By Karl Rosengarth
Fire up the trusty Dirt Rag time machine, Sherman. This time we’re going back for a peek at the origins of the Subscription Guy.
Back in the late ‘90s I was in charge of Dirt Rag subscriptions, and was given the opportunity to create a house advertising campaign. I’ll have to admit that running a subscription advertisement inside the very magazine to which you hoped to attract subscribers seemed like preaching to the converted. After stroking my beard for an extended period, I decided that the ads should enhance the personal bond between Dirt Rag and our subscribers. I wanted to emphasize our personalized service and customer-first ethos. After all, didn’t have a subscription department. We had a subscription person—me. At that time, you called the 800, and I entered your subscription, booked your renewal, changed your mailing address, or took your merchandise order.
The only thing that my one-man subscription department needed was name. I dub thee—Subscription Guy!
The Subscription Guy was a fun-loving mountain biker, just like our readers. The Subscription Guy was at your service, and a free phone call or e-mail away. The Subscription Guy would do whatever it took to make you a satisfied Dirt Rag customer. Those were the truths that the house ads would convey.
The 1995 Salsa advertisement shown below provided my artistic inspiration. I hoped to replicate the ad’s playful attitude. And I basically ripped off Salsa’s format of a snapshot with a clever caption. At least I hoped that my captions would be clever.
I come from a long line of packrats, which helps explain why I’ve managed to hold onto original 1997 storyboards for the Subscription Guy advertisements. Here’s how the creative process went… I’d rummage through my photos albums, find a shot that looked like good ad fodder, paste it up on a sheet of paper with a proposed caption, and circulate it to the staff for comments. At the top is a scan of the “Yes I Can” storyboard.
If a particular storyboard passed muster, I’d incorporate the staff feedback, and pass the materials to our Art Director (originally Mark Tierney, and later Tom “Cookieman” Mitchell) who would create the actual display advertisement that ran in the magazine.
Here’s the “Yes I Can” ad that appeared in print.
Alas, not all of my brilliant ideas made it into Subscription Guy advertisements. Shown below is one of my favorite outtakes that never went beyond storyboard format.
I had plenty of fun with the concept, and the Subscription Guy had solid a five-year run in print. Eventually the persona bled through the printed page, and I “became” the Subscription Guy.
I figured it’s high time to spill the beans on the stories behind some of my favorite Subscription Guy ads.
The below ad used a perfectly timed shot taken at my thesis defense party in 1980. I give equal credit to the pair of kisses and my impending escape from academia for putting the smile on my face.
Another well-timed shot. This one taken circa 1997 at the lake jump competition at the NORBA National event held at 7 Springs resort in southwestern Pennsylvania.
Until now, select few people have know about the Subscription Guy’s alter ego: Masterjam. Here is Masterjam, spinning tunes at a Halloween party in the mid ‘90s.
Ad finally, we have another alter ego. This ad featured the Sub-Dude, riding his hand-customized Barbie bike in decidedly dude-like duds. I scored the plastic Barbie head, streamers, helmet, and dude-attire in a single, magical trip to the local thrift store. Dooooode!
I’m not the Subscription Guy any more, but Dirt Rag still has a real person at the end of the phone line. Need a hand with your mag? Give us a call at the same number or send us some 1’s and 0’s at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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