READ My FOLLOW-UP to this story
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You may remember our article in the self-promotion department of DTG last year, and how it stirred up a bit of controversy as being racist. At the time, we were unable to find any of the original Mabey-Trousdell team who developed the promotion. Well, as fate (and the Internet) would have it, Ron Mabey, a principle in that firm found the article and submitted this short response...
Ron Mabey shares some thoughts on the creation of this controversial promotional venture for the "Mabey-Trousdell" agency ....
... let the boys do your work
I'm Ron Mabey, the less talented half of "Mabey-Trousdell".
Recently, as I wandered through the internet, I inadvertently came across your observations of the "Soft Soap" box that my business partner, Don Trousdell, and I produced way back in 1970. The comments in your "Apology" that went...
"Aside from just picking a turn-of-the century soap box as a knock-off for a promotion -- what were they thinking of? What was the racial climate of Atlanta in 1971? How could an illustration firm -- and such a notable one -- ignore images and their nature? Would they do the same promotion today? We simply don't know the answers to those questions and probably never will."...... has prompted me to do my best to answer your questions.
Mr. Trousdell and I had worked closely and spent so much time with one another over a period of many years that friends and co-workers began to refer to us as "The Gold Dust Twins". With the establishment of "Mabey-Trousdell" we decided a promotional mailer/hand-out was needed. Reflecting on our "Gold Dust Twins" nick-name, as well as the fact that we were the proud owners of an actual "Gold Dust" box, we decided to do a "take-off" of the original "Gold Dust" box imagery.
Keep in mind that the liquid hand cleaner "Soft Soap" did not exist at that time. In fact, back then the term "Soft Soap" was a euphemism for... as we would say in polite society... "bovine scatology" and what better definition could there be for advertising.
It seems to me the "racial climate of Atlanta" back then, was pretty much the same as the racial climate in any American metropolitan area of the time. Not being a sociologist I'm not competent to gauge just what that "climate" was - I'll leave it to the experts. As to "How could we ignore the 'Gold Dust' images and their nature?" - we didn't! We worked them for all they were worth.
Even at that early time, when the term "political correctness" didn't exist yet, its mind numbing presence was being felt and we decided to protest in our own little way. We new some people would be offended, we knew some people would be angered and we knew some people would be entertained. No matter what the reaction to our promotional piece, it was going to get (and did get) plenty of attention. In the words of a sage "I don't care what they say about me, just so they keep saying it".
Cullen Rapp, our New York rep refused to hand out the box and our Chicago rep, John Ball, was very judicious in its distribution (it may be of interest to you in knowing that the boxes were handed out and mailed in brown paper shopping bags with cash register receipts attached).
In considering "would I do it again today?" (I can't speak for my former business partner)... Sure, why not?
How do I justify this lack of sensitivity? I'm short (In his song "Short People" Randy Newman made fun of my stature), I'm balding (every bald joke could apply to me), I'm elderly (those of advanced years are frequently the butt of jokes). Worst of all, I'm a white, native born, Protestant, heterosexual, male. In today's society its the only group toward which derision can be directed without fear of the "PC" people coming out of the woodwork.
Yet somehow I continue to live.
There you have it.
As I reflect on Ron's words, I do believe in today's world such an outrageous promotion would never see the light of day, knowing the layers of approval that may lie in the way of getting it to print. However when you think about it -- such a brass statement would indeed get quite a bit of press. Would it hurt business? Perhaps.
Yet, in the same respect, these fellows were leaders in the industry and very much in charge of their own destiny. We should all be so lucky as to be able to dictate the direction of this or that project.
Our special thanks go out to Ron for writing, and for granting permission to reprint the letter. It was a wonderful surprise for me to hear from someone who represented so much in the industry some thirty years ago. Today, Ron is retired and enjoying it, somewhere in South Carolina.
Until next time... keep on learning
Fred Showker, Editor/Publisher
I'd love to hear about your educational experiences, and favorite printing projects. Please drop me a line and let's share with all DT&G readers!
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