and euphemisms that normally surround feminine-hygiene
advertising. When Angela Bryant, the head of marketing for
Summer’s Eve, arrived at The Richards Group to hear the pitch,
she walked into the lobby to find all 650 employees assembled
along the stairwells surrounding the agency’s central atrium and
copywriter Matt Bull standing front and center, ready to recite a
humorous poem he had written in tribute to the word douche.
“We can take this word back, so that it means: one with great
freshness,” Bull declaimed. “Abraham Lincoln...now, he was a
great douche. Mahatma Gandhi? Douche. Stan Richards? Truly,
there is a douche among douches.” Richards laughed heartily.
As Johnson and her team got to work, Richards
took a back seat. At the end of the process, the
team presented the client a treatment for the
“Hail to the V” commercial. It resembled an
old-school Hollywood epic, like The Ten
Commandments or Ben-Hur. The campaign
also featured a pair of websites on which a cat
puppet complains about all the slang words
for vagina and argues that the phrase that’s
vaginal should be a compliment. In another
video, the product was touted by a talking
hand puppet meant to resemble a vagina.
Bryant loved it. “We wanted to shake things
up,” she says. In focus groups for the campaign,
much from its Mad Men roots,” wrote one typically scathing
blogger. “The Summer’s Eve campaign deserves to be labeled
with a few choice C-Words: Culturally Clueless Crap.” Others
decried the multicultural spots as rife with ethnic stereotypes.
“I hated the
rules. I bucked
every one of
’em I could,”
says a former
“But it was a
to go and learn
This 1994 campaign touted Continental Airlines as the
official airline of the second Woodstock music festival.
women responded with both shock and delight. When one
The campaign launched on July 17. “Hail to the V” ran as
group noted that the talking hand puppet was Caucasian,
Johnson and her team filmed two more versions aimed at
African Americans and Hispanics.
a trailer before the latest Harry Potter movie in hundreds of
movie theaters nationwide; the talking hands ran online. The
blogosphere’s rage flared almost immediately. Commentators
decried the talking hands as insensitive caricatures. “Sorry, but
‘Hail to the V’ shows that Madison Avenue has not evolved
Almost all of Richards’s life revolves around
the agency, and he enjoys being the patri-
arch. The weekend I visited, one of his sons
was in town to see his mother. But Richards
headed to his vacation home on South
Padre Island for a fishing trip with a few
members of his staff—which he does most
weekends during the summer. In the win-
ter, he brings small groups of employees to
his house in Park City, Utah, to ski. The
trips are meant to be fun, but of course, there are rules. Every-
body gets up at 7 a.m. for Richards’s oatmeal. They generally ski
as a group (newbies are permitted to take a lesson).
Over the years, those rules have sent plenty of folks running.
But for those who manage them, Richards’s outsize dedication
to his craft makes them worth tolerating. Creative people, in
advertising as in other fields, have a primary goal: to make
something great. To do that, it helps to have a leader who cares
even more deeply about making your work great than you do.
And with Richards, that’s what you get, says Bryan Jessee, the
former art director who showed up for work that day in the
1980s wearing the offending fish tie.
“I hated the rules. I bucked every one of ’em I could,” says
Jessee. “But it was a great place to go and learn the craft. He has
an expectation that everything should be great.”
Jessee runs his own agency now. He doesn’t mandate dress
codes or start times. But his time with The Richards Group has
left its mark. Jessee considers himself a perfectionist and
encourages similar dedication among his employees. He has
also adopted a profit-sharing plan similar to that of his former
employer. And it doesn’t end there. During our phone call, as
he recalls Richards’s fixation on things like blinds and cubicles,
Jessee stops himself: “I just realized I’m straightening chairs in
our conference room as I’m talking to you.”
Burt Helm is Inc.’s senior writer.
9 8 | INC. | NOVEMBER 2011