As the roomful of New York executives heard the catchy, new radio jingle for ABC Sports, after their initial moment of silence, George Sass heard the words every creative director dreads.
"That's different," one executive commented.
Then a funny thing happened. Some of the network's promotional people heard the music and walked in tapping their feet.
"ABC Sports. ABC Sports," voices sang to a country-rock tune. An announcer said,"From the thrill of victory to the agony of defeat, ABC Sports fans really get into it."
"As more and more people kept coming in and started tapping their feet, the executives started tapping their feet," said Sass, of Sass & Associates, creator of the 60-second radio spot that breaks away from the network's traditional, blaring-trumpet sound.
On the heels of the Annapolis agency's successful television campaign last fall promoting ABC's new line of sportswear, ABC Sportshad asked Sass to create a radio spot promoting television sports events.
Sass, 47, settled on a country-rock theme. He thought something fun and down to earth would appeal to fans of college football, bowling and the Indy 500. Also, he found that the Hank Williams Jr. spots preceding Monday Night Football last year proved a major success for ABC.
"What I heard of the older stuff was almost corporate sounding, with the trumpets and logos flying," he said.
ABC liked Sass' idea, bought the campaign, and plans to run the ads through December.
The sports network is one of the newest additions on Sass & Associates lengthy list of clients, which includes high-profile fashionand sports apparel designers, electronics and marine manufacturers and shopping centers.
The West Street agency handles accounts for Guy Laroche fashions, ADCOM stereo components, Revillon furs, le coq sportif sportswear and footwear, Harborplace and The Gallery in Baltimore and The Mall in Columbia.
Ads in magazines like Vogue and Ellehave featured model Kim Alexis and actress Andi McDowell wrapped in Revillon furs, in settings as exotic as Paris and Mount McKinley in Alaska. Some feature quotes from Wordsworth and Michelangelo.
Stylized TV commercials with a music-video quality have featured the sportswear and tennis shoes of le coq sportif, several featuring tight close-ups of a woman speaking French, with English subtitles.
When Sass took le coq sportif on as a client in 1983, "It was a French company going nowhere in the U.S. because it had a French agency advertising in the U.S. They approached things all wrong.
"We couldn't compete with Nike or Reebok," he said. "They're giants. So we said, 'It'sbeyond performance, with a French touch of fashion.' "
The company's annual U.S. sales shot up, from $18 million to $50 million, Sass said.
The former owner of Washington-based Sound Gallery stores, Sass started an in-house advertising agency for the retail chain in 1976. By doing so, the former New York advertising copywriter found that his heart still was in in advertising rather than retail. He sold his 11-store chain to Audio Associates, then opened his own advertising agency in Washington.
Three years later, the Annapolis resident tired of commuting and moved his firm to Eastport. He opened with a smaller staff and started over.
In 1983, the 18-person agency became affiliated with a French advertising agency that had seen Sass' work. Sass helped the agency with marketing research and cooperated on several projects. The next year, Daniel Vong, an art director at the foreign agency, joined the agency as Sass' partner. Sass and Vong, a former fashion illustrator in Paris, have created award-winning television, radio and print campaigns.
In 1991, Sass, who had worked with French and British agencies, decided to expand his network of international affiliates. He helped create the World Independent Network, a group of small, independently owned advertising agencies with high-profile accounts. Today, Sass & Associates works with agencies in England, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark.
The network, which bills more than $100 million cooperativelyeach year, has allowed Sass to carve a unique niche in the advertising industry. Through the network, international clients can get the service and attention of a small agency in markets all over the world,Sass said. At least half of each agency's clients are international businesses, Sass said.
His work with ABC began after the agency created campaigns for Nutmeg Mills, a Tampa-based manufacturer of sports apparel. The campaigns sold sports apparel as a fashion statement, as well as a sign of team loyalty. In three years, Nutmeg Mills' annual profits more than doubled, from $50 million to $122 million, he said.
When ABC Sports entered a joint venture with Nutmeg to produceits own line of sportswear, the network asked Sass to create a television campaign. The fast-paced TV commercials, featuring clips from the ABC's film library, aired during Wide World of Sports, Monday Night Football and College Game of the Week. Sass is currently working onsequels.