• Polar Ice: Why you should never drink when meeting an advertising hero
Alcohol played an integral, but not excessive, part of agency life back in the ’80s and early ’90s. At least, it didn’t seem excessive to us. I imagine things have calmed down a lot since then, what with all the law suits and the whole societal disdain towards getting tipsy in the afternoon.
But I still fondly remember the sound of glass tinkling in the hallway outside my office at JWT as the president pushed a cart loaded with various bottles of hooch and mix, stopping at each door, and fixing whatever drink was requested. It wasn’t a frequent event, but it was a welcome one. And of course there were the liquid lunches at JWT South, a particular bar on Yonge Street that I won’t name because it wouldn’t be prudent — but it’s true that one of our female employees (I think she was in traffic) quit the company when she discovered that she could make more money as a dancer there.
And then there were the in-house parties. Halloween, of course. And Christmas. Valentine’s Day. St. Patrick’s Day. Flag Day. Tuesday.
And of course there were celebrations for landing an account.
Or losing one.
The point is, we drank, and we worked, and the one never interfered with the other.
I was always very good at holding my liquor. I could drink a fair amount, but always knew when to stop before I embarrassed myself.
But sometimes mistakes happened.
The worst, for me, occurred at a party held by a friend of mine who ran a public relations firm in the city. I no longer recall the reason for the party — if, indeed, there was one (perhaps it was Tuesday) — but the entire affair was attended by marketing and advertising people from numerous agencies.
There was also plenty of alcohol, including something I’d never run across before: Polar Ice.
Now Polar Ice is a particularly pure brand of vodka, and the custom at the time was to throw it in the freezer until it was literally ice-cold — but not frozen, of course, because of the alcohol content, which I believe was in the neighbourhood of 200%.
The nice thing about frozen vodka is that it doesn’t have the bite of regular vodka. It also takes a while to metabolise, which means you can drink several glasses before realising the effect it’s having.
In short, I got drunk.
Not bad on its own — there were a lot of intoxicated people there, and even drunk I can normally handle myself with at least a modicum of dignity. Which I did.
Oh sure, I performed a couple of magic tricks, but only by request, and those watching were suitably impressed. The fact that I didn’t screw up surely meant I was in control, if somewhat wobbly.
Now it’s important to understand that up to this point I had been behaving in an entirely acceptable fashion. I’d been having a discussion with a woman beside me on the couch about Thompson’s 25-year mark with the Pepsi account, and I could tell that I was being coherent because my wife was still smiling at me.
And then he walked in.
“He” was the man who had re-imaged the entire concept of the detergent commercial, for both laundry and dish. His spots featured people talking happily while doing the washing-up, and while the product was never spoken of, it was prominently displayed as part of the cheerful scene. One spot featured a little girl helping her mother bring in the laundry and getting excited as her teddy bear was taken down from the line.
I wanted to tell this man how much I respected the direction he’d taken with the new spots. I wanted to explain to him that, while ads which didn’t mention the product were normally ineffective, his use of visuals had overcome this objection beautifully. I wanted to tell him that he was an advertising genius.
Unfortunately, somewhere between standing up, and reaching for his hand, a whole bunch of Polar Ice which, until that moment, had been hiding somewhere in my metabolism biding its time, decided to strike. I discovered that my feet were suddenly completely To stay on my suddenly untrustworthy, and the only recourse I had for staying on my feet was to grab his jacket lapel while shaking his hand.
Remembering that there was something I’d wanted to say, I blurted out, “I looove the teddy bear!”
That was the extent of my verbal acuity. I stood for a moment longer, attempting to work out how much of what I’d meant to say had actually been said, while also trying to figure out why I seemed incapable of standing without support. Since the standing part was temporarily being taken care of by hanging onto this fortunately-placed jacket lapel, I opted to continue my discourse on advertising.
“I looove the teddy bear,” I said, vaguely aware that I’d already said something similar. Unable to think of how to progress from there when I had a sudden flash of insight, and said, “I looove the teddy bear.”
It was sad. And I never touched Polar Ice again, nor got that intoxicated.
Even worse — I never could remember his name.
But if by any chance he stumbles upon this blog and is reading this, I just want to tell him: “I loooove the teddy bear.”