Eaton Jones

“Who’s Eaton Jones?” my Grandma Jenny asked as she looked me up and down.  I sat down at her kitchen table and told her I had no idea.  “Well you outta know.  You got his name on your tee shirt.”

I realized that I was wearing a vintage iron-on Elton John tee shirt.  It was the mid-1970’s, so actually it wasn’t vintage at the time.  It was brand new.  On my shirt was the cover art from Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Elton was standing at his piano.  The type clearly read Elton John.

“Eaton Jones?”  I responded with the level of disgust that only a know-it-all 14-year-old could.  “My shirt says Elton John.  How could you not know Elton John, Grandma Jenny?  He’s the biggest rock star on the planet.  “Island Girl” is the number one song in the country right now.”

"I thought Kenny Rogers and Dolly Pardon sang that."

"That's "Islands in the stream."

“Oh, right, well, I've never heard of Eaton,” Grandma Jenny said as she continued making breakfast.

"It's Elton.  Elton John."   

I couldn’t believe that my Grandma didn’t know who Elton John was.  God, I couldn’t wait ‘til I was old enough to drive so I wouldn’t have to hang out with these people who only listened to country music.

Last week as I was driving home from work, "Island Girl" came on the radio.  I thought about Grandma Jenny.  And then I sang along at the top of my lungs:

Island girl, what you wanna with your wife Dan’s world

Island girl, like I want you in this island world.

I want to take you from the Record Bar,

He wants to stake you but the call is lost

Island girl, island girl, island girl

Tell me what you want and witchy why mans whirl.

As I drove through the Charlotte evening, I thought to myself that those were some pretty weird lyrics.  When I got home I decided to Google them.  Here’s what I found:

Island girl, what are you wantin’ with the white man’s world?

Island girl, black boy wants you in his island world.

He wants to take you from the racket boss

He wants to save you but the cause is lost

Island girl, island girl, island girl

Tell me what you’re wanting with the white man’s world?

Wow, I’ll bet Grandma Jenny is smiling down from heaven right now, saying “I might not have known who Elton John was, but that little shitass has been singing his song wrong for 35 years.”

Penny Memory

I was introduced to a very cool ice-breaker Monday night at the Charlotte Catholic High School Foundation Board meeting.  Our board’s president, Renee Spero, placed a penny at each seat at the table.  Since it was the first board meeting of the school year, she asked each of us to introduce ourselves, tell what business we were in and how we were connected to the Catholic School system.  Then she asked us to pick up the penny, take a look at the year and share something about that year with the other board members.

The year on my penny was 1979.  What do I remember most about 1979?  I had to think of something quickly because Rene started with Catholic’s Principal Jerry Healy, who was sitting next to me.      

Was it my first foray into entrepreneurship, selling Playboy and Penthouse magazines that I had stolen from Ken’s Quickie Mart to my fellow students?  Maybe, but the idea was to break the ice, not get kicked off the board.  Was it when my sister Lisa smacked me across the face so hard in a Howard Johnson’s in Times Square that I fell out of the booth?  I was making fun of her for dying her hair.  It’s a long story.  Too long for the board meeting. 

Jerry finished his memory of 1987.  I can’t remember what it was because I was so busy racking my brain trying to think of an appropriate memory that I didn’t hear a word of his until he said, “Let’s go to my left.  I always love to hear from Oakley.”  Great.  Thanks Jerry.  I don’t know what it is about high school authorities, but they never seem to cut me a break. 

I told the group my name and that I was married to a wonderful woman named Claire and that we have two kids that went through the Catholic School System.  Sydney, who is now a sophomore at UNC and Lucas who is a junior at Catholic.

I said the year on my penny is 1979.  In 1979, I was on the high school football team.  That fall, my girlfriend, Nancy Pitts, gave me two tickets to a concert for my birthday.  That was great, but the concert was on a weeknight and I had football practice every day after school.  If I wanted to go to the concert, I would have to leave practice early.  And that meant that I’d have to ask Coach Hawkins.  Coach Hawkins was our football coach and football coaches don’t have much sympathy for players who want to leave practice early to go to a concert with their girlfriend. 

At the beginning of practice at 3:30 on the day of the show, I told Coach Hawkins about my dilemma.  Coach Hawkins agreed to let me leave at 5:00 on two conditions:  One, I had to gather the team and tell them why I was leaving practice.  And as soon as I told them I had to start running laps around the field.  I was not to stop until 5:00. 

I agreed to do it for one reason:  Nancy Pitts was hot.  Smoking hot. 

The hour and 15 minutes of running in full pads was easy.  Telling the entire football team that I was going to see the BeeGees was not.

And that’s my memory of 1979.

Once I had told my story, I was able to sit back, relax and listen.  I heard some colorful stories about my fellow board members.  The 1982 Van Halen groupie.  The Deadhead summer of 1974.  The 1989 first trip to Paris.  

Thanks for introducing me to the Penny Memory, Renee.  I think I’ll use it at our next new business meeting.

Does Great Creative Sell Itself?

The answer is no. 

Landfills are filled with Foamcore storyboards and hard drives are chockablock full of great ideas that never saw the light of day.  No matter how awesome your work is, you’ve got to be able sell it.  Or else it will quickly be trashed.

I was talking about this the other day with my good friend Rene Hodges.  Rene brought up the story of how a talented young designer named Brandon Scharr sold her on the Charlotte Ad Club logo design.  It was one of the best and most unorthodox sales jobs ever. 

Rene said to me, “Remember years ago when I came to the agency to get you guys to design a new logo and identity package for the Charlotte Ad Club?”  I chuckled and said yes. 

“We sat down with Brandon Scharr and I briefed y’all on what I was looking for in this new identity,” Rene continued.  “We need something that’s gonna get the art directors, copywriters and designers to show up for our events.  We can get the account executives and the media folks to show up.  To get them, all we have to do is say we’re gonna open a bottle of wine.  But I want the hot, young, creative people to come to our parties.”

She said Brandon listened to her and then said, “OK, well, give me a couple of weeks and I’ll have some designs for you.”

She came back a couple of weeks later to the agency and Brandon was in the conference room with his feet up on the table, wearing combat boots.  She said to him, “Didn’t your mama raise you to know better than to put your feet on the table?”

“Yes,” he said, “but she’s not here right now.”

Then Brandon showed Rene about a dozen different logo designs.  She looked them over carefully and then Brandon asked, “Well, which one do you like?  She pointed at a couple of them and said she liked this one and that one. 

“You like those?”  Brandon said. 

“Yes, I do.” 

“Hmmm…” he replied. 

“Well, Brandon, which one do you like?” 

Brandon pointed to another one and said, “This one.  Without a doubt, this one is the best.” 

And Rene said, “Well, I really like these two over here better.  And if you combine the top part of this one with the bottom of this other one…” 

“Wait a minute, Rene,” Brandon interrupted.  “Please don’t come in here and tell me what you want and then tell me how to do it.  Do you go to Ruth’s Chris and order a bone-in-filet mignon and then go to the kitchen and tell them how to cook it?  I don’t think so.”

Brandon continued, “You said you wanted something for hot, young, creative people.”

Rene nodded yes.

“Well, Rene, you’re not hot.  You're not young.  And you’re NOT creative.”

Then he pointed at the logo he liked and said, “This is the logo we’re going to do.”

Rene said she stared at him for a moment and then busted out laughing.  “I guess I’m not the target audience.  But you’re one hell of a salesman.  Looks like we got ourselves a logo.”

There are many different ways to sell your work.  Insulting a client is not always the best approach.  And I certainly wouldn’t recommend it.  But Brandon accomplished exactly what he set out to do:  He created great work.  And then he sold it.

The Freedom to Sunbathe.

As I was hanging out on Seabrook Island Beach in South Carolina this glorious Memorial Day Weekend, I thought about a conversation that I had three years ago on the coast of France.

We were on Omaha Beach in Normandy.  It’s the beach where Allied Forces came ashore under heavy resistance from German machine gunners on D-Day in 1944.  It’s a sacred place where thousands of brave men laid down their lives in an effort to free Europe and the world from a maniacal dictator. 

On that afternoon three years ago, I was appalled to see people sunbathing, throwing Frisbees, drinking beer and wine, having picnics, laughing and generally having a good time on this beach.  How can they be doing this on such hallowed ground?  Isn’t this disrespectful to the memories of the men who gave their lives on this very sand?  Shouldn’t Omaha Beach be a memorial?  Shouldn’t it be a natural museum? 

I asked all these questions of a veteran of WWII who was our tour guide that day.  His answer shocked me.

He said the men who made it though Omaha Beach were asked the same questions.  He said the reason that they took the beach and liberated France was simple:  So people could live in freedom.  Before D-Day, Omaha Beach was just a beach where families got together and sunbathed and enjoyed themselves.  They said that to truly honor the men who died there was not to make it into a memorial.  To honor them, the beach should be what it was before they got there:  A place where families gathered with friends to have a good time.


As I sit on the beach in South Carolina today having a wonderful time with family and friends, I’d like to thank those brave men who liberated Europe 69 years ago, and tip my hat to the brave men and women who defend our freedom today.  

Happy Memorial Day. 

What a difference a logo makes.

I visited South Park Mall yesterday to buy a collared shirt.  I went straight to the men’s department at Belk and found a nice black Polo shirt.  Well, it was nice until I saw the price:  $95 dollars. 

I thought that was kind of pricey, so I decided to look for some other options.  I found a black shirt that looked exactly like the Polo shirt.  The only difference was it didn’t have a Polo logo on it.  Oh wait, there was another difference:  The plain black shirt was only $20 dollars.

It’s the power of branding.  People are happy to pay extra for name brand logos on their clothes.  In this case, a little red man riding a little red horse adds $75 to the price of a plain cotton shirt.

None of this is really new news.  So why am I writing about it?  Because last night I wore my logo-less black shirt to a neighborhood pool party.  There I saw quite a few guys wearing Polo shirts.  But one stood out so much I had to take a picture.

This Polo shirt must have had over 100 stitched Polo logos on it.  It was like nothing I had ever seen.  Claire declared that it must be part of “The Herd” collection.  This made me laugh.  Hard. 

Then I thought to myself.  I wonder how much this guy paid for his shirt.  So I did a little calculation in my head.  100 Polo logos at $75 each.  That's $7500.  Plus $20 for the shirt.  $7520. 

That dude was wearing the world’s most expensive shirt. 

Want to be a copywriter? Learn to spell.

I found something special in our attic tonight:  An old spiral-bound UNC notebook.  It instantly took me back to a time when I was obsessed with getting my first job as an advertising copywriter. 

Inside were two dozen white-out dotted letters that I had typed on my Smith-Corona.  I had painstakingly pecked each one out a quarter century ago, to creative directors at the best agencies in the country:  Young & Rubicam, The Martin Agency, Lawler Ballard, Ford & Westbrook, Fallon McElligott, Ogilvy & Mather, Phillips-Ramsey, Leo Burnett and even Chiat/Day.

Reading them for the first time in a quarter century, I was particularly impressed by my poignant letter to Lee Clow. 

That is, until I noticed how I spelled his name.  

Well, at least now I know why he never wrote back.

Hail Caesar!

Every March, a few buddies and I make the pilgrimage to Las Vegas for March Madness.  My friends and I call it March Badness.  It’s a four-day orgy of beer, basketball and blackjack.  We always come back with a lot of stories.  Normally, I stick to the “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” rule, but I think it’s OK to share this one.   

When we arrived at our hotel, Kurt Kitterman, gave each of the guys a special good luck charm.  It was a one-inch-tall Julius Caesar Lego toy.  Kurt instructed us to put Caesar in front of us on the blackjack table and it would surely bode well for us.  This was genius.  Why?  Because we were staying at Caesar’s Palace and how could you not win with Caesar on your side?

By 2:00 am on the third day, I’d kind of forgotten about mini Caesar. 

I was playing blackjack at Caesar’s, and I was kind of treading water, which means that I was winning a hand, then losing a hand, then winning, then losing.  Not making any dough.  But not really losing either.  Just drinking beer and laughing with Kurt and an attorney from Chicago, who was sharing a table with us and betting like he was representing Al Capone. 

Suddenly, I had a moment of clarity and realized something was missing:  Caesar.  I asked Kurt where his Caesar was and he said he left his in his room.  I reached into my front pocket and dug around for a minute.  Buried deep under two $1 Flamingo chips, a Bally’s chip, four Corona caps and a worthless NC State -4 betting ticket, I found my little plastic Roman Emperor.    

I pulled him out and placed him right beside my then dwindling stack of chips.  The dealer laughed and asked where I got it.  She’d never seen a Lego Caesar.  I told her that it was Kurt’s idea.  She dealt another hand.  I had a 14 and dealer was showing a 6.  Everyone at the table stayed.  Before she dealt herself another card, I bowed to mini Caesar and loudly chanted, “Hail Caesar!”  She dealt herself a King and busted.  Everyone at the table cheered.

The table had turned.  Now each time before the dealer dealt, I bowed to mini Caesar and chanted “Hail Caesar!” The dealer proceeded to bust 6 hands in a row.  We were on a roll. 

The attorney from Chicago was enjoying it as well.  He looked at me and said, “I want Caesar.”   I looked over at him, and he repeated, “I want Caesar.”  “What do you mean you want Caesar?” I said back to him. 

He looked straight at me and said, “I’ll give you $100 for Caesar.”  In an instant, I slapped the felt Shania Twain table, pointed at him and yelled, “Sold!  To the lawyer from Chicago for $100.”  He reached into his stack and tossed me a black $100 Caesar’s chip.  I slide Caesar across the table. 

Kurt gave me a look that said how could you possibly sell the gift I gave you?  Hey, it was $100.  And it was my biggest win of the night.    

I felt great about it until the attorney said, “I would have given you $200.” 

That is one of the 10,000 reasons I love Las Vegas. 

Hail Caesar!  

Want To Sell Your Domain?

How much is my domain name worth?  I never really thought about it until today.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  I thought about it 3 years ago when I purchased 

I’m almost embarrassed to say, but I paid a lot for it.  Ego will make you do some crazy things.  But I guess it’s not that crazy because I was starting a blog and since my name was, and still is David Oakley, I wanted David Oakley to be the URL.

URL is such a strange name.  Isn’t that the noise that you say to the toilet after you drink eight tequila shots?  I promise I wasn’t drinking when I forked over $190 to buy  Yes, I paid $190 for my URL. 

I guess I was kind of flattered that someone was squatting on my name.  It made me feel kind of important.  Hey, how cool is this, I said to myself, I’m a semi-famous ad guy, at least here in Charlotte, so $190 for a website of this stature is a steal.  I paid through paypal and voila, I was the proud owner of

OK, I just looked up on Go Daddy and that URL is at auction for $10,000.  Wow.  Now I really feel like I got a bargain.  I own and that’s my name.  It’s really my name. 

Which brings me to why I’m even writing this drivel in the first place.  I got an e-mail yesterday that said in the subject line, “Want to sell your domain?”  I opened it and all it said was “Want to sell me” 

Wow.  There’s another David Oakley out there who also thinks a lot of himself.  Cool.  So what did I do?  Did I immediately write him back?  Of course not.  I immediately went to Go Daddy and purchased  Got that one for $28.34.  Oh yeah, score!  I figured that when I sold to this other David Oakley, I would just switch my blog to  Smart, eh?

Then I replied to the other David Oakley and said, “Make me an offer.”

Since you’re still reading my blog on, you can surmise that the other David Oakley hasn’t written me back. 

If on the slight chance that I do get a reply, how much do you think I should charge him for the site?   


I'm a Client

I’ve been to lots of focus groups over the years and have heard and seen some strange things.  But what happened Wednesday night was the strangest of all.

We were in Greenville, SC with one of our clients and we had just seen a group of women talk about their products for an hour and a half.  We took a break before a group of men was scheduled to come in.

I walked outside to give my wife Claire a quick call.  About 10 minutes later, I walked back into the facility, past a group of men waiting in the lobby.  Outside the door to the room with the two-way mirror was a table filled with food for the folks observing the groups.  I stopped at the table, and looked over the spread.

A guy in his late 50’s walked up to me and said,  “What are you doing?” I thought he said, “How are you doing,” so I replied, “Good, I’m just going to grab a little food before I go in.”

“The food is for clients,” he quickly said.

“Awesome,” I responded and I grabbed a plate and lifted the aluminum foil from the top of a tray full of lasagna.

“The food is for clients,” he said again. 

“OK,” I said as I looked at him and picked up a serving spoon and started to get some lasagna.  Suddenly, the guy grabbed me around the waist from behind and started forcefully pulling me away from the table. 

“Hey, wait… I’m… I’m… I’m a client.” 

“You’re a client?”  He let go of my waist and looked at me in disbelief.  “Who are you with?”

In that moment, I was so stunned that he had grabbed me that I couldn’t even come up with the name of the client that was doing the focus groups.

“Ah… I’m with the agency.”

Luckily, that answer worked. 

“Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry.  I thought you were one of the guys here for the groups,” and he pointed to the guys in the lobby.  They were mostly blue-collar guys who had come straight from their jobs to the focus group.

It was really awkward for a moment and I just said, “No problem…  I guess you don’t feed the participants.”  I laughed it off and then he laughed nervously.  I walked back to the table, filled my plate with food, and went back to my seat in the dark room behind the two-way mirror. 

I looked down at what I was wearing.  Jeans, sneakers, a fleece top and a baseball cap.  As I giggled to myself about the incident, I knew that for once I would leave a focus group with some invaluable learning:  If you are going to be a client, you have to dress like one.

A Newspaper Ad Goes Viral.

Even if you don’t read the newspaper, you’ve probably seen it.  Ryan Kalil, the all-pro lineman from the Carolina Panthers, purchased a full-page ad in the Charlotte Observer today proclaiming that the Carolina Panthers will win Super Bowl.  It’s a bold statement.

As a Panthers fan, I love it.  I love that Ryan has confidence in his teammates and is willing to speak publically about it.  It’s almost Joe Namathesque.  It makes me want to buy season tickets.  It makes Ryan my favorite Panther.

As an advertising guy, I love it too.  I haven’t seen a print ad in the Charlotte Observer that has captured my attention like this in a long time.  But what’s even better is that it’s all over the internet.  It’s trending on twitter.  It’s on facebook.  They’re talking about it on ESPN and on sports radio.  It has gone viral:  A newspaper ad!  

Last week I attended the Hyper Island master class in New York.  It’s an intensive three-day workshop designed to help marketing professionals learn more about the massive change that’s happening in our world.  One of the major lessons of the program was delivered by one of the moderators, Tim Leake.  ( @tim_leake on twitter ) He said that ad agencies should not be about making ads anymore.  We should make social objects.  A social object is something that people share with their friends.

Ryan Kalil created much more than a newspaper ad.  He created a social object.  It just happened to be a newspaper ad.

And by the way, I agree with Ryan's prognostication. Go Panthers.