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Jack Smith joins advertising hall of fame

The advertising industry sings the praises of the King of the Jingle.

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Inspiration often strikes during Smith's walks with Orville. 

Jack Smith, BA ’62, was inducted into the American Advertising Federation’s Advertising Hall of Fame March 30, 2011, at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City.

Smith’s career in advertising includes stints as group president, deputy chief creative officer for Leo Burnett Company Inc. and Leo Burnett Worldwide. Smith is known as the King of the Jingle. His words and tunes include “Hallmark Has a Way,” “Feels So Good Comin’ Down” (7up), “Music to Your Mouth” (Nestle Crunch), “Look Out for the Bull” (Schlitz Malt Liquor), “You’re Not Just Flying, You’re Flying the Friendly Skies” (United Airlines) and “Slow Dance” (Heinz Ketchup). Smith wrote or co-wrote three Advertising Age Songs of the Year: United Airlines’ “Mother Country” (mid-1970s), “It’s a Good Time for the Great Taste of McDonald’s” (1985) and “This is Not Your Father’s Oldsmobile” (1988). 

He created memorable commercials, including “Camp Nippersink,” “Little Sister” and “Golden Time” for McDonald’s; “Mother Country” for United; and “Slow Dance” for Heinz. In all, he won three Cannes Festival Lions, more than 20 CLIOs and several ADDY, Mobius and Effie awards.

Upon retiring in 1994, Smith joined the School of Journalism faculty as an adjunct professor of advertising until 2007. He recruited representatives from major brands such as McDonald’s, Hallmark, Nokia, SBC and Dr Pepper to meet his students and critique their ideas for commercials. The students then wrote, shot and edited the commercials and presented them to the clients. In 2003, Nokia reproduced two of the commercials and aired them nationally for three months.

Smith’s contributions to MU include donating his writing, producing and directing talents for more than 50 corporate and athletic department commercials. In his work for the university’s recent $1 billion For All We Call Mizzou capital campaign, he developed the theme, composed a song and created a music video. 

“His song for the campaign is terrific,” says longtime friend Tom Schultz, BJ ’56, director of external relations for regional programs in the MU Office of Development. "The chorus — ‘Although we leave Mizzou, Mizzou will never leave you,’ — is really Jack.”

In 1994, Smith received the Distinguished Alumni Award.

Poor eyesight forced Smith to retire from teaching, but he remains busy on behalf of Mizzou. Jack Smith Creative Services Inc. is the advertising agency of record for University of Missouri Health Care. He also creates commercials for MU, one of which featured Mad Men star Jon Hamm, and football commercials for the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. 

In honor of Smith’s induction into the hall of fame, we are posting MIZZOU magazine’s profile of Smith from the Spring 2006 issue. 

Jack Can Do

Story by Dawn Klingensmith    Photos by Rob Hill

Whether ad whiz-turned-teacher Jack Smith is scripting Tiger football commercials or writing jingles for fast food or soda companies, ideas and inspiration are just what the doctor ordered. And Smith, it seems, has a lifelong supply. 

What do you get when you add arms and legs to an oversized Dr Pepper can?

Your new best friend.

That an aluminum container could ever come across as cuddly might seem far-fetched, but adjunct instructor Jack Smith “got it” when two students in his Broadcast Advertising classed pitched him their idea for a Dr Pepper TV commercial starring a huge, huggable can. Brent Davidson, (now BJ ’05), and Nick Hoette (now BJ ’06, MBA ’08) wrote the script, selected the music, cast the actors, and shot and edited the 30-second commercial, titled “Make it a Dr Pepper Day.”

jack smith

A team of students in Smith's advertising class dreamed up the commercial concept "Make it a Dr Pepper Day," which featured a walking, talking can of soda. 

In it, a giant Dr Pepper can with arms, legs and a heart of gold accompanies a college student throughout his day. “It wakes up the kid in the morning, stops traffic so he can get a parking space, nudges him in class when he starts dozing off, and hands him a towel and a can of Dr Pepper after his workout,” says Smith, BA ’62.

The commercial closes with the can reading Curious George to the sleepy student and then switching off the bedside lamp.

Smith, the brains behind some of the most successful fast food, soda and airline commercials of the 1980s and 1990s, invited Dr Pepper representatives to campus at the start of the fall 2005 semester for a simulated client-agency meeting with students. In lieu of a final exam in December, students unveiled their commercials to Shaun Nichols, Dr Pepper’s director of advertising, for feedback.

Smith accurately predicted that the can commercial would be Nichols’ favorite.

“Dr Pepper as a constant companion — it was fabulous,” Nichols says. “I got it instantly.”

Too bad the creative process doesn’t mirror that commercial, with an ever-present muse standing in for the Dr Pepper can.

“You can’t just sit there and stare at a blank page or screen and say, ‘OK, idea, come to me,’ ” says Smith, a former deputy chief creative officer for the legendary Chicago-based ad firm Leo Burnett.

Judging by his career, though, you’d almost believe that Smith can summon ideas at will. 

Just look at his contributions to advertising and popular culture. Starting as a copywriter at Leo Burnett in 1971 and rising through the ranks until his 1994 retirement, Smith wrote such famous theme songs as “You’re Not Just Flying, You’re Flying the Friendly Skies” for United Airlines, “Feels So Good Comin’ Down” for 7UP and “It’s a Good Time for the Great Taste of McDonald’s.”

Like that companionable Dr Pepper can, inspiration trails Smith wherever he goes. These days, he gets a lot of thoughts while walking his dog.

“You have to leave little trapdoors open in your mind all the time for the ideas to come,” he says.

Gene Mandarino, who worked for Smith at Leo Burnett, says that on a few occasions they greased the trapdoor hinges with sake at their favorite sushi restaurant, where they also had their fill of raw fish dripping with tamari.

“We used to say a script was no good unless it had soy sauce on it,” Mandarino recalls with a laugh.

Some of the best ideas in advertising history emerged through trapdoors, Smith says. Case in point: The tagline “It’s a Good Time for the Great Taste of McDonald’s” came to one of Smith’s co-workers while on a bus on his way to work. Smith says the creative team had been “grunting and straining to come up with an idea” in one brainstorming session after another, right up to the brink of deadline. The co-worker’s last-minute flash of brilliance, along with mounting panic, turbo-charged Smith’s creative genius. He turned out the theme song in record time.

Smith’s presentation to McDonald’s was stunning in its simplicity: He slapped the lyrics onto the wall with some tape, wheeled in a Wurlitzer spinet and plunked a brandy snifter on top of it like a barroom piano man angling for tips. His payoff? A round of applause, a $20 tip and a thumbs up to move forward with the campaign.

The McDonald’s jingle won an Advertising Age Song of the Year award in 1985. Twenty years later, most Americans of a certain age can still remember the lyrics. Pop musician Sheryl Crow certainly can. More on that later.

Born in Iowa and reared in Illinois, Smith had rhythm before he could walk. His parents told him he’d wheel his walker over to their Philco radio and tap his hands in time with the music.

Smith, who majored in communication with an emphasis in radio and television, financed his MU education by playing drums with a band called the College Cats. “Our main competition was Ike and Tina Turner,” he says. The Turners traveled to Columbia for Friday night performances at the Paradise Club and Saturday night fraternity-house gigs.

Smith minored in music and journalism. After graduating in 1962, he directed live television for four years at a station in Wichita, Kan. One day, during a commercial break, he looked up at the ads on the monitors and was struck by their emotional intensity and artistry. The music sounded like professional recordings, not the tinny jingles of his youth.

Smith’s infatuation with ads prompted him to make a career change. He worked for three years at a St. Louis agency before joining Leo Burnett, where he forged his reputation as a song- and copy-writing whiz.

A Tiger football fanatic, Smith drove from Chicago to campus for every home game for years. When he retired, he decided to reduce the wear and tear on his car (not to mention himself) by moving back to Columbia, where he met his wife, Donna Riley, MS ’99.

Ideas and inspiration tagged along. Smith worked on improving his golf game for a while, but it wasn’t long before he had opened a one-man ad agency called Jack Smith Creative Services as an outlet for his artistic energy. His primary client was University of Missouri Health Care. Right away, too, Smith started donating his time and talent to promote MU’s football and basketball teams. And in the decade since, Smith has created more than 40 commercials for his alma mater and saved the university some $700,000 in production costs.

Smith also developed the tagline, composed the theme song and created promotional videos for the university’s For All We Call Mizzou fundraising campaign, which raised more than $1 billion.

Smith wrote the campaign song with Sheryl Crow in mind. He went so far as to buy her albums to make sure his melody was perfectly suited for her vocal range. With Crow, BS Ed ’84, returning to campus in 2003 to serve as Homecoming grand marshal, Smith figured he could persuade her to record the song. Then, the university could sell a slew of CDs and pocket the proceeds. No sweat. The art of persuasion — that’s his specialty. 

“That just goes to show how naive I was,” Smith says.

Crow’s singing voice is a valuable commodity, so deciding how and for whom it gets used and who stands to profit from it becomes a bit complicated.

“Her manager wouldn’t even let her sing the national anthem at Homecoming,” Smith says with a laugh. “So me and Francis Scott Key were in the same boat.”

As it turns out, though, Crow had already recorded a Jack Smith song. After her people had shot him down, Smith caught a 60 Minutes interview in which the singer recalled that her earnings from a TV commercial funded her 1986 move to Los Angeles, which led to her big break. That commercial was none other than Smith’s “It’s a Good Time for the Great Taste of McDonald’s.”

Whether he’s creating ads or reaching out to Crow, Smith invariably aims high. When he joined the advertising faculty in 1996, it never occurred to him that his students couldn’t be expected to turn out professional-quality ad campaigns. Former student Kim Tanner, BJ ’96, now an account manager at Leo Burnett, says they have an edge in the job market as a result.

“Sometimes it’s hard to get practical hands-on experience except through internships,” she says, “but Jack made sure we got it in the classroom.” Smith’s students leave the university with client-relations experience and a commercial to show at interviews.

Through his industry connections and the help of his son, a fellow ad man, Smith has lined up such corporate giants as Nokia and Dr Pepper to act as clients. He expects students to treat the experience not as role-playing but as the real deal. “I want them to feel sweat rolling down their backs and into their socks,” he says.

After all, you never know what might come of the experience. In 2003, two Nokia commercials based on four students’ projects aired on Fox, MTV and other networks.

The “Make It A Dr Pepper Day” presentation included a surprise guest appearance by the can — a fellow student dressed in white tights, white gloves and an inverted galvanized-metal trash receptacle with two coats of paint, stenciled lettering and armholes. Davidson and Hoette described for Nichols how use of the mascot could be extended beyond the ad. They envisioned “Dr Pepper Day” promotions featuring the giant can as a Good Samaritan, performing random acts of kindness like helping people carry groceries to their cars.

For the idea to be successful, though, they’d need to fix a flaw in the can costume. For aesthetic reasons, they didn’t cut out eyeholes, and it wouldn’t do to have the can take a tumble with an armload of groceries.

Nichols says Dr Pepper is looking at how, if at all, the company might be able to incorporate the can mascot into their marketing strategy. Meanwhile, Davidson and Hoette are content, more or less, with the Dr Pepper pajamas they earned for producing the winning campaign.

“They fit kind of funny,” Davidson says. “I think they’re for girls.” He hastened to add, “But getting such positive feedback from an advertising pro meant more to us than any prize. This will definitely help with my job search.”

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