“Selling Anne Frank” (Story)
Welcome to a brave new world of advertising.
Welcome to the future where brooding advertising agency head, Simon Ross, is having one of those days.
He’s of two minds about whether he should pitch for the Anne Frank account. His senior account planner is putting the pressure on. His senior team is all over the place. And his creative director is missing.
“Selling Anne Frank” is a revealing advertising story. It’s a look at where we’re all heading.
Can the philosophical Ross win the account from his former partner?
‘I sometimes wonder whether I come to praise advertising or bury it. I guess I’m still trying to find out.’ Stefano Boscutti
‘Appallingly amusing serving of speculative fiction. So funny it hurts.’ Linda Cantero
‘Fly through a media-saturated future that looks and feels a lot like now. Only more so.’ Bo Rossall
‘Manic, brilliant satire of Americapitalism in the not too distant future.’ Kerry Phillips
Rated PG-13 / ISBN 9780980712513 / 7,000 words / 21 minutes of sharp reading pleasure / Buy Amazon / Buy Barnes & Noble / Buy Smashwords
Prefer to read free online? Scroll on to read the full story.
‘The past went that-a-way. We look at the present through a rear view mirror. We march backwards into the future.’ Marshall McLuhan
SELLING ANNE FRANK
Copyright 2010 Stefano Boscutti
All Rights Reserved ISBN 9780980712513
Discover new stories, screenplays, novels and more by Stefano Boscutti at boscutti.com
Simon Gold gleams on the cover of “AdVogue” magazine.
GOLD STANDARD SNAGS POST NEW YORK TIMES, sings the headline.
I don’t even look at the pointers to other stories inside. Why bother.
The man of the moment in the agency of the moment wins the account of the moment. You never thought the “New York Post” and the “New York Times” would merge? “Post New York Times.” Stranger things have happened.
Simon and I had been partners for, what? Almost twenty years before it all imploded.
The day Nielsen filed for bankruptcy was the day everything changed. When seven of the world’s largest private equity firms can’t save you, you’re history. Agency networks collapsed like houses of cards. One tumbling down on top of the other. It was fun to watch if you were on the outside.
We should have seen it coming. It’s a question of mass, critical mass. What happens when you fulfill a market? When you reach maximum penetration? When you can’t find another customer with a penny of credit to their name?
Sure the signs were there. The big brands white labeling products, line extending to the point of no return, grass roots consumer movements.
The Nielsen crash was inevitable. You live by the numbers, you die by the numbers.
The agency I started with Simon was swept up along with everyone else. Just as well the government stepped in when they did. The Federal Emergency Advertising Act stemmed the flow. When Congress passed the Advertising Reform Bill, money started to flow back into the business.
New advertising agencies started to sprout everywhere. Suddenly creative directors were running the show. Creative directors like me became chief executive officers. Senior management became peppered with senior copywriters.
Established agencies regrouped along ethnic lines, like when all the old Jews from Ogilvy & Mather started Ogilvey.
Old creative agencies with any name value morphed into their next iteration. Droga27. Adlandia. Chiat Night. Johnson + Kennedy.
The English rolled into town like they owned the place. The Bill Evans Agency. All very dapper, and oh so terribly English. They built a Tudor village inside their offices with a little pub with a little menu and terrible food. The Man Who Sold The World won a terrific number of awards. Brand Butler (We Serve Our Clients) offered valets to clients.
You wouldn’t think clients would fall for a ploy like that. But they did.
Even the Russians got in on the act. Peskof & Co. kicked off a scandal when they were retained by the White House while they still had the Kremlin on their books.
New creative shops started to shake things up. Bring Me The Head Of Rupert Murdoch. Saatchi & Saatchi Are Dead. The Client’s Wrong.
Simon called his new agency The Gold Standard. I know, it’s trying a little too hard. But that’s Simon for you. He had a complete working bar with uniformed staff in the foyer. No one had to go anywhere for drinks.
Simon had his look down. The blue blazer, the tortoise-shell glasses, the askance. He’d been perfecting it all his life. Now it’s paying dividends.
Most of his people are cast from the College Green at Dartmouth, along Nassau Street in Princeton. He has become what he wished he had been in his younger days. He has become his own advertisement.
The Gold Standard was like his own private club. All dark timber and warm light and hushed secrets.
My new agency was more black and white. More me.
Me? I’m Simon Ross. The first half of what was Simon & Simon.
And this? This is my new corner office. We’re on the forty-first floor. Some days you see clouds slip past the windows.
No, it’s not the largest corner office you’ve ever seen. There’s not even an executive bathroom. I don’t really go for that sort of thing. I don’t think it’s good for morale.
It’s been three months now. I toyed with calling it Simon, except people wouldn’t know which Simon the name referred to. Simon Says was a possibility, but it doesn’t say much for the team. Simon Ross and The Supremes was too sparkly.
I’m not a sparkly man. Look at my office. The only thing that shines is the wall of One Show awards. Row after row of polished awards. All shaped like the tip of a newly sharpened pencil.
Count them. There’s one hundred and thirty-seven of them. Every one of them platinum. Every one engraved with my name.
Probably the most famous is the America United campaign from when Simon and I were still together. It was to launch the merger of American Airlines and United Airlines. It was the first airline commercial not to show a plane. Guggenheim shot it, laid in the closing bars of the national anthem. You didn’t even need a slogan.
People cried. When was the last time you cried when watching an airline commercial?
Dignity in advertising. I always like that.
I like understated. Black Prada suit, white Prada shirt, striped Prada tie. Perfect fit straight off the rack. White hair swept back. Black Prada glasses. You can see I like Prada. It’s not for show, though. I have the labels and logos professionally removed.
Can you believe that in this day and age they still insist on labels and logos?
I see you’re looking at the letter on my desk. It’s a resignation letter from one of the creative teams. Yes, it’s on the new letterhead.
And yes, the new agency name is Heroine.
‘Can I come in?’
‘You already have, Jon.’
JON WENDELL is the senior account planner.
We no longer have account executives - they’re all planners now. Jon spent a year in Milan. Caramel suits, diamond blue shirts with French cuffs. Soft handmade loafers without socks, whatever the weather.
Jon can charm the clients out of the trees.
‘Time you started winning some new awards, don’t you think?’
‘Where would I put them, Jon?’
‘There’s a space just over there.’
Jon is all smiles.
‘Friedrich van Marxveldt from the Anne Frank-Fonds in Switzerland is in town for a day and wants to meet with us, meet with you.’
I smile back.
‘Now why would he want to meet with me?’
‘Because he’s looking for a new agency.’
‘But he’s Simon Gold’s client.’
‘He’s not happy. Why else would he want you to call him?’
‘Jon, I’m not going to call him. I don’t call clients. That’s your job.’
‘I’ve already written the report. This is perfect for us. Well-established base market ready to leverage. It’s already sold more than thirty million copies. In more than sixty languages.’
I don’t get a word in.
‘It’s a relaunch. Take it out of its historical demographic, make it accessible to more people.’
‘But the whole Jewish thing?’
‘Simon Wiesenthal said Anne Frank’s diary raised more awareness for the Jewish cause than anything. You going to argue with Simon Wiesenthal?’
‘I’m not going to argue with anyone, Jon.’
‘Eleanor Roosevelt said it’s the wisest and most moving commentary on war she ever read. John F. Kennedy said of all who have spoken for human dignity in times of great suffering and loss, no voice is more compelling. Soviet writer Ilya Ehrenburg said Anne Frank’s voice speaks for six million. It’s all in my report.’
‘Did you ever see the play?’
Jon shakes his head.
‘It won a Pulitzer Prize. I think the film version won an Academy Award.’
‘Why not a One Show?’
It’s a good story. A young Jew hiding from the Nazis in Holland becomes a universal symbol of hope. A red, white and beige plaid-covered autograph book given to her as a birthday present becomes the diary in which she will chronicle her life from 1942 to 1944. Through the darkest hours.
‘Simon, it’s a great product. Friedrich lands in about an hour. He’ll spend the afternoon with Gold. Then he wants to meet you. Then he’s flying out.’
‘I’m not doing a campaign in half a day.’
‘I don’t have my creative director.’
‘You’re kidding me, right?’
‘Have you seen Philip?’
‘You can do this with your eyes closed. It’s Nazis. Everyone despises Nazis. It practically writes itself.’
I pull out a fresh pencil from the clutch on my desk. Plantation-grown FSC-certified cedar, clean lead, never used. I hand it to Jon.
‘Be my guest.’
You know how they say anyone can be creative. It’s not true. It’s not even remotely true. The account supervisors, the account managers, the account executives, the account directors can’t do what we do. That’s why they hate us.
Jon is scratching something on the back of his business card.
‘That’s got to be the world’s smallest ad, Jon.’
He hands me the card.
‘It’s Friedrich’s number. Call him.’
I check my watch as Jon leaves.
I could ask Jacqueline Renwick what she thinks. She’s the other senior planner. But I know what she’ll say. She’ll warn me that it’s ridiculous to try and take the account off Gold. If we lose, we lose. If we win, he steals the creative team, and we lose. It’s a lose-lose situation.
‘Simon, got you something you’re going to want to see.’
‘Doesn’t anybody knock anymore.’
‘You had the door to your office removed, remember. Open door policy, you said. You want me to get maintenance to put it back.’
JOHNNY WAYLAND is the fixer. Every agency has one.
Johnny favors faded blue jeans topped with shirt and blazer. Casually formal. He’s older than all of us. He’s been around. He’s been up and down and everywhere in between. When he was a cokehead, no one would hire him.
We call him Johnny Armani so as not to confuse him with the other Jon.
He’s holding a thumb drive.
‘It’s a copy of their new campaign.’
‘How did you get that?’
‘Had to kill a man. Had to drown him in his own blood.’
He’s joking. He’s always joking. He’s the only man I know who wears Old Spice After Shave. He decants it into original bottles. Says the scent keeps him real. Keeps him down to earth.
Johnny Armani plugs the thumb drive into the wall, and the copyright notice flashes up and fades away to the new spot Simon Gold will present to the client later today. It’s one of Gold’s three-second specials. Nazi soldiers tearing through the hidden annex, one finds a worn notebook, starts reading, begins crying. Move to the cover to show it’s Anne Frank’s diary. Rise over the top as a tear rolls down face.
‘It’s not too bad.’
‘If you’re selling regret.’
‘It’ll win some awards.’
‘You can do better, Simon.’
Johnny takes out the thumb drive. The wall fades back to white.
‘Did you get me a ticket?’
Johnny reaches into his jacket pocket and pulls out a ticket to the Tutankhamun chariot exhibition at the Met. Hands it to me.
‘You’ve seen it every time. You don’t ever get bored?’
I shake my head.
My stepmother first took me to the Met. My real mother, I never really saw her. My father divorced her and remarried before I was three years old. My real mother left the country, went back to Israel.
‘You know the town car is getting Prousted.’
It was the latest fashion. Everyone was getting their town cars cork lined to insulate them from the blare of the city. (At sixty miles an hour, the loudest noise comes from your Blackberry. I know, who would have thought Blackberrys would still be around? Must be a hipster thing. Some people have their new phones retrofitted into older Blackberry shells.)
‘I’ll grab a cab. It won’t kill me.’
I walk past a giant black and white portrait of Amelia Earhart on the hallway wall. Floor to ceiling. With her aviator cap on, laughing at the camera, cigarette in hand.
Do you have any idea how difficult it was to find an original picture of her smoking a cigarette? Even those in the public record had been retouched.
Amazing to think I can still remember all the old Hollywood films with all the old stars smoking through pretty much every scene. When I view them now, it’s like something is missing. They’ve been digitally remastered with algorithms to remove the cigarette and smoke and close the gaping fingers.
Giant black and white portraits of other heroines line all the agency walls. There’s Golda Meir. Over there is Rosa Parks. Can you see Helen Gurley Brown? Emily Wilding Davison? Sherry Lansing?
Princess Diana is in the foyer. Everyone still loves Princess Diana.
I enter the Met through the 81st Street side entrance to avoid the tourists piling up on the front steps. I also miss seeing the three-story sponsorship banner that now engulfs the whole front of the building.
“BROUGHT TO YOU BY ACN.”
Even after all this time television still shouts at you. ACN was the inevitable merger of ABC, CBS, and NBC. Who said three networks couldn’t merge into one. Personally, I hate the peacock with the giant eye logo chirping the initials. But children seem to go for it.
They have the same wrap over MoMA, the Guggenheim, the Smithsonian, all the cultural institutes. The award-winning “The Evolution Will Be Televised” campaign. It looks nice but only really works at the Exxon Museum of Natural History.
They may as well rename the Met ACN.
Two hallways later, I’m walking through the Great Hall. Tourists and visitors and school children flock around the ancient statues carved from white stone. Hellenistic, Etruscan and Roman ghosts floating above the crowd.
The polished grey marble floor flows all the way to the Egyptian wing on the first and second floors.
Tutankhamun. The boy king entombed in the solid gold sarcophagus is a perennial favorite. The old gold is more to my former partner’s taste. I always come to see the chariot when it’s in town.
The security guard outside the Temple of Dendur scans my ticket.
‘I’m sorry, sir, this ticket is invalid. It has been registered under the Federal Cultural Foreclosure Act, and we suggest you seek legal counsel for a court date to be determined.’
Sometimes you wonder whether they’re just robots.
‘I suggest you scan it again.’
‘We suggest you seek legal counsel for a court date to be determined.’
A second guard approaches. All heavy riot gear and helmet.
‘We suggest you seek legal counsel for a court date to be determined. The Met thanks you for your visit.’
Both guards take out their truncheons.
‘The Met thanks you for your visit.’
I take out my phone and start dialing.
The second security guard rescans the ticket, and the light blinks green.
I always smile when I walk past the temple. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s how the glass on the ceiling and north wall is stippled to diffuse and mimic the soft light of Nubia. Maybe it’s how the reflecting pool in front represents the Nile.
Maybe it’s the thought of moving an entire temple halfway round the world to be housed in a museum.
I walk into the Al Jazeera Gallery, where Tutankhamun’s royal chariot sits on a black platform encased in glass. It was buried with him so he could travel through the afterlife. Simple, unadorned.
I spot the fresh bandage around my wrist.
No one at the agency had commented on it. I had my second antigen blood test for prostate cancer this morning.
I check the time on my watch.
Have you noticed how many men wear bracelets now? When did men stop wearing watches and start wearing bracelets?
My father died of prostate cancer. He was a living legend at Leo Burnett. Died three months into his reign as CEO.
As a child, I would sit on his knee at the breakfast table, rewriting the ads in the newspaper with a red pencil. He taught me never to lie.
It’s been hours since I had the test. Why do I have to still wait all day for the results? Surely it’s a simple positive or negative. A yes or no. Why do I have to wait for the senior urologist to call me?
‘A penny for your thoughts.’
I turn to see Philip Morris, our senior creative director, gazing at the chariot. Tousled hair, three-day growth and summer jacket over his grey marble tee shirt. Black tear drop glasses and a smirk.
‘Are you high?’
Philip loves his acid. Eats it like candy. Says it helps him see the bigger picture.
‘You know he had his penis severed before he was embalmed.’
Philip scratches the side of his head. The silver bracelets around his wrist clatter.
‘Probably my ex-girlfriend.’
Philip wears no underwear. Says things like that give him the creeps. He feels the same way about socks. Stays in shape with daily Qigong practice, increasing his breathing capacity. Says it keeps him calm.
‘Got a few ideas I want to show you for the Diary of Anne Frank pitch.’
‘Who says we’re pitching, Philip?’
‘Are you kidding me? This is a natural for us. Plus you get to stab Simon Gold in the back.’
‘Why would I want to stab Simon in the back?’
‘After everything he did to you, why wouldn’t you? Shit, everyone else in town wants to kill Simon Gold.’
‘I’m not sure revenge is the best motive for going after an account.’
Philip looks up at the ceiling.
‘Can you think of a better one?’
There’s always the awards. That’s the funny thing about ambition. It never leaves you.
‘I know what you’re thinking?’
‘You can read minds, Philip?’
‘Win the account, win some awards, win a pile of new business.’
Actually, it was exactly what I was thinking.
‘Simon, I’m getting a cab back to the office and starting the team working on it. You coming?’
And so we go our separate ways.
Outside in the street, the first thing that catches my eye is the giant video billboard exhorting you to read to your child. Can you believe they’re still running the Curious George campaign? You know, the one with the pencil and watercolor illustration of The Man with The Yellow Hat crouching on the floor, peering over George’s shoulder while George pores over a pile of books.
WHAT MAKES A CURIOUS READER? YOU DO.
The headline is not even a bad pun. The International Advertising Council and the Library of Congress have been running the campaign for years. Recently they added a subhead in case a monkey reading children’s books wasn’t completely clear to you.
READ TO YOUR CHILD TODAY AND INSPIRE A LIFELONG LOVE OF LEARNING.
A monkey. Of course RandomPearsonCollins is happy for the free advertising. But a monkey? Do they even have opposable thumbs? Can they even turn a page?
Maybe if I’d had children, I’d look at this another way. Then again maybe I’d think it was even more stupid than it is.
I’ve been married three times. I love getting married. It’s the divorce that kills me. Funny to think my partnership with Simon Gold outlived all my marriages.
My father was married three times. Maybe it’s genetics.
The man standing outside the Hermes menswear store seems fixated by the window display until he licks his forefinger and presses a hair into place over his ear.
I guess we’re all caught in our own reflections.
That’s what advertising does. It puts a price on a better reflection of ourselves. Right there for everyone to see. For everyone to admire.
Look around, and you’ll see everything is advertising.
It used to be that clients just wanted you to add some pizazz to a dull, lifeless product. That was easy to do. We anthropomorphized the product, we came up with catchy slogans.
The history of advertising is the enlivening of imagery. The first picture in a newspaper was for an advertisement for a daguerreotype photographer. Since then, every evolution in advertising and media has been to make the sound and image more and more lifelike. From mono to stereo to 5:1 sound. From coarse black and white to refined color to three dimensions. From drop shadows to mirrored foregrounds.
Our job was to give products life.
First we moved them, then they started to move us. We went from giving them a personality to giving them a soul, a reason for being. Don’t think for a moment this doesn’t take it out of you.
It went from giving a pint of blood to a pound of flesh. Now you have to give a piece of your soul.
The medium was always the message. Now the message has become the medium. Everyone believes in advertising.
Every surface turns into an advertisement in the blink of an eye. We are so caught in the reflection we don’t even question it anymore.
Advertising has become our salvation.
Look at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It’s been refurbished as a retail outlet for the latest jean brand. They changed the confessionals into change rooms. People used to pray there. Now they worship with their Credit Lynch cards.
Where can we turn when everything turns to advertising?
I take out Jon Wendell’s business card, turn it over and tap Friedrich’s number into my phone. Then add a short message, hoping he has time to meet me later this afternoon.
His confirmation is instantaneous.
It takes me less time to walk back to the office than to drive. Jon Wendell is the first person I see when I step out of the elevator into the foyer. He’s holding his report in his hand and smiling that smile.
‘Johann and Eddie already have a copy.’
‘What about Giovanna?’
Jon hands me the report, and I scan it as I walk to the conference room.
JOHANN BRANDT and EDDIE WHITE are already seated at the table.
Johann is underlining and snarling at words in the report.
He’s one of our senior creatives. Technically he’s a writer, but I’ve always moved away from labeling people. I find it doesn’t help. It’s better if our writers art direct and vice versa. It forces them to be more creative.
Johann’s thin beard compensates for his receding hairline. He dyes his hair but doesn’t want anyone to know. He smokes. A lot. When he’s not scratching out words, he’s holding his pen like a cigarette between his fingers, between his lips.
He likes to wear the brown scuffed airs of an English college professor struggling for tenure. His short stories have won the requisite awards. His collages have been shown at the obligatory galleries.
Eddie is sitting on his copy of the report. He always sits on any report. From the best market research in the world to consumer insights worth millions, as long as it’s got a plastic cover, he sits on it. He doesn’t like to dirty the seat of his white linen pants. He always wears white linen, top to toe. Two-dollar cane trilby hat pushed back on his head, and a six-thousand-dollar rose gold Raymond Weil watch on his wrist, lost amongst bands of leather bracelets.
Eddie is probably the better writer. You want creatives who know their way around words, who can twist words into new meaning. Who can create emotions with a sentence or two?
The walls in the conference room are kept permanently white. I don’t like to project anything on them. I like to keep them open to new ideas.
Some agencies like to work up ideas on their conference room walls.
It makes the ideas seem bigger than they are. Plus everybody feels they have to add to them. Which is good in theory, but ridiculous in practice. All that ever happens is that the most outgoing, the most egotistical, the most outlandish wins.
Despite Simon Gold’s success, I don’t think the better presenter always wins.
I like my teams to work with black markers and large sketchpads. Fifty-pound weight, acid-free, tape-bound. I like to draw out the ideas.
I take off my jacket, hang it over the back of a chair.
‘You should bring in that Alberto Burri painting you paid so much for. Add some color to the walls.’
Eddie always wants me to bring in art. I think it’s too distracting.
‘Did anyone see the photos of Anne Frank’s diary?’
‘The check cloth cover, the childish handwriting. You know it was an autograph book.’
‘Is there an idea there?’
‘In an autograph book becoming a diary?’
‘Maybe collect everyone’s signatures. All the people whose lives she affected.’
‘It was a present for her thirteenth birthday.’
‘Have you read it?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘It’s not an accusation, Johann.’
I start playing off some ideas in my mind. Truths about humanity vs. intimate account of adolescence vs. window into the soul of a young, eager, difficult, lovable girl vs. growth of an artist in a collapsing world vs. vivid, witty, candid, astute, dramatic, pathetic, terrible insights vs. tragedy of lost potential vs. everlasting flame of humanity vs. worn cliche vs. fresh juxtaposition vs. association vs. nuance.
I pick up my copy of the report as GIOVANNA RUSSO steps in.
Giovanna is the senior art director. She looks like a classic Italian film goddess of the fifties and sixties. A modern, sharpened Sophia Loren.
She favors sleeveless black dresses pinched at the waist, black hair usually pulled back with a pair of heavy black sunglasses. Why sleeveless black dresses? Because both her arms are emblazoned with tattoos.
There is a dark and a troubled side of life.
There is a bright and a sunny side of life.
Florid script in black ink punctuated with a perfect period. A psycho kitten peeks over her shoulder. Old Japanese style in deep blue, blood red, and cadmium orange.
Most art directors speak in pictures. If you want them to understand what you’re saying, you usually need to draw lines and circles on a piece of paper. Giovanna was different. She likes to read.
‘It humanizes the Holocaust, it’s a travesty. The book takes the attention away from Eastern Europe, where ninety percent of Jews were murdered. It ends with the Frank family still safe in hiding, so the reader is never confronted with the reality of their deaths.’
Philip ambles in and takes a seat. He doesn’t bother to take off his sunglasses.
Johann takes Giovanna’s side.
‘The whole family’s attitude led to their destruction. Instead of eulogizing about how they lived in their hiding place, why not look at what they failed to do?’
‘They could have hidden separately to reduce the chance of all being exposed.’
‘They could have constructed an escape route from the secret annex.’
‘They could have stood and fought, instead of walking into their death.’
Eddie leans forward.
‘I believe the promise is that all men are good at heart.’
‘If all men are good at heart then explain Auschwitz.’
‘On page two hundred and one, she says “there is in people an urge to destroy, an urge to kill, to murder and rage.”’
Philip is staring up at the ceiling.
‘“It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering, and death. I see the world slowly being transformed into a wilderness. I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too. I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more.”’
Philip flips open the large sketchpad, uncaps the marker and writes down one word.
‘“I haven’t abandoned all my ideals. They seem so absurd and impractical, yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”’
Philip tears out the page and more ideas are scrawled on the pad.
‘Victor Kugler would bring a copy of a movie magazine every week to Anne, who would cut out and collect photos of famous American movie stars. Paste them on the wall by her bed.’
‘At night and on weekends, Anne and the others would go to the office and listen to radio broadcasts from England.’
‘One night the police came to investigate a break-in. They rattled the wooden bookcase but did not see the hinges, did not see it covered a door to the secret annex.’
‘A steep, narrow staircase led to the third floor and the attic where Anne could see the Westerkerk church through a small window. Her bed was a sofa.’
‘A cupboard built into the wall was where Anne kept her favorite things, including a pair of red high-heeled shoes which Miep had bought for her second-hand.’
‘Someone betrayed the family. A sergeant from the German security forces and several Dutch officials raided the hiding place behind her father’s warehouse and spice grinding rooms.’
‘Anne and her sister, Margot, died in the concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen in early March 1945, just two weeks before the camp was liberated by British troops. Eleven years after fleeing from Nazi Germany to Amsterdam and two years before going into hiding, Anne Frank was killed, less than two months before Hitler’s regime was completely destroyed by advancing Allied armies.’
‘Died? How about perished?’
‘How about murdered.’
‘You know, when she started writing her diary, she didn’t want anyone to read it. She wrote several times that she would never allow anyone to read it.’
‘She called it Kitty.’
‘She started rewriting it when she heard on the radio that after the war there would be a collection of diaries and letters to chronicle events, to create a public record of oppression under German occupation.’
I pick up the marker pen, take the first sheet Philip tore out and add two words.
Hope lives on.
‘Is there any footage we can work with?’
‘The only known footage comes from a 1941 silent film of her newlywed next-door neighbors. You can see her leaning out of a second-floor window, craning to get a better view of the bride and groom. A fleeting glance.’
‘What about the image of her smiling, with her hair pinned back, young body in three-quarter profile, looking past the lens. Smiling, happy.’
‘Eye black like Kafka’s.’
‘I know that image.’
‘Everyone knows that image.’
‘It was taken in 1942.’
‘She’s wearing her favorite blouse, the one with the scallop collar.’
‘Smiling into the future.’
‘She said in her diary that’s how she wanted to look all the time. Then she might have a chance of getting into Hollywood.’
‘We could reconstruct the bookcase that covered the entrance to the secret annex. Go behind the books. Show the story behind the story.
‘Maybe retitle it “The Secret Annex”.’
And so it goes on for most of the afternoon. Ideas are scrawled down, added to, taken away from, thrown together in an attempt to find an illuminating concept. An insight that clarifies the problem with its own implicit solution. A question that turns on itself for the answer.
‘Is it Anne Frank or Ann Frank?’
‘Actually her full name is Anneliese.’
‘I think it’s spelled Annelies in Dutch.’
‘I read somewhere that she said writing in a diary was a really strange experience for someone like her. She’d never written anything before.’
‘Does anyone know her first line in the diary?’
‘She thought no one else would ever be interested in the musings of a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl.’
‘How do we make that relevant?’
‘How about doing it as a rite of passage?’
‘How do we get the diary in people’s hands?’
‘Here’s the first words she wrote on June 12, 1942. “I hope I will be able to confide everything to you, as I have never been able to confide in anyone, and I hope you will be a great source of comfort and support.”’
‘There’s at least a dozen photos of her at a desk or at a table, pencil in hand, writing in her notebooks.’
‘“Riches, prestige, everything can be lost. But the happiness in your own heart can only be dimmed. It will always be there, as long as you live, to make you happy again.”’
‘She liked to practice her ballet steps at night in the dark.’
‘When the building was empty.’
‘What if we take it from the Nazi point of view?’
‘Karl Josef Silberbauer was the Nazi officer who arrested the family. When he asked Anne Frank’s father how long they had been in hiding, her father told him the truth. Two years and one month.’
‘Silberbauer was incredulous until her father stood Anne against the marks made on the wall to measure her height since the family had moved into the annex. Silberbauer could see she had grown even since the last mark had been made.’
‘It was a warm summer’s day. Silberbauer could see the chestnut tree down in the garden.’
‘The tree is gone now.’
Giovanna draws a tree on the last sheet of paper.
Sure, it’s an idea. It’s just not a very good one. Actually, all the ideas we’ve been tossing around are half-baked, half-formed. Fine if you’re looking for an ordinary campaign.
But we’re looking for something better than that.
I look at the team. Philip is drawing a bird above the tree. Giovanna is rubbing her eyes. Eddie and Johann are about to start bickering. (I can always tell.)
‘Let’s take a break. Come back in fifteen minutes and throw around some fresh ideas.’
I know they’ll head out for coffees. I head down the hallway to the kitchen. I haven’t eaten all day.
How can we get Anne Frank’s story into everyone’s hand, everyone’s heart? How can we make everyone feel how she felt?
I flick on the light switch in the kitchen. Nothing. I try again. Either the fuse or the globes have blown. But even in the dark, I can see the black and white floor-to-ceiling portrait of Martha Stewart smiling in her cable knit sweater.
Advertising uses two levers to engage human emotion. Fear, and the promise of increased status.
These were the tenets on which my former partner built his life. Married into the Whitney family and everything that was old money. Nothing can taint old money. Not even the whiff of scandal. The family patriarch, Richard Whitney, had been the president of the New York Stock Exchange when he was found guilty of misappropriating funds from, among other places, the New York Yacht Club. Now Simon Gold has produced two sons to keep the bloodline going. He named them Washington and Jefferson.
People go to extremes to protect or better their status. Individuals, groups, even countries. The desire to increase status is behind our greatest achievements and greatest failings.
That’s how advertising works. Fan the fires of fear, pour on the promise of increased status. A better car, a better dress, a better smell.
A better you.
Just make sure you never quite deliver. People buy the promise, not the product. Always promise a little more in the advertising to keep people striving. So even when they buy, they’re not completely satisfied. Just enough to want something a little better. It’s a fine line. You have to keep it moving forward.
I open the top cupboard and take out a bottle of honey. Gideon Spring Siziphus Flower. Nine ounces, fluted amphora glass jar. No preservatives or added flavors. Produced at the Kibbutz Ein Harod Apiary sixty miles north of Tel Aviv. Kosher for Passover l’Mehadrin Chasam Sofer.
It tastes sweeter than the promised land.
I open the refrigerator to look for bread, but there’s nothing inside except bottles of water. I grab an apple from the counter instead and head back to my office.
I take a bite as I look out the window into the abyss of offices.
I was standing in the same spot last week when it happened. Looking at the exec from Omni McCann Thompson in the office directly across from mine. A river of traffic snarled below us.
He was standing at his desk, yelling into his phone. He slammed down the receiver and dropped his head in his hands. Then snatched up a silver Clio off a stack of papers on his desk, rushed to the window and started pounding it into the glass. It was one of those old Clios with the heavy black marble base.
I opened my mouth to yell.
Three blows and the glass shattered into the air. He leapt to his death with the silver Clio still in his hand.
I take off my tie and undo the top button of my shirt. It’s like I can breathe again.
I look at my watch.
It belonged to my father. It’s a gold Patek Philippe. You never actually own a Patek Phillipe. You only look after it for the next generation. (What happens when you don’t have children?)
The agency had engraved a message on the back. Handed it to him on the first day he became CEO.
I had the engraving scratched out. It would have been easier to replace the back, but I liked to be reminded of a life lost in the service of a corporation.
Late afternoon sun eases into the office, onto the wall of awards. I step over, pick one from the glass shelf and weigh it in my hand.
Anne Frank deserves more than just advertising. Regardless of how creative we make it.
We shouldn’t write her story.
We should let the story write itself. We should let people write their own story.
Forget the clever headline. Forget the smart juxtaposition. Forget the latest art direction.
I undo my shirt cuffs and roll up my sleeves, and somehow I don’t feel so old.
I rush down the hallway, feeling the air conditioning on my face. The Amelia Earhart portrait flickers on the wall.
In the bathroom, I throw cold water on my face. I look at my reflection. A text message startles my phone. Two words.
It’s the antigen test result from the urologist.
I look back at my reflection, and I’m smiling. It’s not even a smile of relief. This is what happiness looks like.
I uncoil the bandage around my wrist and drop it in the bin.
I walk back to my office. I pick up my father’s watch and strap it back on.
I dial Simon Gold’s number. His voicemail message cuts in after the second ring. I wait for the beep.
‘Simon, guess who. I wanted you to be the first to know you’re going to lose the Anne Frank account.’
I grab a clutch of cedar pencils off my desk and head to the conference room.
Johann, Eddie, and Giovanna are already there. So is Philip.
‘What are you smiling about?’
I hold out the pencils.
‘It’s not a double-page spread, it’s not a billboard, it’s not a spot. It’s better than that.’
I draw out one of the pencils.
‘We print quotes from the diary on millions of pencils and hand them out for free. We put the idea of the diary in everyone’s hand.’
Philip gets it right away.
‘We put the idea of writing a diary like Anne Frank’s in everyone’s hand. We make everyone feel like Anne Frank felt.’
‘Each of you pick your favorite quotes and etch them on these pencils. We also need the portraits on all the walls changed to women writers.’
Virginia Woolf, Louisa May Alcott, Emily Bronte, Carson McCullers, Alice Walker, Colette.
Anne Frank in the foyer flickers to life as the elevator door opens and FRIEDRICH VAN MARXVELDT steps out. He’s older than I expect. A European gentleman in a long coat, and a soft smile.
We shake hands.
‘A tea would be marvelous.’
‘Black, please. With a little honey, if you have it.’
I nod. And smile to myself because the account is as good as won.
When the story breaks in “AdVogue” magazine, there is no picture of me shining on the cover.
Instead, there is a black and white photo of a pencil embossed with the truth.
“Think of all the beauty that still remains.” The Diary of Anne Frank.
Stefano Boscutti is a freelance creative director and award-winning writer based in Melbourne, Australia.
© Stefano Boscutti All Rights Reserved