Thursday, April 28, 2011

“588-2300, Empire” outlives its creator

I can remember being back in college and taking foreign language courses where one professor believed it would help our command of the language to get into small groups, then write AND perform short skits en Español.
He's even a bobble-head

The group I was in came up with a cockamamie storyline that involved having someone make a telephone call. Just to be cute, we had him call 588-2300, while singing out the telephone number just as in the television commercial.

WHO’D HAVE EVER thought that the line, “Cinco. Ocho. Ocho. Dos-Trescientos” could be that funny? But I can still remember the outburst of laughter from the rest of the class when they heard those digits incorporated into a classroom sketch. About the only person who didn’t get the gag was the one girl who came from St. Louis.

But even she thought it was humorous once the concept of Empire Carpet and their iconic television spots were explained to her.

I couldn’t help but reminisce about that moment from some 27 years ago when I learned Wednesday of the death of Elmer Lynn Hauldren – whose name meant nothing to me and which I likely will forget within a day or two.

But his face will always stick in my Chicago-oriented mindset, for the fact that he created what arguably is one of the two most recognizable telephone numbers in the Chicago metropolitan area (the other being HUdson3-2700).

MAYBE IT’S JUST a sign that I watched too much television when I was younger (and now try to make up for it by ignoring much of the trite tripe that appears as broadcast programming these days).

In the same way that the name and childish face of Rodney Allen Rippy will always bring to mind the Jack ‘n’ the Box burger chain, even though those advertising spots haven’t aired in decades and we don’t have a Jack ‘n’ the Box franchise any closer to Chicago than the Mississippi River town of Alton, Hauldren’s face will stick in many Chicagoans’ minds.

In reality, Hauldren was an advertising executive and copywriter who came up with the idea for the Empire television spots that featured him playing the role of a uniformed carpet and flooring salesman, and who came up with the idea for the telephone number being sung as a jingle in hopes that it might stick in the minds of would-be carpet buyers.

It did.

IN A SENSE, Hauldren is an extremely successful advertising copywriter, because he came up with something that we still remember, even if it is just seven digits being sung in a certain way that now definitely will outlive him (even though the more recent versions of their television spots tell us the number is 1-800-588-2300, on account of all the area codes we now have in the Chicago area – rather than the good ol’ fashioned “312”).

I’d say it is highly unlikely I will ever write anything that will be as long-lasting in the Chicago mentality as Hauldren’s advertising jingle.

In fact, if I had to pick a “most memorable” Chicago ad moment, I’d pick Empire’s telephone number, even though I’m sure the people at Bouchelle Inc. (they clean carpets) might think their telephone number jingle stands out more.

Or those people over at Victory Auto Wreckers, who don’t have a sing-songy telephone number in their ads. But who can forget the sight of that guy getting all frustrated when the door to his junk-heap of a car falls off the vehicle right into his hand?

THEN, THERE’S THE automobile dealership, “Where You Always Save More Money.” Where else would that be but the old Celozzi-Ettleson Chevrolet dealership in suburban Elmhurst – with the two auto dealers who looked in their ads like they’d break your legs if you dared to try to walk off of their car lot without purchasing an automobile.

But still, the gold standard of our local advertising has to be Empire Carpets. So in that sense, Hauldren’s death will be mourned in our pop culture circles. And at age 89, he certainly lived a long life.

In fact, I can’t help but think that real tragedy of Hauldren’s death is that it came before that of Timmy, the Newsboy.

You all remember him from the Long Chevrolet television spots. That Elmhurst-based auto dealer used to feature the screaming newsboy who was ever so annoying that most of us still remember the particular spot when he got popped in the face with a cream pie.

HOW TIMMY CAN live on while the creator of Empire’s jingle leaves us now may be one of the true unspoken injustices of life.

If there’s any justice, it will be that in a hereafter, Timmy will perpetually get whacked with that pie, and the people from Empire will be called upon to fix any of the mess that was made on the floor as a result.


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