When Lou Carrafiello left McCann Erickson in 1971, he was, for a time, more interested in buying a lumberyard than staying in advertising. As his son Gerry, who is now president of Carrafiello Diehl & Associates, tells the story, “My father was a great carpenter and a mason, too. When he quit McCann…I guess he got tired of riding the train to the city. There was an old lumberyard in town, and he had admired this lumberyard for years, and he [approached the owner] and said ‘I just quit my job and I’d like to buy your lumberyard.’ The owner said, ‘Lou, I’d love to sell it to you, but I already sold it.’ So at that point, he went home and said to my mother, ‘Look, I’m in trouble now.’ Which he really wasn’t. But then, he and Dick Diehl got together in our dining room and launched an agency.” They opened CDA in the New York suburb of Tarrytown, and it remains today one of the oldest independent healthcare agencies.
Carrafiello began in the field with Pfizer where, as a star salesperson, he was advanced to the marketing department at the home office in New York. Madison Avenue was just around the corner and consumer agencies, at that time, had assignments for the professional advertising of pharmaceuticals. Carrafiello made the switch to the Erwin Wasey agency, putting his Rx experience to work on the Lederle account. When that agency was folded into the Interpublic network, Carrafiello decided on a career change and, briefly, toyed with the idea of the lumber business.
Once CDA was founded, however, it was logical that Carrafiello pitch his old client Lederle. With typical Carrafiello enthusiasm, he went in asking for the whole account and came away with one assignment on the antibiotic Achromycin—the first of many brands he was to handle over the years for Lederle. Within the Lederle work was Stresstabs, a multivitamin, marketed principally to MDs to gain their recommendations but with limited consumer advertising. Carrafiello saw the opportunity to build on the brand’s professional base with a stronger print program to consumers and convinced Lederle to try the idea. Stresstabs sales increased markedly, making the product the leader in the category. Carrafiello had hit on the productive model of combining professional and consumer programs. He put it to work on other Lederle products—Centrum multivitamins, Caltrate calcium supplements, Fibercon fiber supplement, and Sensodyne toothpaste for Block Drug.
At the same time it was handling non-Rx health products, CDA gained business on prescription drugs. Carrafiello tapped into his Pfizer contacts for work on Sinequan and Diabenese and won business from other pharmaceutical companies: Boehringer-Ingelheim for Catapres TTS, Miles (Bayer) for Mycelex and Adalat, Winthrop for Talwin, and Knoll for Vicodin. This company/product mix produced a unique agency culture with work on scientifically-oriented products moving through CDA alongside assignments for consumer-oriented brands.
Gerry Carrafiello describes the agency staff: “There were people with Rx disciplines and with consumer disciplines. They were experienced in doing 30- and 15-second television commercials, and sales aids, convention panels, or physician education programs. They weren’t locked in to [one media]…and whether they designed a consumer program or a journal ad, it would be seamless in terms of who these folks were and how they worked together.”
In command of this variety of promotional work was Lou Carrafiello, who held it together by the high standard he set at CDA for advertising that built brands through compelling ideas in copy and graphics. Says Bob Brandt, who worked with Lou for many years, “He loved ideas. He had a passion for ideas. He didn’t want to be pigeon-holed as an account man or a creative guy. He was the creative director of the agency. He was the president. He was a generalist. He was a marvelous combination.”
His years at Pfizer had given Carrafiello an appreciation of the scientific basis of healthcare products, while his time at a consumer agency had taught him the value of memorable, succinct selling messages. His client at Block Drug, Peter Mann, says of Lou, “He understood how to capture the essence of products in a handful of words that sunk into consumers’ brains and made them remember product benefits. He was the best I’ve ever seen at that.”
Brandt agrees: “Lou was a wonderful writer. He had the ability to capture in a few words a fundamentally powerful idea. And then, he had the ability to sell that idea.”
For example, CDA’s highly successful advertising for Stresstabs featured a candle “burning at both ends” to illustrate the need for vitamins with hard-driving patients. On the vitamin/mineral combination Centrum, the slogan was “From A to Zinc.” On Sensodyne toothpaste, the threat of tooth loss signaled by sensitivity to heat or cold was dramatized by a campaign on “The Domino Effect.”
Carrafiello’s dedication to creating strong selling ideas won trust from his clients. Brandt says, “Lou had an incredible ability to gain the confidence of clients, who would often let their confidence in him be the deciding factor in whether or not to buy an advertising campaign, a media idea, a marketing idea, or a new product.”
Carrafiello also won loyalty at clients and with his staff through his open, outgoing, hands-on style, his self-deprecating sense of humor, and his willingness to help young people grow at his agency. His unexpected fatal heart attack in 1993 devastated all who knew him. The agency regrouped around its senior executives and his son Gerry, and Carrafiello Diehl & Associates continues today, following in the traditions of its founder.
Gerry Carrafiello once asked his father what would have happened if he had bought the lumberyard. Would he have been happy with such a small business? Lou, with characteristically entrepreneurial spirit, came back with, “Who said we’d just be in Ossining, New York? We’d be the biggest lumberyard on the East Coast!”
Gerry recalls, “I looked at him with a little bit of ‘That’s-a-pretty-cocky-answer’ expression. And then I realized that it was probably true.”