Stephen Frankfurt, a Madison Avenue adman credited with bringing the creative revolution of the 1960s to television and movie screens, has died. He was 80.
As creative director at New York-based Young & Rubicam, Frankfurt led some of the most distinctive advertising campaigns in U.S. business history. The campaigns established Eastern Airlines as “the wings of man,” introduced “the Excedrin headache” for Bristol-Meyers Co. (BMY) and challenged consumers of Lay’s potato chips, “Bet you can’t eat just one.”
Frankfurt “adopted Y&R’s early motto, ‘resist the usual,’ as his own, and feature-film directors from the United States and abroad soon began saying that the best work in film could be seen nightly on the American TV tube,” the Art Directors Club wrote in 1983, inducting Frankfurt into its Hall of Fame.
In “The Real Mad Men: The Renegades of Madison Avenue and the Golden Age of Advertising” (2012), Andrew Cracknell wrote that Frankfurt “saw his commercials with an imaginative advertiser’s eye, asking for techniques and ideas that wouldn’t have occurred to the hidebound directors who were normally employed.”
“A spot with no words at all was unheard of then,” Cracknell wrote, “but it didn’t stop Frankfurt; for Johnson & Johnson he shot a baby in close-up from the mother’s point of view rather than the conventional posed setup, making it more personal and emotional. He used stop-motion and borrowed from contemporary art -- he saw no barriers to where you could go to make a commercial.”
President at 36
In January 1968, at 36, Frankfurt became Young & Rubicam president. He stepped down in 1971 and later explained, “I never had a frustrating day in that company -- until I became president.”
He turned his attention to marketing and publicizing movies, an early professional interest.
He had made a splash when given the chance to design the opening titles for “To Kill a Mockingbird” (1962), which was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won three. His opener, a tour of the contents of a cigar box, was the first “in which a camera lovingly pans across details” that “grow in significance later in the film,” Peter Hall wrote years later in I.D., the International Design Magazine.
Frankfurt worked on more than 55 movies, according to a death notice on New York-based Riverside Memorial’s website. He created the marketing campaigns for, among other films, “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968) -- “Pray for Rosemary’s Baby” -- and “Alien” (1979) -- “In space, no one can hear you scream”).
He went on to work as creative director at Bozell, Jacobs, Kenyon & Eckhardt, chairman of Frankfurt Balkind Partners, and vice chairman of Partners & Shevack.
Stephen Owen Frankfurt was born on Dec. 17, 1931, in Manhattan, according to a 1963 profile in Television, a magazine of the broadcasting industry. He was the first of two children of Milton Frankfurt, a lawyer who worked in middle-income housing development during Robert Wagner’s mayoral administration, and his wife, Blanche, according to Riverside Memorial.
A graduate of New York’s Pratt Institute, in 1954 he joined Young & Rubicam, now part of London-based WPP Plc (WPP), the world’s biggest advertising agency.
Survivors include his wife, Kay Gadda Frankfurt; three daughters, Abigail, Emily and Rebecca Nadler; and three sons, Peter, Jaime and Nicholas.
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