Voices You’d Love To Meet
HE MIAMI HERALD, July 10, 1984
by Eric Zorn
PHILADELPHIA - If you have never, ever sighed - sort of inwardly, I mean - at the wry, romantic radio commercials created by Garrett Brown and Anne Winn, you may need to send you soul out to be defrosted.
They are the couple in the broadcast ads for Molson Golden beer and American Express credit cards: He’s the arch, flirtatious gentleman never at a loss for the ingenuously clever line; she’s the aggressive yet disarmingly self-conscious woman with the world’s most wonderful laugh. Together they have cut a wide swath through the radio advertising business, winning awards and earning kudos at every turn by producing sweet, humorous vignettes often considerably more entertaining than the sponsored programs they interrupt.
One you may remember has Winn knocking over and spilling Brown’s glass of beer onto his shirt front while she makes a clumsy attempt to introduce herself at a singles bar. She offers to buy him another drink. Unfazed, he says never mind, he’ll just suck on his tie. She compliments his cologne. He reminds her that he’s covered with beer and asks slyly if she’s trying to pick him up. She says yes, but can she please start over and try again...? And so on. Another less slap-happy commercial features the two of them standing at a department store counter waiting for their sales to be rung up. She is buying a suit, ostensibly for the man in her life, and he is buying a dress for the woman in his. They strike up a casual conversation in which they compliment each other’s good taste and take to wondering aloud if the store takes American Express. When the sales clerk is ready for them, they both speak once, stumble, hit an awkward pause, she laughs, he says something drill and the scene fades.
The adds are effective - the listener get the message that the beer supposedly tastes good and it is possible to use your American Express card at many department stores - without employing any hard sell; they are sexy without being overtly suggestive, and they are funny without having punch lines. Brown and Winn follow in the best existential comedy tradition of such male-female teams as Mike Nichols / Elaine May and have developed a sizable following - mostly of people who don’s know who they are.
Winn tells of sitting in a bar in London next to a man who was telling his companions he was in love with the woman in the Molson ads because of her laugh, Will, whose famous, half-choked laughter dies, in real life, come easily, began laughing.
"He did the most amazing triple-take I’ve ever seen." she says. But the man could be excused for not recognizing her. Both Brown and Winn, especially Winn, zealously avoid being photographed. They agreed to appear on a morning TV talk show in Chicago recently, but only on the condition that they be shown in deep shadows. They had to cancel that appearance, but they did promise The Tribune they would supply a photo of themselves together to illustrate this story. Our excitement diminished when we were handed a shot of them from the nose down only.
This Garbo-like avoidance of the unblinking camera is designed solely to perpetuate a fantasy, to ensure that, in the mind’s eye of the listener, Winn and Brown look as perfect as they sound. Her slightly husky voice, confident wit and, of course, her laugh suggest an uncommonly appealing if nor overpowering physical presence, as does his puckish, earnest suave demeanor in seemingly all situations.
The Molson Golden TV spots that feature their voices and show only torsos are acted by performers that Brown and Winn helped select: "I pick the chick with the best body I can find," she says. "Anything else would be a total disappointment for everybody."
They met in the mid-1960s- while working at a Philadelphia ad agency where they saw themselves as refugees and misfits: She was a Philly-born copywriter who had studied journalism, painted pictures, written "weird, rotten poetry" and bounced around in various jobs searching for her niche; he was a radio and TV ad producer who was born in New Jersey and had dropped out of college to make his living as a folk singer and car salesman, before getting involved with the technical end of making broadcast commercials.
They were "fellow anguished souls." Brown recalls, and they developed close friendship and easy repartee, though they were nor and have never been romantically involved.
In 1976, they recorded an ad for Molson Golden that featured her as a border guard who has caught him attempting to smuggle beer into the country. The tape got lost in an ad agency shuffle and was temporarily forgotten, which didn’t particularly bother Brown and Winn because they were quitting advertising anyway.
Five years later, the Molson border-guard commercial finally surfaced on the radio Molson called: "They’d done some audience testing and found the commercials very popular. Would Brown and Winn do some more?"
Molson called back twice, offering more money until Brown and Winn said yes.