Local commercials stir memoriesWritten by Duane Ramsey | | email@example.com
View classic Toledo commercials here.
Baumhower column: They don’t make ads like this anymore
While national commercials may be the stars of the Super Bowl for many of today’s viewers, there are classic TV commercials for local companies that people still remember.
One local advertising agency, Don Lea Associates Inc. in Sylvania, had a hand in creating and producing many of those classic commercials for local businesses. The late Don Lea founded the agency in 1969 and it became a source for creative local commercials.
“Don always said it was the oldest ad agency in town that hasn’t had a name change or reorganization,” said Dave Brown, who succeeded Lea as president of the firm after Lea’s death in 2006.
Lea began producing commercials for local businesses in the 1970s and continued into the next century. His daughter-in-law, Laura Lea, is a partner in the agency with Brown today.
“They were very effective and a lot of fun to do,” Brown said about some of the spots they created for many local clients over the years. “People watched the commercials because they were entertaining.”
Brown said he thinks it all started when the agency began creating commercials for Brondes Ford. In days when commercials were produced on live TV, the Brondes brothers, Don and Phil, were “smashing prices” as they smashed cars’ windshields with a large sledgehammer.
The folks at the ad agency got into the act occasionally, such as when Lea modeled the “Super Bee” costume the Brondes brothers used in their commercials. Lea also recruited Brown, who joined the agency in 1975, to play “high-price Harry” in the spots.
Brown said the brothers called them over to film a house that was being moved down Secor Road to use in the commercial where Phil would remark, “We’ll take anything in trade at Brondes Ford.”
Brown said it was amazing that commercials for one client led to doing spots for another client in the neighborhood where the agency was located.
Don Lea Associates began producing commercials for Modern Floors, which was located on Secor Road just north of Alexis Road. It led to a spot in which owner/founder Dick Knight said, “We may be hard to find but if you’ll yell ‘Modern Floors’, we’ll come out and get you.”
Knight later moved the business to its current location at Secor and Alexis roads, but still uses the same message in their commercials and people continue to yell “Modern Floors.”
“It’s one of those advertising hooks that’s still very effective,” Brown said.
The Brondes brothers often had breakfast with Knight and Joe Janney, former owner of Janney’s ACE Hardware store located at Secor and Alexis. Lea and his team were soon creating commercials for Janney’s that are remembered today.
The ads featured one of the Janneys saying, “We’re going to turn the hardware business upside down,” such as a product for 99 cents that would then sell for 66 cents. That beginning led to turning the Janney name upside down on the outside of the store. That upside-down sign can be seen in the background during the outside Modern Floors commercials.
Lea and team also created commercials for other neighbors such as All-American Coach and House of Meats, located on Alexis near their agency’s offices.
Tom McGuire, owner of All-American Coach, was taking photos of his daughter and other St. Francis cheerleaders for an ad in the school’s sports programs. He called Lea and asked the agency to come over and shoot video of the cheerleaders sitting on top of a motorhome.
Those same cheerleaders are still seen cheering “All-American Coach!” in TV spots for the RV business today, Brown said.
The agency created commercials for House of Meats in which Brown appears holding a burning hot dog. Those spots still run every summer and Brown said people recognize him on the street as the man with the burning hot dog.
“The key is to be entertaining and memorable,” Brown said.
Lea also produced some early commercials for John Oswald and The Appliance Center. To this day, Oswald appears in commercials for the retail business in Maumee.
Lea’s team was also responsible for putting Jim Earl inside a transmission in early commercials for Earl Brothers Transmissions and Auto Repair. Brothers Bob and Jim Earl continue to appear in their own commercials today.
Another memorable commercial featured local radio personality Bob Kelly playing “Perry Chair” for Perry House Furniture from 1975-86. Chuck Allen was involved in creating the quirky spots featuring Kelly dressed as a lounge chair.
“I made very little money but got a lot of notoriety as people still remember Perry Chair,” Kelly said.
Kelly also recorded a number of commercials for Video Connection with his longtime radio partner, the late Dennis Staples.
Don Lea Associates produced a commercial for Jim White Honda that aired locally during the Super Bowl broadcast last year. Local spots are available this year on NBC affiliate, WNWO. The going rate for those 30-second commercials is reportedly between $7,500 and $10,000.
“Today, most advertisers won’t take a chance with something off the wall in this economy. They want something that will produce instant gratification in sales,” Brown said. “However, there are many more options in media today where you can target your audience with a rifle rather than a shotgun approach.”
Brown said the agency is still creating advertising and commercials for about 25 clients.
“We treat all of our clients as good friends and we enjoy it. We’re fortunate to have survived when our automotive clients cut back during the recent recession,” Brown said.