Burton on the Bay
Theres a Man Inside that Machine
I wouldnt use an ATM machine unless they paid me
Doner created a whole world of tiny bankers toiling in ATMs to convince Equitable Bank customers they could trust a machine with their money.
Business Section of the Sunday Sun, June 22, 03,
If the truth be known, theres more truth to the mention of tiny bankers toiling inside ATMs than the public realizes. I know of at least one, and he was not only miserly but also promptly took his money back.
Also, if the truth be known, had viewers of the first commercials promoting automatic tellers been aware of a few behind-the-scenes scenarios, banking could be different today. Much different. Nobody would trust the damned things.
The above quote about ATMs came in The Suns reporting the news that the advertising agency W.B. Doner & Co. is leaving Charm City after a presence of 48 years. What a loss for Baltimores prestige, not to mention its payroll and the stipends doled out to independent talent who performed in the thousands of commercials the agency produced locally.
Talent is what they call those names and faces you see and hear in commercials. Its a name used within the trade. I didnt coin it, so dont accuse me of bragging when I mention I was among the talent booked for what I recall was the first Maryland TV commercial promoting an automated teller booth.
You know what? I havent used one since. When First National (now Allfirst) moved into Riviera Beach more than a decade ago, I took out an account. Part of the deal was I could use the ATM for nothing, for a while at least.
Anything that operates via computer intimidates me including myself, who operates a computer to write this weekly column. So after a few tries, assisted personally by the bank manager, I gave up. If ever Im carjacked and ordered upon threat of my life to withdraw via ATM a couple thousand bucks, Ill tell you what: I would be about to meet my maker.
First, there wouldnt be a couple thousand bucks in the account. Second, if there were, I wouldnt even know my pin number, never mind how to coax cash from that big machine so overwhelming in size at the door to the local bank. Id just say go ahead and shoot.
These latest automated teller monstrosities dont have, when needed, anyone hidden inside them to help out a fellow with a big Glock pressed against his noggin. Its not like back when Equitable was, as I recall, the first Maryland bank to promote the concept and sneaked a banker practically inside an ATM. And therein lies a story.
Once, They Paid Me
State Comptroller Louis Goldstein, myself and a few others with recognizable faces a couple of decades ago were chosen as talent in a series of one-man commercials introducing the big innovation in banking.
The deal was that in each commercial, there would be only one person one easily identified by the public and he was to be attired in garb not associated with his niche in the community. They werent identified on the film or in the voice-overs. The idea was to get viewers to ask Could that be
as the commercial talked about the convenience of automated banking.
I had to go out and buy a business suit, seeing that about all Ive ever had is fishing clothes, and in the commercial I was to portray a businessman making a hefty withdrawal from Equitables new do-it-yourself banking device.
The suit was only about a hundred bucks, and TV talent fee minimums were then $360, so Id make $260 bucks free and clear and also have on hand a dark suit if called upon to be a pallbearer. Thats hard to beat; a few minutes work, no written script to follow, a director would shout Its a take, and Id be on my way. Maybe theyd forget to ask for a return of the greenbacks I withdrew.
At least thats the way it was supposed to work. After a few walk-thrus outside a building (which incidentally wasnt a bank) at Cross Keys, I was set to perform, then be on my way. I got the word and cameras were rolling, but not the automated teller. It wouldnt cough up any dough.
I know you can appreciate that. Its happened to you at some time or other when you needed cash to pay for a pizza delivery or some other emergency. Thats bad enough, but when an ATM doesnt work in a commercial, you ought to be around a snobbish producer, an impatient director, a cameraman who has another shoot scheduled elsewhere in an hour and a gofer whose stomach tells him its past lunch time.
Add to that some big-wig banker who has to stick around to OK the final take before he can get back to the bank to close a multi-million-dollar deal for which he was already late. Picture a Chinese fire drill; thats what things were like out there at Cross Keys.
Within minutes came a technician, but he couldnt get the machine to dish out moola. I began to think of big money another 360 bucks I would be due, seeing I was there and ready at talent call time as required by AFTRA-SAG contracts. If it was rescheduled, Id have $620 plus that new suit, which incidentally was tax deductible.
Everybody was pacing around in circles, looking at their watches and probably saying things best unheard by my wife Lois and teenage daughter Turee, who arrived with me not to watch talent in action, but to see what I looked like in a business suit then to help me spend some of the talent fee.
But when money is involved, bankers, directors, producers, cameramen and such dont give up easily. Not at the price it takes to do a 30-second spot. The banker had an idea, and everyone was beckoned to join a big circle around him everyone but me.
Arms were waved, fingers pointed, the cameraman took some dry shots and things were abuzz. Finally, they figured it might be to their advantage to deal me in on the stacked deck. I cant recall whether I was sworn to secrecy, but it was made clear that talent doesnt divulge secrets of the trade.
Somehow or other, they had figured a way for the banker to hide between the ATM and the building, then hand me the cash through a slot after I pushed a few buttons.
But I guess this guy of high finance wasnt familiar with a short stack of paltry $20 bills he probably handled only checks in the millions and we had to do take after take until he could get a couple hundred bucks in my hands without his hands being seen.
Until the final take, he didnt let me out of his sight. True story.
My commercial led the series, as I recall, and once when it popped up on the TV at home, I watched and wondered if any other viewer anywhere (other than those involved in the filming that day) harbored any fears that one of the machines could fail them in a time of need as the pizza delivery driver burned rubber driving off with cheese and the works still in hand because a stingy ATM failed to supply the demanded cash. Think of that hungry family.
Is there something about truth in advertising in all of this? I can give some hints for an answer on that some other time. When I confess how the foam got on my mug of beer in another commercial.