Had lunch with very interesting people yesterday.  As per usual, the question of how I ended up working at a digital agency rather than going into the oil business like the rest of my family came up.  I responded that, while the rest of my family sees the art in their science, I see the science in my art.  Reflecting on my response, I realized that’s only part of the answer.

If you were to ask my Dad, Marlan Downey, why he loves oil and gas exploration, he might say it’s like finding buried treasure.  I would answer, “I like finding the Capo d’astro Bar.”


If you haven’t heard the classic advertising story of the Capo d’astro Bar, let me share it with you now.  If you’ve heard all about it and you’re already rolling your eyes right now, that’s cool.  I would just mention that if more copywriters and designers remembered the Capo d’astro Bar, maybe modern advertising wouldn’t be quite so terrible.

The Capo d’astro bar

The story goes like this.  Back in the 60’s, an ad agency was hired to write copy for a piano account.  The copywriter had very little background information on the account so he shows up at the factory for a tour to try and figure out why anyone would shell out $5,000 for one of their pianos when you could buy a Baldwin or Steinway for the same amount.

On the last day of the tour, the copywriter is in the showroom, escorted by the National Sales Manager.  Looking at all the comparably priced Baldwins, Steinways, and his client’s pianos lined up, he commented, “They sure do look alike.”

“They sure do.” Replied the sales manager.  “About the only real difference is the shipping weight.  Ours is heavier.”

“Heavier?” The copywriter asked.  “What makes yours heavier?”

“The Capo d’astro bar.”

“What’s a Capo d’astro bar?”

“Here, I’ll show you. Get down on your knees.”

Once under the piano he pointed to a metallic bar fixed across the harp and bearing down on the highest octaves.

“What does it do?” The copywriter asked.

“Nothing really.  It takes 50 years before the harp in the piano begins to warp. That’s when the Capo d’astro bar goes to work. It prevents that warping.”

“It doesn’t do anything for 50 years?”

“Well, there’s got to be some reason why the Met uses it,” the sales manager casually added.

It was then that the copywriter understood how to sell pianos.  They aren’t luxuries.  They’re family heirlooms.

Calling on the New York Metropolitan Opera House, it turned out they were planning a move to the Lincoln Center.  “About the only thing the Met is taking with us is our piano.”

That quote was the headline for their first ad.

The Search Continues

The point is, when clients hear we advertisers and marketers going on about “benefits,” “points-of-difference,” and other industry jargon we made up to sound smart, what we’re looking for is the Capo d’astro bar.  And that search is the most exciting part of what I do.  I guess you could say it’s like looking for buried treasure.

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