Crazy Eddie Relentless Advertising Campaign
Crazy Eddie’s advertising campaign was nothing short of revolutionary. For 17 years, we blanketed the whole northeast U.S. market with our non-stop television, radio, and newspaper advertisements. Among New York metropolitan area consumers, Crazy Eddie had better name recognition than Coca Cola.
The message was:
Shop around. Get the best prices you can find. Then go to Crazy Eddie and he’ll beat it!
Crazy Eddie’s Prices are Insaane!!!!!!!!!!
It is often said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Crazy Eddie’s advertisements have appeared in many movies such as “Splash!” and parodies of its ads appeared on such shows as “Saturday Night Live.” The parodies continue today.
Around 1971, WCBS-FM account representative Norm Golden talked Eddie Antar into purchasing radio advertising for $5 a spot. In 1972, during a radio broadcast, Jerry Carroll, known as “Dr. Jerry”, adlibbed some of Crazy Eddie’s ads. Eddie Antar heard his broadcast and liked his antics. Soon afterwards, Dr. Jerry became the official face of Crazy Eddie and was later immortalized as one of the greatest spokesmen in advertising history.
Larry Weiss was Crazy Eddie’s original Advertising Director from 1974 to 1983. Weiss deserves great credit for the genius and success of Crazy Eddie’s advertising campaign. He wrote and produced over 3,500 Crazy Eddie TV and radio spots. Harry Spero was Crazy Eddie’s advertising director from 1984 to 1988. There were many others who contributed to this great advertising campaign as well.
As a measure of their brilliant and historic success, the words “Crazy Eddie” are still used synonymously with steep price discounting and predatory pricing to aggressively steal market share from competitors.
In a post on the MusicRadio77.com Message Board on March 5, 2005, Larry Weiss wrote the following insightful story about the history of Crazy Eddie’s famous advertising campaign:
The recent thread about the Court TV documentary on Crazy Eddie got me reminiscing. As the man responsible for developing Crazy Eddie’s advertising and managing that campaign from 1974 through 1983, it still amazes me that 30 years after that work began it is still so highly talked about and remembered. I was asked to participate in the Court TV documentary, but other than providing a few photographs, I declined. So instead, as long as I was reminiscing I thought I’d share with you here some Crazy Eddie history and trivia that few people talk about, or even know about …
Crazy Eddie (or Sights and Sounds as it was named back then) was one of the very early regular advertisers on FM radio. The corporate name then was ERS Electronics (ERS stood for Eddie, Ronnie and Sam – Eddie’s cousin and father, respectively).
The first station Eddie advertised on was WCBS-FM. The rate was $5 a spot, buy one get one free. To top that, Eddie never paid the bill, and CBS-FM kept the spots on the air anyway.
Norm Golden was the CBS-FM account executive who first talked Eddie into radio advertising. Eddie told Norm the only way he could get the order was if he first went outside on Kings Highway and urinated on a bus. Norm did.
The original “free price quote” line was a pay phone on the wall at 1117 Kings Highway. Nobody expected it to ring. They were wrong.
In that recent thread, George Kowal said he remembered an account exec at WKHK-FM who “claimed he was the one who introduced Jerry to Eddie and started the whole thing”. That account exec was probably Jeff Coleman. Jeff was working at WPIX-FM at the time. Back then stations were each producing their own Crazy Eddie commercials, and at WPIX the chore was generally divided between Dennis Quinn and Jerry Carrol (and occasionally Howard Hoffman when he joined PIX). It was Jeff who introduced me to Eddie, and it was I who eventually narrowed the talent down to using Jerry exclusively – although Howard was close.
Among the other personalities who were seriously considered and were almost hired to be the Crazy Eddie spokesman was TV sitcom actor Jay Thomas, who at the time was doing morning drive on 99X. He called me almost every day asking for a chance, and he nearly got it. Good thing for his career he didn’t. Mork and Mindy was a better deal. Also in the running was none other than James Brown – who also called me nearly every day trying to talk me into it.
We hired a small production company called Neshobe Films to produce the first television commercials. They had recently completed the series of “Did You Hear What He Said This Morning?” spots for Don Imus and WNBC. Their Cameraman was Jay Dubin – who went on to direct hundreds of Crazy Eddie commercials and then to MTV fame (Billy Joel and others) – eventually producing and directing the Beekmans World television series (shot in very much the same format as Crazy Eddie commercials).
We initially had trouble deciding what direction to take the television advertising. We knew it would have to be outrageous, satirical and tongue in cheek, but we couldn’t decide whether to go with a pitchman or with creative satire. So we decided to do both.
Having watched Jerry voice our radio spots for some time, it was clear he should be the TV pitchman. I proposed it to him while doing radio spots in the WPIX production room – and he accepted immediately.
The first TV spots we shot were the “Boys in the Bathroom” spot and a Jerry Carrol “Hard Sell. They were shot on the same day. The “Bathroom” was the men’s room near the Cafeteria at Pratt Institute.
The lyrics to the “When You Think You’re Ready, Come Down to Crazy Eddie” song were written by a grateful Crazy Eddie customer – initially as a folk song. The a capella singing was written and performed by myself and my friends Jeff Gottschalk and John Russo, and was vaguely inspired by Dion’s “A Sunday Kind of Love”. Jeff went on to write songs for Dianna Ross and Cher, and currently performs with the Rascals. John teaches music in a public school district on Long Island.
The first TV spots with Jerry Carrol were shot in the Village store, overnight after the store was closed.
I initially proposed ending the spots with the line, “Crazy Eddie – the MAN is Insane!” Eddie actually took personal offense at this. We eventually settled on, “Crazy Eddie, his prices are insane!”
I hired unemployed, former Korvette’s ad manager Larry Miller to buy our television time. He had just started his own little one-man media buying company out of his apartment in the East 60s. It wasn’t long before his Corinthian Communications became one of the largest media buying services in the world.
The first TV spots aired on “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman”.
Crazy Eddie persuaded many New York television stations to stay on the air overnight, by offering to buy advertising (usually $10 a spot or less). We also started sponsoring local movies, including “Casablanca”, filling the commercial breaks with spots and our spoofs of the movies.
For many years Crazy Eddie was the largest volume buyer of radio time in New York City. Among the account executives calling on me regularly were Mel Karmazin, Judy Ellis, Steve Dinitz, Mike Kakayonis and others.
Crazy Eddie never ever bought any advertising on 77-WABC.
The chicken costume (it was a chicken, not an ape, Tom) was supposed to be a turkey for a Thanksgiving spot. Rubie’s Costumes delivered the wrong outfit. We shot it as a goof. But, then again, so were most of the spots.
Every radio station had a stand-by spot carted up and ready to go called “Crazy Eddie’s Blizzard Blitz”. Whenever winter weather got extremely severe I would call directly in to each studio and authorize the on-air personalities to run those spots, which claimed, “If you’re crazy enough to come out in this weather, Crazy Eddie is crazy enough to give you the most unheard of crazy deal …”
Once Eddie and I had lunch with Don Imus at the Swiss Center in Rockefeller Center. The Swiss Center was the restaurant run by the Swiss Embassy featuring fine Swiss cuisine. Eddie ordered a cheeseburger. Imus ordered an American cheese sandwich. The waiters were flabbergasted, but they brought the food.
The major dealer for Cerwin-Vega speakers, Crazy Eddie had the honor of dispensing with those giant subwoofers that had been used to create “Sensurround” in theaters all over the country for the movie “Earthquake”. Many of those subwoofers were installed in major clubs around the City, most notably Studio 54.
I made arrangements with the producers of “Saturday Night Fever” to shoot a scene in the Crazy Eddie Record and Tape Asylum on Kings Highway. Eddie’s brother-in-law Bennie shot it down. He was appalled that I would want to shut the store down for a day to shoot a movie. Such was the mentality of that place. I did, however, get a Crazy Eddie commercial featured in the movie ‘Splash”. Carson productions also featured Crazy Eddie commercials in their “TV’s Greatest Commercials” special with Dick Clark and Ed McMahon.
The Crazy Eddie spoof of “Saturday Night Fever” was shot at the 2001 Odyssey House, same as the movie. It was easy to duplicate the lighting – each of the lights from the original movie shoot had melted holes in the ceiling.
Our spoof of “Superman” got Warner Brothers mad and they sued us. The NY Post headline read, “It Takes Superman to Stop Crazy Eddie”. Eddie countered with threats of halting all sales of Warner-owned Atari video games (we were the largest dealer), and we settled.
Crazy Eddie was responsible for the demise of what was then known as the “Fair Trade Laws”, where manufacturers dictated the prices at which retailers could sell their products.
Crazy Eddie was primarily responsible for the demise of Blue Laws (that prevented retailers from opening on Sunday), by being one of the first major retailers to open on Sundays, not to mention Christmas, New Year’s and Thanksgiving. Paramus was the only regional location where Blue Laws remain today. Once, a Crazy Eddie manager was arrested for going into the Paramus store on a Sunday. He was only there to retrieve his wallet, accidentally left there the day before. I remember the first time we decided to open on Christmas Day. We all looked at each other and thought, “Hey, we’re all Jewish – why not?” It was one of the highest-grossing days of the year.
After his release from jail, Eddie contacted me and asked me to get involved in rebuilding the company. We gave it a quick shot. A lot of old timers came back to work and we produced a new series of hilarious radio and TV spots. But potential investors were unable to see Eddie Antar other than as the convicted felon he was – and I don’t blame them. Eddie refused to bow out – dooming the new venture. There were a lot of hard feelings and, sadly, a whole lot of the original players are no longer talking to each other.
There’s much, much more – hardly enough bandwidth for it all. Hope you all enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed typing out these great memories.
© Copyright by Sam Antar. All rights reserved.