Mean Joe And The Kid

George Getschow:

Penny Hawkey set out to write the Great American Novel. Instead, she ended up writing the Great American Ad.

“What does a great novel have to do with a great ad?” you ask.

They both have the same DNA, the stuff of great storytelling.


10 thoughts on “Mean Joe And The Kid

  1. George’s insights gave me much to think about as he describes storytelling and human nature’s yearning for a story with redemption, and how the child handed a hero a moment of Grace.. I loved learning the back story for the ad and how it has become a myth within the world of advertising. I always learn when I read George Getschow’s words.

  2. I’m glad George did this. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be an ad copywriter like this. The best commercials–not necessarily the funniest, but almost always the most moving–are all about storytelling. We all love powerful imagery, but without the context of some kind of story, there’s nothing to connect to. (One of the reasons I wasn’t a huge fan of the new Coke chase commercial is because there were missing story elements: Who’s the hero? Where did these people come from? Why the hell are they all fighting?) I bet a lot of people here would probably make pretty good ad folks.

    Incidentally, I’m rooting for the Mayborn to somehow form some sort of partnership situation with Coke. Because how perfect would it be to have a writer’s conference partnered with both Jack Daniels and Coke?

    • I’ve always had enormous respect for ad copywriters. (Not so much p.r. writers.) In a ad every word counts. We journalists can learn from that.

  3. Too often, we blow past some of the most instructive forms of storytelling, dismissing them as mere advertising or marketing or other such unworthy background noise. And as a result, we miss some of the most import an practitioners of the craft and some of the most instructive backstories. What makes Ms. Hawkey’s accomplishment all the more impressive is when and how she did it — as a woman, at a time that the advertising industry was so male-dominated and when the client company was still a Southern white-boys enclave.
    The elegant simplicity of George Getschow’s telling is itself a valuable lesson and a joy to read.
    And amen, Mr. Mooney. Jack ‘n Coke is indeed a winning combo. I expect to see it being mixed very soon with the magic of the Mayborn. And I can’t wait to see and hear and revel in the results.

  4. As a former advertising copywriter and current journalist, I have to agree: It’s all about the storytelling.

    Reading the script for “Mean Joe” made me remember how young I was when I first saw that ad. Nostalgia filled my heart and strangely (or maybe rightly so) I yearned for a Coke, hoping it would take me back to my dreamy childhood. That’s the power of a good story. And one that George has so elegantly retold.

    I can just see Penny, on top of that table, rooting for her brilliant idea, wet blouse and all. Great details, George. It made me love Penny all the more.

    And of course, everything goes better with a Jack ‘n Coke!

  5. Disclosure: I watched George’s ideas develop as he wrote this story. The revelatory moment was the realization that journalists can learn from anybody who tells stories — from an advertising copywriter to a stand-up comedian to a spinner of fairy tales.

  6. Always happy to read about the profound connection between human psyche and storytelling, something I think this story illustrates well. One of the best ways stories can be effective is to evoke an emotional response. As it turns out, generation after generation of storytellers – as Campbell notes – fall back on the same structure to accomplish that feat. I believe that most people inherently learn storytelling as Penny did, through observation because storytelling is that important to how we learn, communicate and preserve ourselves.

    There’s a great device discussed and in use here as well. There’s Mean Joe. There’s a little white boy. Mean Joe’s not so mean after all. The little boy exhibits some courage for his part, and it plays against expectations, which as we see in the ad, can be a powerful attention-getting tool. No way Roger Staubach gets that reaction if he replaces Mean Joe because we see the scene and feel as if we already know Roger will do something paternal.

  7. George is able to show that great storytelling isn’t defined by brevity or verbosity, rather, great storytelling negates the potential stigma that can often latch onto said criteria. Thanks to George for continuing to take me to school.

  8. What I admired was how seamlessly George wove in the big theme about narrative without distracting the reader from the Joe Greene-Coke story. Very hard to do, and Mr. George did it well. I love those kind of stories.

  9. I love when stories mix all kinds of emotions – humor, sadness – and George has done all of that here. I laughed when Penny jumped on the table and forgot about her, well, tendency to leak, and I was rooting for Mean Joe to still be in the ad. A great example of how all spectrums of emotion should be included in every story. Great job, George.

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