Bozell Commercials Became a National Phenomenon 40 Years Ago

October 1st, 2014

Award-winning Campaign Remembered

More than four decades have passed since C.W. McCall first pulled his 18-wheeler into the Old Home Filler-Up an’ Keep-on-a-Truckin’ Café, but Bill Fries recalls the story behind the award-winning campaign as though it happened yesterday.

As senior vice-president and creative director at Bozell & Jacobs, which later became Bozell, Fries was the driving force behind the acclaimed TV commercials that in June of 1974 were voted the best advertising campaign in the nation by an international panel of judges for the Clio Awards. Now living in Ouray, Colorado, Fries was writer, creative director, voice talent and producer of the Old Home commercials, which became a phenomenon during the mid-1970s.

The series of 60-second commercials created for the Metz Baking Company chronicled the romance between a truck driver for Old Home named C.W. McCall and a gum-smacking truck-stop waitress called Mavis. The commercials traced their early infatuation at the Old Home Filler-Up an’ Keep-on-a-Truckin’ Café to a date at the drive-in movie with Mavis’s mother along as a chaperone.

Editor’s Note: 40 years ago, a series of commercials went “viral” as creative, humorous, storytelling, and a testament to a more relaxed style of advertising that sold product beyond any reasonable expectations. It launched long-running careers and became part of our culture. 

“As soon as the spots started to air, people began writing letters to the Metz Baking Company wanting to know more about C.W. McCall and Mavis and this little soap opera that was going on,” Fries reminisced. “It was just amazing. Fan clubs were springing up and people were calling into TV and radio stations wanting to know when the spots were going to air.”

The campaign’s popularity drew the attention of national media, including The Wall Street Journal, which reported, “C.W. and Mavis have become something of folk heroes in Metz’s territory, which encompasses Iowa, South Dakota, Nebraska and Minnesota. Television stations report calls from viewers asking for replays on the commercials. A number of roadside diners have taken to calling themselves “Old Home, etc.” and waitresses are answering to the name of Mavis.”

The campaign also received critical success during the 1974 Clio Awards in New York where it was judged “The Best Overall U.S. Television Campaign for 1973.” “It beat out national campaigns of such corporate giants as Kodak, Xerox, Metropolitan Life and Eastern Airlines,” according to the Journal.

Fries recalled attending the Clio Awards and watching as the winners were announced in dozens of different categories. “I had no idea we were going to win anything,” Fries acknowledged. “We listened as all of the awards were presented, but our commercials were never mentioned. Finally, we got to the last award for the overall best TV campaign in the U.S. and suddenly the Old Home commercials were being shown and the crowd went berserk. The audience loved them and the room was filled with applause and laughter.

I sat there stunned not knowing what to do when Bozell & Jacobs was announced as the Grand Winner.”
In 2006, the Old Home campaign was recognized by the Omaha Federation of Advertising (OFA) as one of the top campaigns of the century. Recognized along with Fries were other account team members Galen Lillethorup, producer; Chip Davis, composer; and Burt Rodriquez, film production.

Lyrics from the commercials were rewritten by Fries for a record titled “The Old Home Fill-er-Up an’ Keep-on-a-Truckin’ Café,” which was used as a premium for Metz Bakery. It ended up selling 30,000 copies in a limited distribution, but it caught the attention of MGM Records in Nashville, which released the song nationally where it reached No. 10 on the country charts.

The success of that single led to a recording contract for Fries, who performed under the name C.W. McCall. His success as a recording artist landed him on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, Hee Haw, and numerous other national TV appearances. His second album, Black Bear Road, included the single Convoy, which hit No. 1 on both the pop and country charts and inspired a movie of the same name. Since its release, more than 20 million copies of the single have been sold.

Prior to his work on the Old Home campaign, Fries penned TV campaigns for major clients including Storz Brewing Company and Union Pacific Railroad. “In 1969, it was the 100th anniversary of the Golden Spike, so I wrote the song ‘A Great Big Rolling Railroad’ that blew the CEO away,” Fries noted. “It was then that I discovered I could actually write a song.”

“It’s interesting to note that some of the clients that Bill was working on in the ‘70s, including Storz and Union Pacific, are still Bozell clients today,” observed David Moore, partner in charge, Creative, for Bozell. “Then, as now, telling an entertaining story with your brand at the center is the key to memorable, effective advertising.”

Fries worked at Bozell & Jacobs from 1961 to 1976, after spending 10 years as a staff artist at KMTV. Reflecting on his career as creative director, Fries added, “I miss those days so much. I spent a huge portion of my life with Bozell and that name means a lot to me. And I’m proud of all the attention we were able to focus on Omaha, and of all that happened to me while I was working there.”

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