Cliff Freeman, an advertising executive who worked for J. Walter Thompson from 1973 to 1994, died on Saturday, according to an obituary published by The Indianapolis Star. Freeman was 80 years old.
Freeman’s body was found at a home in Indianapolis following an apparent suicide, according to the obituary. A deputy sheriff responded to a call for medical assistance on the afternoon of Oct. 14, and found Freeman’s body “in his apartment complex parking lot.”
Freeman had worked with the JWT Group in a variety of capacities, and served as senior vice president and director of operations and sales for JWT, Middle East and Africa in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. He also served as an agency consultant, selling “non-advertising” services to clients, including New Zealand fire rescue teams, Texas parks and amenities, and many in the Houston area.
One of his best-known commercials involved Jean Seberg, an actress who is a descendant of the Seberg family, which led the Neapolitan clan to create the sandwich company Umi. The Umi ad campaign ran in the United States and abroad, and Freeman also contributed to the subsequent launch of Umi’s success.
“For long-time fans of Cliff Freeman, this is a very sad day,” Brad Jakeman, president and chief creative officer of TBWA/Chiat/Day, wrote on Twitter. “He found a way to explode the stereotypes of the Meat-Free, No-Sandwich, Oscar Meyer ‘Where’s the Beef?’ campaign. And he did it with dignity. A true loss.”
At one point, Big Oil had led the charge in advertising, moving to reduce the amount of gas consumers consumed by marketing to families with three and four people in the car, despite how many times Big Oil increased gas prices.
“He said, ‘The only way you can sell gas is through government, and government controls you,’” Adam Leo, a JWT creative director, told the Star. “In the end, consumers end up with few, if any, controls on gas prices. That sense of control — of whoever is really in charge — just resonated with Cliff.”
Jakeman, who worked for Freeman for two decades, said Freeman’s “vision and storyteller’s vision for business, culture and entertainment” influenced his work at TBWA.
“Cliff is a deep and profound influence on every creative in the advertising business around the world,” Jakeman wrote. “Everything I have achieved in my career has been related to his influence. With every person I have known who was lucky enough to become an ad guy, I felt privileged to be their peer.”
The obituary also notes Freeman’s participation in the Indianapolis Colts, a football team he loved.
“J. Walter Thompson called him a giant, but he preferred the term creative genius,” Leo said. “As long as he was breathing, he would be working on ideas. He never retired.”