A long time ago in a land far, far away, I got my start in advertising by sitting in a focus group for Carvel Ice Cream. At the time, I was nearing the end of my tenure as the boy who didn’t need anyone and was living in a basement in Flushing while commuting into the city on the 7 train to do my job as an IT headhunter. I also was something of a professional focus group taker. But I was no where near advertising.

This particular night, when the focus group facilitator asked what we might call an ice cream parlor that specializes in cakes, I looked around the room and didn’t see anyone else responding. No nervous twitches. No eyes lighting up. As something of a professional focus group taker, I learned not to draw too much attention to myself. You just show up, eat the free Ray’s pizza and leave with between $40 and $100 bucks for a couple hours of work. It was a sweet gig. But when the guy asked this question, I decided to risk it and raised my hand.

“Yes…you – the man in the tattered jacket who is trying hard to look cool but who is really a lonely alcoholic on the verge of suicide and who is treating this free pizza as something of a royal feast – what would you call an ice cream parlor that made cakes?”

“Um, an ice cream bakery?”

The lid of the room slammed shut. Everyone turned to me. I swallowed my pizza, hard.

“Are you in advertising?” the guy asked.

Oh shit, I thought – I would never be invited to another focus group again.

Of course I wasn’t in advertising. I didn’t even know there was a career called ‘copywriter’ at the time. It wasn’t until I read “Hey Whipple Squeeze This” as a Junior in college (years later) did I decide to give advertising a try.

As a copywriter and agency owner I’ve since written tons of taglines for Fortune 500’s and small start ups. My friends make fun of me for having such a strange talent. I’d much rather have talent to save dolphins or enlighten children or something good like that. But I’m a copywriter. I think in concepts that include taglines. Always have.

Fate is funny.


Today I had lunch with my friend David Oakley, one of the great copywriters of the last 20 years. Somehow or another we got on the topic of focus groups or something, I can’t recall, but anyway – this story of Carvel came up. 

“What year did that happen?” David asked.

“1990, 1991. No, 1990. Or 89.” I said.

“Holy shit, I worked on that campaign in New York. I wasn’t part of that focus group, but I was on that campaign.”  He said.

And then we sat there smiling and shaking our heads.



Jim Mitchem

The Last Santa

Jim Mitchem

Writer. Father to daughters. Husband. Ad man. Raised by wolves. @jmitchem on twitter. First novel, Minor King, out now.