The Famous Girl In The Water Ad
11/20/15 11:02 AM
- THE AD THAT MADE ME FAMOUS -
It was 1980 and Wintertime at Dean Headquarters in Chicago. Guitar sales at my three year old company were good but not good enough. I was taking on corporate giants including Gibson, and I needed to kick this in high gear.
Between managing the factory, keeping guitars shipping, doing the artist relations, running the sales force, designing new models and creating advertisements, I was also calling dealers regularly to keep my finger on the pulse. My stock question was, "how are you doing with my guitars?" I would get replies like "pretty good, we sold one last month." I would then ask "how many Les Pauls did you sell?" I would cringe when the come back was "about a dozen!”
"What’s going on?” I would retort…and then I’d hear rather regularly "customers play your guitars and love them. They say they sound better, feel better, play better and even look better...then they buy the Gibson." This simply did not sit well with me.
All I had ever heard, since I was a kid is “Build a Better Mousetrap and The World Will Beat a Path to Your Door.” I clearly had a better mousetrap and no path was being beaten to my door! I had to think this through and even the experts could not tell me why my “better product” is not flying off the shelf. The guitar business is a unique industry.
I soon realized no matter how much players liked my guitars, and no matter how much better I made them, the problem was Dean Guitars was not a household name. The lion's share of guitar buyers were going to play it safe and buy the “name brand.” Lets face it, nobody is worried about what their friends will think about the vacuum cleaner they just brought home but it’s a whole different animal in the world of guitars. Image is everything and “cool factor” is very much in play. This problem was huge on my learning curve but simply became just one more hurdle for me to overcome.
I remember being on a red eye flight back from LA (probably from the Winter NAMM Show) and leafing through an airline magazine. I come across some liquor ad with a gorgeous girl standing in the ocean and holding a glass…some sort of cocktail. Don’t remember what she was drinking but all I’m thinking is, she should be holding one of my guitars.
Soon, I cannot get this concept out of my head. My competition was doing ads with luthiers adjusting the truss rod and wood shavings on the bench. I’m thinking “nobody wants to see a dude adjusting a truss rod. This is Rock n’ Roll and I need to show my guitar-playing customers I am cut from the same cloth…and if I can pull this off, they will “get it!”
My plane lands in Chicago and I can’t wait to make my concept into a reality. First thing I do is phone my marketing director Zan to tell him my “great” idea. Zan all but loses it. Says “DON’T DO THIS…IT’S CHEESECAKE AND WILL DESTROY THE COMPANY! He gave me all these reasons not to do it and went as far as threatening to quit if I don’t come to my senses. Zan and I were not seeing eye-to-eye on many things and this became the final straw. I saved him the trouble of quitting and fired him. I was a hundred percent sure of the direction I wanted to take my company and also knew how I was going to get this done.
I had recently been introduced to a guy who went by the initials RK. RK stood for Richard Klein and he was a Playboy photographer. RK didn’t shoot the "good stuff"…he mostly shot a lot of collateral pics that appeared in the magazine (for playboy buffs that would be the potpourri section of the magazine, often time still nudes) but RK also worked as an assistant to Richard Fegley who shot many of the centerfolds. RK was experienced enough and I could afford him. He also had a very famous sister named Barbi. Barbi Benton was Hugh Hefner’s long time girlfriend and yes, her real last name (you can look it up) is Klein.
I called RK, explained the shot I had in my mind and asked if he could pull it off. Of course he said yes however, it was the middle of winter in Chicago, making the shot even more difficult. I didn’t have the budget to fly to Bimini and shoot this ad.
The biggest challenge was to find the right model - a “California Blonde.” Her look would be everything to pulling this ad off! RK had access to all the girls that went in and out of Playboy Studios but believe it or not, finding a hot blonde in Chicago was still a tall order. We exhausted every girl in the Playboy Modeling agency located in the Playboy building. RK had set up a big barrel-sized tub filled with water in the Playboy studio to use for test shots. We shot polaroids of several girls kneeling in this tub wearing bathing suits, and holding a guitar to see of they had the look. After searching for a month or two, we were certain the girl simply didn’t exist in Chicago.
One day I received a phone call from RK…”your girl is here!” He told me of a girl named Shari. She flew in for a Playboy cover shoot and was headed back to Atlanta. RK took a couple snap shots before she left so I could get a look. It became obvious “Shari Shattuck” was the girl. I spoke with Shari to get her onboard and immediately made arrangements to fly her in for the shoot. Once again, this was Chicago in the middle of winter…and the pic was a girl standing in the ocean with the sun behind her. We decided to shoot it in an indoor swimming pool only blocks from my childhood home. That would take care of the girl in the water part. The sun in the sky and rest of the background was another story. Remember desktop computers with Photoshop did not yet exist. I had to put my full faith in RK.
After much prep, it was soon the day of the shoot. Shari needed to be holding a real gem of a Dean Guitar. I had made a custom “V” with Gold Hardware, Block Inlays and Multi-Ply binding on the body and headstock to feature in the ad.
Shari flew in and I picked her up at O’Hare. She was about 20, gorgeous and very mature for her age. We drove directly to the house with the indoor pool and the shoot was on. RK was a mostly technical guy, thus the creative on this shoot was left to me. RK had speedotron packs with thousands of watts placed around the pool. Lots of lights on stand and triggers with a key light placed on the diving board. This was to simulate the sunlight on the water. There were hair lights, back lights, edge lights…all a huge danger factor because if any of these lights, power packs or extension cords got knocked into the pool, we could fry Shari! We had about a half a dozen people positioned around the pool to agitate the water and create a ripple effect on the water’s surface. Soon all the technical was in place, it was time for Shari to work her magic!
RK’s girlfriend Diane was the makeup artist and stylist. Diane was great and did an incredible job making Shari look better than in any shot I have ever seen of her, even to this day. Shari was in charge of her wardrobe and pulled out this killer white bikini that had this V shape that not only accentuated her body, it seemed to accentuate my V Guitar. I placed the Dean ML pin by her hipbone to finish the look. Soon Shari was in the pool, standing on a clear box to get her the perfect height, photo assistants making waves, RK shooting, strobes flashing and Shari striking pose after pose holding my gorgeous custom Dean V Guitar. RK pulled off about 300 shots all on a 2 ¼” Hasselblad camera. Shari was a pro giving us lots of looks and poses. After the shoot, I remember chatting with Shari who was wearing a robe and standing over a heating vent trying to get warm. You could imagine what was going through my mind…I was 23 at that time. In a matter of a few short hours the shoot was over, then back to the airport to drop her off.
It was only a couple days later when RK and I were going through the film to choose the single shot that would eventually make me famous. While there were over 300 shots, it all came down to 2. Two photos were just standouts and Shari looked like Shari never looked before. If you do this for a living, you would know what I am talking about but sometimes when shooting models, a shot or two are just MAGIC! I selected the final photo but there was plenty more work to do. Remember, at this point it’s a great photo of a girl in a swimming pool.
To create the California sky for this photo, RK had to go out to Chicago’s Lake Michigan shoreline with his camera early one morning to capture the sun “rising” over the lake.
That shot along with the Shari shot went to a photo lab where they mechanically stripped the two together. After much planning, work and a flawless execution, I held in my hands the illusion of Shari in California standing in the ocean, holding my Custom Dean V Guitar with the sun “setting” in the background. Shari never looked better and I never looked back!
The concept I had imagined on that flight from Los Angeles was finally realized and I couldn’t wait to get it in front of guitar players all over the world. We immediately ran it in Guitar Player which was pretty much the only guitar magazine back in 1980. While many people had subscriptions, most players picked up the magazine from their local music store...it was not on newsstands. This became a huge plus in this scenario that was about to unfold.
The ad instantly started to create a stir. Shari was just so beautiful and at that time, the guitar playing audience being 98% male and mostly under 30 was just such an easy target. Even more, nobody had seen anything like this EVER in Guitar Player Magazine…that was the unique factor.
With Guitar Player being sold in music stores, it became a “thing” for sales people to pull out the magazine and show all of their guitar playing customer “the girl in the Dean ad.” I know this because I was hearing about it daily as I was regularly on the phone with music store owners and managers.
Soon the “shit starts to hit the fan." Guitar Player magazine started receiving letters and I mean piles of them! "Dean’s ad is sexist...Dean's ad insults women” and the editor decides to publish them in the Letters To The Editor section. But as we all know how press goes, bad press is often times good press! Soon people were responding and supporting my efforts and the magazine was publishing these letters alongside the protest letters. This went on for about 8 months and I all but owned “page 6” in Guitar Player magazine. Then Publisher Jim Crockett decided to write his column about the controversy regarding my ad and a few other copy-cat ads that followed. In no time people started responding to his column and they were publishing those in the Letters To The Editor section as well. As a result I owned that page for about a year or better and it never cost me a dime!
That single ad created such a stir that players were hearing the name “Dean Guitars” on a daily basis. Dean Guitars soon became a household name and as a result, guitars started moving off the walls. We were selling guitars at Sam Ash and Manny’s on 48th Street in New York, and we were outselling Gibsons at Dallas based Arnold and Morgan Music, Gibson's #1 account in the Southwest at that time.
I would venture to say no single ad has had so much impact on a guitar company in the history ofthe Musical Instrument Business. This was the ad that put Dean Guitars on the map and untimatley Made me Famous!