Matthew Levine and Robert Haydon Jones

Matthew Levine
“The Kiss


By Robert Haydon Jones

Inspiration piece

The amazing thing about the kiss is that every time you see it – the instant their
lips touch – you feel ignition. Not just for them. The kiss ignites you. Every time.

The start of the story of the greatest 30-second television commercial never aired is when Terry Moran noticed that one of the three couples he was about to audition on location at the Botanical Gardens for the Kissing Campaign for Lavoris were holding hands and standing so their bodies were touching knee to shoulder – and the instant Terry saw them – the woman suddenly leaned in and arched up and the man drew her up and in with his hand on the small of her back and they kissed like they were taking a long drink of each other.

“Wow,” Terry said to Mary Louise Jenkins, his assistant producer. “Did you see what I just saw?”

“Be still my heart,” said Mary Louise. “That was for real. If it wasn’t – then those two are the greatest actors the world has ever seen and you and I are a lot older than we think.”

Terry was 26 but most people thought he was thirty something – he was a big shot at the agency. Mary Louise was 31 but most people thought she was 25 like she said.

Terry liked Mary Louise. She had been a lowly Tech Assistant a year back when he joined the agency as a VP and Creative Group Head fresh off another big run at the Cleo awards. Mary Louise was a button-nosed, slightly heavy, blonde woman from New Jersey. She was taking film courses at night school at Pratt Institute.

She was a genuine techy – Terry kidded her that if she were a man, she would be wearing pocket protectors. But Mary Louise knew film. She was a real virtuoso with a Moviola and she was delighted to be syncing footage for Terry, the hottest young producer on Madison Avenue.

The day after they finished their first project, Terry got Mary Louise promoted to Assistant Producer. It was a big step up. Mary Louise had been paid hourly. Now she was on a yearly salary. The difference was almost $6,000 a year.

Terry said, “Well, we’ve got to run the audition like we didn’t see them.”

And they really tried to conduct a fair audition – in deference to the talent – and because Terry and Mary Louise knew the film crew and the account people from the agency expected a straight up audition.

So they ran the three couples out. They walked each pair arm-in-arm down a narrow access road for the 60-second spot – an all dolly-shot piece, called “The Lane” on the storyboard.

Then they had them do a long kiss, for the 30-second spot called “The Kiss”, which had been story-boarded as nothing but a long kiss – with the Lavoris bottle and a title, “Here’s to Romance!” spinning up to the foreground in the last four seconds.

They tried hard. First they auditioned the three couples paired as they had lined up. Then they mixed and matched them. It was simple action but it took two hours. It was a waste of time. The hot couple, stood out – they had a glow to them. They were in another league and everyone knew it.

Finally, one of the actresses put her hand up in front of the camera and said,
“We’re way past the SAG time limit for auditions and anyway this isn’t fair.
Jim and Carol just got engaged yesterday.”

So, Terry stopped the audition then and there. He told Mary Louise to have Accounting send a check for half a session fee to the four rejected performers.

The Account people did not look happy about such unusual generosity – but they weren’t about to cross Terry. He was the creative star of the agency. Time and again he made wild experimental commercials like this that would go on to snare or save accounts and win Cleos.

They went right ahead and filmed Jim and Carol. All concerned enjoyed the work. It was a sunny day in the middle of May. They were a very, very attractive couple.In their late twenties. Tall, dark, lithe.  They appeared to be long accustomed to being absolutely stunning knockouts. Terry wondered if this was the first time either one of them had been knocked out by someone else.

Terry directed them to walk down the lane and kiss each other every so often and they enthusiastically complied — oblivious to the camera. They seemed to be delighted with their recent discovery of each other and eager for more.

They nailed “The Lane” spot in two takes. Then Terry shot them in a long kiss in front of the Reflection Pool and then sitting on a bench under a rose arbor. This had been storyboarded as a 28-second kiss and the only difficulty was shooting it so that when they edited they could choose whether to have them come out of the kiss at the end or stay with it.  So, they did a couple of versions with Mary Louise yelling, “Stop!” after 27 seconds.

That was it. They called it a wrap way before lunch. The group scattered. Terry and Mary Louise took a taxi back to the agency. The film crew headed for a Dominican restaurant nearby. The account people were going to Clarke’s. The last Terry saw of Ted and Carol, they were riding away together on a pale blue Ducati. They weren’t wearing helmets.

Next morning, when Terry came in off the train from Connecticut, Mary Louise had already run through the rushes. She was very excited. She told Terry this was going to be another famous campaign. Terry would win another Cleo. The agency was going to keep the Lavoris account and get a ton of new business.

She ran the reel for Terry and right away he knew they had hit it big. Watching this couple kissing and loving each other was thrilling — plus it had a “feel-good” dimension to it. This was what love was supposed to be. “Here’s to Romance!” was what this footage was all about. Hell, even he felt like taking a gargle of Lavoris right away!

He wanted to celebrate. So, he took Mary Louise down the elevator. It was 10am, the pub in the lobby had just opened. Mary Louise had a Bloody Mary. Terry ordered up two tawny sherries. Half an hour later, they were back choosing takes and hunting for music to play under the footage.

They had the 60-second spot cut and synched to a Chopin etude in under an hour.

All the takes of the long kiss for the 30-second spot were great, but they decided it was best to start right before their lips met – and end the spot with them still kissing with the optical of the Lavoris bottle and the title: “Here’s to Romance!” irising up for the final six seconds.

They lucked into the perfect track. They had been reviewing modern jazz albums to play underneath spots for a cosmetics account. Mary Louise recalled that a track by Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond, called, ”Audrey”, had sounded romantic. So they listened to it and the last thirty seconds were a discrete segment that was perfect. There was an opening note for two seconds that segued to a B major chord that struck just as their lips touched.

The spots were absolute dynamite. The word traveled fast. Most all of the creatives and producers came streaming in and had Mary Louise show them the rough cut. Then they would look for Terry so they could tell him he was a friggin genius.

Of course, the account people were too scared to say anything out loud. The client had issued a final warning. Said the work the agency produced for Lavoris was pedestrian. The account people acknowledged it was true no one had ever seen commercials like this. Maybe that was good — but then again, maybe that was bad.

Terry knew the drill. He arranged for the agency to have the kissing commercials researched. Burke, the research outfit that specialized in 24-hour recall, said that no commercials had ever scored as high as these. Never, ever! They were home free.

They presented the campaign at the client’s headquarters high in the Chrysler building. Terry did the introduction. He told the client that no one had ever seen commercials like these and that research by Burke showed they had the highest 24- hour recall scores in history. He said he would play the 60-second and 30-second commercials twice back to back. Then he lowered the lights.

When the lights came back on, no one on the client’s side of the table said anything. Their faces were beet red. Finally, the Advertising Manager said, “If this is a joke, it’s a bad one. This is not advertising – this is obscenity. You have already been given notice. Consider this our final meeting.”

Actually, the agency kept the client. A few weeks later, Terry helped them launch a new cold remedy. Terry even came up with the name. NyQuil was a huge success. Terry’s innovative campaign ran pretty much unchanged for ten years. The agency and the client prospered. Lavoris ended up withering slowly year by year until, finally, it disappeared.

Terry and Mary Louise had a hard time with the rejection of the Kissing campaign. Mary Louise was too low on the totem pole to attend the presentation, so Terry had to explain what had happened to her. He had to go over it more than once.

The film had run smoothly. There had been no glitches. When the lights came up, all six of the client’s people had beet red faces. All of them. Even the two women. No, Terry had not spoken up about the obscenity label. There was nothing to say.

Terry and Mary Louise looked at the spots again and again. They looked hard. Had they missed something?

The answer was no.

The 30-second Kiss was beautiful. That really was the word. Anything BUT obscene. The Kiss pulsed with raw love and desire and longing. It was the most beautiful spot Terry had ever made. It was the most beautiful spot anyone would ever make. And it would never run. Never, ever.

Mary Louise never said it, but Terry had the impression she felt that he had failed to present the spots for all they were worth. Looking back, Terry wondered if he should have done more. He had been so sure that the spots would sell themselves and that their historic performance at 24-hour recall would clinch it.

The rejection of the Kiss campaign changed their relationship. Terry felt uneasy when he was with her. Some how he was feeling guilty. And that pissed him off. He felt just as bad as she did. Hell, it was his campaign.

So he asked her out for drinks after work thinking they both had suffered a loss and that some booze might make it easier for them to grieve together. But it didn’t work.  They talked like they were both on stilts. After one round, she said she had to leave and take care of her mother in Hoboken.

Terry didn’t see much of Mary Louise after that. The agency promoted him to Executive Vice President and he stopped producing commercials. Two months later, Interpublic offered him a ton of money and stock to become CEO of a new division. Mary Louise got on the elevator with some producers as Terry headed down out of the agency for the last time. She didn’t say anything. Neither did he.

Many years later, Terry’s second wife found his Commercial Reel in a drawer and asked Terry if he would play it for her. He was glad to do it. There were a bunch of famous Cleo winners on it.

Afterward, the wife told Terry she liked the 30-second kiss the best. “That’s the most beautiful commercial I’ve ever seen,” she said. “You must be so proud.”

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  1. Posted March 10, 2014 at 5:44 am | #

    Wow! Mad Men better take cover.

  2. Posted March 11, 2014 at 4:07 am | #

    Mathew & Robert grab you right away & don’t let go! It reminds me of the great series on TV–Madmen. Don, the head creative guy would have thrown the Lavoris crew out of the office & dropped the account! Love it!

  3. Posted March 16, 2014 at 3:25 pm | #

    Great to see little shots of humor! Like the way “the greatest” fades unseen, unnoticed. Maybe real love is only for the lovers, and not the rest of the world.

  4. Posted March 22, 2014 at 7:22 am | #

    I come from this world. If you write what you know, you are a keen observer. If you are a keen observer, you are a terrific writer. Either way, you have made me long to see the spot. I even YouTubed – key words, Lavoris, “The Kiss” et al – it hoping that it does exist and I would find it and quell my longing. Nada. But thank you for taking me back to my early stomping grounds and for the gorgeous fantasy.

  5. Posted March 24, 2014 at 1:29 pm | #

    Beautifully and cleverly written story of corporate arrogance stepping all over a bit of Madison Ave Magic……..Mr. Jones makes it sing!

  6. Posted March 24, 2014 at 6:05 pm | #

    An insiders look at the savagery of Madison Ave and the amazing genius and art squeezed out of commercial product. Well done Mr Jones

  7. Posted March 28, 2014 at 11:33 pm | #

    finally, Mad Men gets the just end it deserves. Jones delivers as usual.

  8. Posted April 18, 2014 at 1:01 pm | #

    Bummer! This story is so clean it’s just like the commercial that never aired. The client couldn’t deal with the simplicity and passion up there for 30 seconds; anything that connects certain types with feelings that have been patched over makes them very uncomfortable. They got no mojo left. Makes me happy to think that this commercial would most likely air now; but still, 30 seconds of silent passion can seem like an eternity if you’re closed up tight. I’m thinking it would get aired now, but not everywhere; not in certain countries, for sure; not in some of our 50 states. People can accept porn and murder, but 30 seconds of pure connection with another human being might still be a tough sell.
    Mr Jones wrote this like the commercial; very lean and direct; got me thinking how much different things might or might not be now. 30 seconds is a long time; long enough to make some people feel extremely uncomfortable; 5 seconds would be ok, maybe even 10- but 30! that’s getting pretty real. In France it would have run (but then again, the French wouldn’t obsess over mouthwash.) Extreme simplicity opens the door to thinking; Mt J has opened the door again,
    Matthew’s piece is beautiful.

  9. Posted November 10, 2014 at 6:48 am | #

    I’m sending this to every female techy I know. Two.