The Home For Tired Old Ideas

The gravel crunches under the tires of our agency’s rented Camry as we pull in front of the little building that bakes in the hot retirement sun of Florida. We have arrived at the Home for Tired Old Advertising Ideas and Visuals. Here in this forlorn little building lie the over-exposed and terminally boring. Old ideas, just waiting to die.

A blast of hot air hits us as we get out of the car and make our way into the building. As we approach the front desk, all the occupants of wheelchairs in the lobby come to life. Hands reach out. An old lady grabs at me. “You’re soaking in it,” she says. And then, “Kill me. . . . please.” I pull away, hot with shame.

Our hostess says, “Don’t mind Madge,” and leads us into the main hallway. We pass a couple of old ladies who sit in identical wheelchairs. We wonder: the Doublemint Twins? Two identical women at the ends of twin morphine drips with four vacant eyes in narcotic haze and two billboard grins frozen since the ’60s in some sort of horrible “marketing rigor mortis.” Everywhere in this home there is the smell of senility, age, and sickness; of wet gauze laid over tired old ideas. Can they tell we are here with a court order to pull the plug on them? To end at last their suffering, and perhaps our own.

Passing the break room, I notice a woman in a hospital gown and paper slippers standing next to the sink, drinking coffee.

“She seems okay,” someone says. “Why is she here?”

“She’s from every coffee commercial that’s ever been made,” our guide answers. “Look. See how boring she is? She’s used up. Empty.” The nurse is right. The woman is a kitchen cliché I’ve seen in a thousand commercials; a cardboard cut-out. Her smile, on a face made too happy by a mere product, is false. The earnestness of her two-handed grip around the steaming cup, a lie; the steam itself, a cliché.

“Is that….the Folger’s lady?” I ask.

“No, Maxwell House. But they all look alike, don’t they? She’s another . . . clone, I’d guess you’d call her. She started off in Maxwell commercials and ended up wandering around in some Sanka campaign. That’s when they brought her here.”

As we turn away, we hear Coffee Lady going, “Mmmm, that’s good.”

“The real heartbreak is right in there,” says the nurse, standing in front of a steel door. The sign above it reads: “Friendly Bank Loan Officers. Do Not Revive.” She flips open a small metal aperture. I peek in and see Hell.

In a small, dark room squat forty overweight loan officers in suits, all holding “Approved” rubber-stamps and “approving” every surface that presents itself to them. One banker’s fat smiling face is “Approved” by another. A banker’s shiny belly is “Approved.” The spectacle before us is a sort of financial bacchanalia, a co-mingling of arms and legs and “Approved” stamps, almost erotic were it not for the sweaty suits, hairy backs, and the voices, a susurration of yes’s: “Yes, we can.” “Yes, sir.” “Yes, Ma’am.” I slam the little steel window shut.

“We need to end this now,” I say pulling the court order out of my jacket pocket. I hand it grimly to the nurse who reads as she walks ahead of us. She stops and turns. “Thank God. It’s finally done. These poor clichés. They’ve suffered enough. Now…are you ready to see the saddest of the bunch?”

Two double doors are pulled wide. And the final tableaux of cartoon horror is revealed. Seated at a roomful of rickety linoleum-topped tables are hundreds of patients locked in permanent “Bite & Smile.” Like corpses embalmed in some sort of eternal “happy place,” gowned patients hold plastic sporks inches from their smiling mouths, just a bite away from enjoying a delicious taste treat, forever.

On one spork, it’s Uncle Ben’s rice. On another, it’s Jell-O, slowly reliquifying and plopping onto the table. The patient doesn’t notice, neurologically imprisoned as he is in a permanent Bite & Smile. Like William S. Borrough’s The Naked Lunch, I find myself in the middle of that  horrid existential moment he describes, “when time stops and we all see what’s on the end of everyone’s fork.” The horror. The horror.

And suddenly, I am overcome. But even my swoon is a cliche – it’s “The Wavy Lines.” The Wavy Lines blur my vision and, of course, take me slightly forward in time and I find myself back in our rented Camry on the way to the airport.

The iPhone comes out. Note to self: “Once a thing is dying, only God should prolong its life. Let everything else go.”

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First published on Sorry for the reprint, but business and personal issues keep me from posting new stuff this week. As always, if this is an issue for you, I look forward to seeing your input on my customer satisfaction site,


  1. You’re amazing! I can imagine so many other old cliches banging their heads against the wall, waiting to die at the Home for Tired Old Advertising Ideas and Visuals.

    Great story 🙂

  2. What about the man in the Hathaway shirt? Tell me he’s still with us. Tell me he’s still alive! And that coffee picker with the donkey? Oh God please, not Jaun Valdez!

  3. Great post. Love the disclaimer.

  4. Loved it! Great read 🙂

  5. While you were there did you happen to run into the Incredibly Manly-Yet-Sensual-Man That Sells Your Man Beer and/or Body Wash?

  6. What about the– My son and clumsy husband made an ‘oopsies’ on the kitchen table, but I’m friggin’ thrilled to wipe that sucker up with a paper towel!– lady?


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Luke Sullivan

Author, speaker, and ad veteran available to recharge, reinvigorate, and refocus marketing, advertising, and branding firms.

I give a hugely energetic series of presentations on innovation, creativity, branding, and marketing. I spent 32 years in the trenches of advertising (at agencies like Martin, GSD&M, and Fallon) and I’ve put everything I learned into my book, Hey Whipple, Squeeze This. But for me nothing beats taking the message out and speaking to living breathing audiences at clients, agencies, and conferences. You can book me on the button below.