Chris Lytle, Guest Author
An ice storm hit Madison, Wisconsin in March of 1976. It was a doozy, a disaster, crippling much of the city. It was also the best thing that could have happened to a young radio advertising salesperson. The rain, changing to freezing rain, began on a Wednesday evening, and continued for 3 full days. Power lines snapped. Trees were broken in two. Log-sized chunks of ice melted off the WKOW-TV tower and crashed through the roof. Three quarters of Madison was without power. Governor Patrick J. Lucey declared the city a disaster area. He called in National Guard troops to set up shelters in school gyms all over town.
Nonetheless, on Saturday morning, I got a call at home from George Reuhl, the new vice president of American TV and Furniture, a huge store, and big client. George also happened to be the brother-in-law of Crazy TV Lenny, whose radio commercials were famous, thanks to Lenny’s excited style.
“Chris, get over here. We’ve got to change the copy for our commercial,” he said.
“George, if you want to cancel, I can do that with a quick call to the station,” I reminded him.
“Cancel? What are you talking about?” George responded. “It’s Saturday morning. I’m in retail. I’m not going to close the store.”
“But, the governor declared the city a disaster area,” I said.
I jumped in my brand new Gremlin, and drove to American TV. It was 8:37 AM when I arrived. The store opened at 9:00. There wasn’t time to be creative. So I told the truth. On a yellow legal pad, I wrote the Ice Storm Sale commercial. It was on the air on WISM-AM by 9:15.
Had you been listening on a transistor radio, this is what you would have heard announcer Bob Abella saying:
“All the regularly scheduled American TV commercials have been cancelled to bring you this following special announcement. Now listen up. American TV is open. But . . .There are no lights. No heat. No power. Now, if you are willing to shop under these conditions, American is ready to offer discounts lower than the sale prices that were advertised. If you’re willing to buy a TV you can’t watch, a stereo you can’t even listen to, or a washer and dryer you can’t even see, then American is ready to deal. It’s a sale not even Crazy TV Lenny planned—American’s Ice Storm Sale. What you do is bring a flashlight, bring a candle, dress warmly – but shop now. This special pricing ends soon. It ends as soon as the lights, heat and power go back on. So take advantage of it. American TV’s Ice Storm Sale, on the West Beltline.”
At 4 o’clock that afternoon, George called to cancel the commercials. “Didn’t they work?” I asked.
“Work? Chris, we’ve had the biggest sales day in the store’s history. We’re staying open an extra hour to wait on everybody. No, I’m cancelling because the police called. Traffic is backed up on the Beltline at our exit and they said, ‘Enough.’”
Fortunately, the ice melted in due time, and the power was restored.
My belief in the idea that truth is better than creativity has never waned.
~ Chris Lytle
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