It’s fitting that two such reputable news organizations on different sides of the world can’t agree on when he was born, because reputable people often saw entirely different sides of Herschell Gordon Lewis.
There was the “Godfather of Gore” Lewis eulogized in those articles above, who revolutionized film making by proving that the bloody spectacle could carry a film and bring out audiences for low overhead and high ROI.
That Lewis inspired the likes of Clive Barker, Wes Craven and Quentin Tarantino.
And there was the Lewis who was the “Godfather of Direct Marketing.”
The Lewis who wrote dozens of direct marketing books, gave lectures and seminars all over the world, and was recognized as one of the industry’s greats by just about every marketing/advertising/copywriting association in existence.
Lewis’s work in movies may be more widely known, but in terms of economic impact, I think the New York Times and BBC are burying the lead. Lewis’s real legacy is in the what he taught companies about how to talk potential customers; how to get their attention and convince as many of them as possible to follow through on the purchase.
The Intersection of Marketing and Art
To me, Herschell Gordon Lewis — more than anyone else in the industry — embodied the nexus of marketing and pop culture.
Copywriting was the thread that tied his movie and marketing career together, of course. The same leap that allowed him to identify what audiences wanted in a cheap exploitation film also allowed him to identify the USP, benefits and essential offer of the products he wrote for. The same copywriting that got kids to the drive-in to watch the gory spectacle of Blood Feast could get any target market to buy just about anything he was selling.
About his films, Lewis used to say, “If you live long enough, you become legitimate.”
But in the world of marketing, Lewis didn’t need a lifetime to become legitimate. His work as a copywriter was so well crafted and targeted than anyone with their eyes on the bottom line could vouch for his legitimacy.
My start in magazines came from covering pop culture — mostly games, comics and anime. Moving from that world into business publications and marketing, I realized early that there’s a magic business people can do when they meld their passions into the elements of a seemingly bland career.
In that sorcery, Lewis was our Merlin.
A Curmudgeon’s Last Words
A few months ago, Lewis reached out to me about finding a new home for his Curmudgeon at Large copywriting and direct marketing column. I was honored, even a little worried that the blog space we had available for it wouldn’t be able to give him a satisfying vehicle for the piece. Herschell was, after all, a legend in our industry and obviously one of the best writers I’ve ever edited (an exclusive club that includes Bob Bly and the great Denny Hatch).
But we worked out the details, and I’ve been proud to have The Curmudgeon at Large blog running on our website and in our newsletter for a couple months.
As he described it:
“I’m sitting on a ready-to-go column that in my opinion — as unbiased as a self-generated opinion can be — is the most informative and most dynamic pile of logical motivational concepts I’ve ever excreted from the keyboard.”
I only wish it could go on longer.
We have one more post from The Curmudgeon scheduled to run on October 20. That will be our last goodbye to Herschel Gordon Lewis.
It’s weeks away, but still far too soon.