underwear for Jockey. He collaborated with renowned artists such as Andy Warhol, eventually became a partner at a major advertising firm and earned the title of “Top 100 Creative People in the United States.” Today, he shares those experiences and his unique design skills with art and graphic design majors.

Explain the evolution of your career and how you became known as one of the Top 100 Creative People in the United States?
My early work as a junior art director was in small but creative advertising agencies. It was there that I met and worked with Andy Warhol who did shoe illustrations for our client I.Miller. My next career move was to join CBS Network as a senior designer working under the legendary designer Lou Dorfsman. He was very influential in my design career, which led back to advertising and a position as senior art director at an agency that produced some of the best creative works of the time, including award-winning work on Talon Zippers and Yardley Fragrances in both print and TV. As my creative awards were recognized, I formed my own agency, Levine, Huntley, Schmidt and Beaver in NYC. The Huntley was Chet Huntley, the celebrated NBC newscaster. Over the course of 20 years, the agency won many creative awards, was named Agency of the Year by Adweek Magazine and was recognized as one of the best creative agencies of its time. In 1987, the agency was bought by a large advertising network, Grey Advertising, and we remained in their network as an autonomous agency until 1994.

In 1995 I founded Creative Consultancy, Beaver Reitzfield. In 1997 I was inducted into The New York Art Directors Club Hall Of Fame. I was honored to be among some of the most distinguished names in the creative universe.

How has your background in operating an agency impacted how you work with students?
The agency business is a “people business.” Running an agency of 200 people requires a sensitivity to and respect for each person – particularly working with creative people who are committed to their work. We were running a business but thought of our employees as family, yet still never lost sight of our mission: to produce great creative work for our clients that was effective in the marketplace. I bring the same respect to my students and their creative efforts and expect them to make the commitment to produce their very best work.

What is one of the most memorable or rewarding campaigns you worked on?
Actually there are three campaigns that stand out:

  1. Subaru became our largest account. We basically introduced the car into the U.S. market with a campaign strategy that stressed its economy and four wheel drive capability (unique at the time). Subaru allowed us to create award-winning work.
  2. Matchbox Toy Cars won many creative awards as we shifted the advertising toward parents rather than kids. Who buys the toys anyway?
  3. Jockey Underwear asked us to introduce the industry’s first line of color underwear. We produced television commercials with the famous Yankee baseball icon Yogi Berra and his three sons. They argued over the benefits of white versus color. Yogi was great to work with and the TV spot received several advertising awards.

AMC’s “Mad Men” series, now in its sixth season, has brought to life the high-pressure world of advertising during the industry’s “Golden Age.” Do they get it right?
I’d say they get about 25 percent of it right. Sure, there were 3-hour martini lunches for some, but the series pushes the script for entertainment effect. The reality of the series is presented in the pressure and competitive nature of the advertising business. The “Golden Age” for me began in the ‘60s with the creative revolution introduced by the agency Doyle Dane Bernbach. At that time they made a commitment to the creative product, not the martini lunch.

What is your advice to those aspiring to be creative leaders of the world?
A creative leader needs to develop a unique perspective and vision within the global community where we live. This is only achieved with a strong commitment to one’s art, hard work and an unyielding devotion to great work.

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