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Puma to Maintain Relationship with Quaker City Mercantile

08/19/2003

Puma to Maintain Relationship with Quaker City Mercantile
08/19/03

Base Design to Market Puma Fashion Lines
Quaker City Mercantile, Philadelphia ad agency, created nine TV spots for client Puma, the German athletic shoe maker.

The spots tout the Jamaica Olympic Relay Team as it prepares for the Summer Olympics.

The commercial, which will be shown worldwide, revolves around a Rastafarian Genie of the Lamp, "who magically grants a wish that everyone in Jamaica receive a colorful new pair of Pumas," according to Quaker City Mercantile.

Steven Grasse, Gryo's principal, was creative director, working with Director Robert Jitzmark of Hungry Man Productions, the New York company that created ESPN's "Sports Center" ad campaign. Music was composed by the rapper known as Elephant Man (born O'Neil Bryan). NEW YORK Puma has hired New York branding boutique Base Design to handle advertising and brand development for several upcoming fashion collections, a client representative said.

Base will create campaigns and positioning for Puma's Black Station brands, including
upscale men's-footwear line Platinum, yoga-wear series Nuala and new active-wear line Mahanuala. Specifically, Base is charged with creating the first visuals for Mahanuala and rebranding and creating ads for Nuala, a line that was co-created with model Christy Turlington. In addition, Base will create ads for Puma's 96 Hours travel-wear line.

The client rep said the award will not change Puma's relationship with Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) in Philadelphia, which has handled the company's global ads for more than eight years. Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) will continue to create ads for Puma's sports clothes and shoes.

Previous work by Base includes the redesign of perfume packaging for Yves Saint Laurent Beauty, Surface Hotel's brand identity and positioning work for Wrangler Europe.

Spending on the project was undisclosed. Puma spent about $4 million on U.S. ads in 2002, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus.

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The Devil in Mr. Grasse, Quaker City Mercantile's(formerly Quaker City Mercantile) CEO

04/01/2003

The Devil in Mr. Grasse, Quaker City Mercantile's(formerly Quaker City Mercantile) CEO
04/01/2003

Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) has grown out of its bratty roots to become a key to Puma's renaissance.

Yes, he's a new father. Yes, Hollywood is calling. Yes, he's the increasingly corporate shill for Big Tobacco and Big Booze. But none of that's going to keep Philly's wildest adman from telling fart jokes.

Is Steven Grasse on the highway to hell? The maximum leader of ad firm Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) would like you to think so. That's the persona-the bad boy who doesn't give a fuck. Okay, that was cool when he was a young gun. But now he's 38, with a baby, a trophy wife, and mucho establishment clients. He's on the verge of making a Hollywood deal. On the ad side, Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) has grown out of its bratty roots to become a key to Puma's renaissance. The once-bad boys of Philly are now serious candidates to pick up the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation account.

And yet he can't seem to let go of the lowbrow. While his ad biz gets more and more corporate, his side projects dive deeper into the excrement. (One of Quaker City Mercantile's ancillary projects, G-Mart, features a website devoted to, well, shit.) His Bikini Bandits movie, with its semen shots and questionable use of a retarded man talking about "boobies," makes Jackass look like Truffaut's The 400 Blows. Meanwhile, he's rumored to be recruiting the gun industry. So how do we push the product? Let's shoot a couple ads.

Scenario #1

A fantasy scene opens at Quaker City Mercantile's Old City offices. Cut to a madman-Grasse-yelling at frightened underlings. A barely draped Delilah's stripper holds a hot dog in one hand, a bottle of JD in the other. A disheveled Ben Franklin with a wet spot on his britches chases her. As we cut from bald head to large breasts to skinny sausages, Jethro Tull, Grasse's favorite childhood band, blasts away at "Aqualung." The line "Snot running down his nose" plays as Grasse-maybe interspersed with shots of Mussolini on the balcony-bellows at a cowering small-breasted intern wearing jeans that hug the pubic bone. Grasse then turns directly to the camera and says, "Who farted?"

As Steven Grasse will tell you, that would suck. Too much art, not enough product. Besides, a classic rock song with no direct tie-in name.

Scenario #2

Let's get literal. New opening. All true. We open with a rube, okay, me, entering the Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) Christmas party on the upper floor of the 700 Club in Northern Liberties. It's early afternoon, but the room already reeks like Dirty Frank's at 3 a.m. The Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) family is hammered. They are an endearing group of snowboarder fashionistas peddling cigarettes, gin and shoes to the lonely, insecure and poor. Shots are downed. Snippets of conversation are overheard as many a smiling young sprite rationalizes why she lives in Philly and not Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Shyamala Joshi, Grasse's departing partner, arrives via horse and buggy, carrying a scepter and wearing a crimson cape. She stares quizzically at a lopsided ice sculpture that purports to be her. It looks more like a slushy Smurfette. Also present is Dirty Sanchez, a fat man in blue tights. Dirty is a Grasse-created character with a proclivity for sexual activity involving human excrement.

A Grasse bounces over. It is not Steven, but his decade-younger brother Peter. Steven refers to Peter as "Mini Me." Also bald, Peter possesses a charismatic smile and an air of mellowness his brother lacks. He grins at me, reaches in, and gives my left nipple the hardest titty-twister I've received since Webelos. I look for ice, but there's no time. In the front of the room, Steven, clad in jeans and a red jersey reading philthy, grabs the karaoke mike. Sweat pours down his bald head. He looks a bit menacing; think one of the thugs from Clockwork Orange. The music starts. It's ac/dc. Steven sings.

Living easy, living free
Season ticket on a one-way ride
Asking nothing, leave me be...
I'm on the highway to hell.

The Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) crowd claps in unison and pumps its fists. Sonia, Grasse's demure second wife, smiles uneasily. She's the mother of Kreider, the tot who supposedly has sedated Pops. Not today. Grasse wipes his forehead with a forearm super-sized from weightlifting. He has had a few drinks, and the controlled intensity with which he runs his life and business is gone. He paces like a badass caged extra from Spartacus.

Hey Momma, look at me
I'm on my way to the promised land.
I'm on the highway to hell.

The music ends. Steven Grasse lets loose a primal sound. He is high-fived by his followers. Fade to black as the bacchanalian feast descends into a Coors beer commercial.

But is it real? Or brand position, like an older-than-Clinton Stones playing "Sympathy for the Devil" while being sponsored by Visa? Steven Grasse has never been more successful. But he faces his greatest challenge: How do you convince the masses, and your clients, you're still a rebel while you're driving a Volvo, rehabbing a Society Hill mansion and voting Republican? Some people pull it off-hello, David Bowie-and some look like Phil Collins.

Then again, bald old Phil has had more Top 40 hits.

Love the butter-churning/ejaculation scene in Bikini Bandits? Thank Ayn Rand.

After graduating from Souderton high school, Grasse headed to rural Thailand for a year of study. He carried few possessions. However, in a move that inadvertently shifted the fortunes of various consumer durables, he took along a copy of Rand's nearly unfinishable political novel The Fountainhead. Alone on a Thai island, Grasse watched by day as the Thai navy returned Cambodian refugees to their home waters and near-certain execution by the Khmer Rouge. (For solace, he would head into Bangkok to eat a Big Mac and marvel at the marketing power of the Golden Arches.) At night, he would read about Rand's hero, Howard Roark, a swaggering, date-raping architect who never compromises, never seems to have any fun, and is viewed by his associates as, well, an asshole.

The date-rape aspect aside, Grasse is much like Rand's know-it-all protagonist. Throughout the novel, Roark battles a conformist society that won't let him pursue his individualist dreams. In the end, he is placed on trial ostensibly for being an individual. In his defense, Roark proclaims, "Our country was based on a man's right to the pursuit of happiness. His own happiness. Not anyone else's. A private, personal, selfish motive."

Grasse lives by that credo. While Roark's diy philosophy was employed in the name of architecture, Steven Grasse's staunch individualism is in the pursuit of moronic chic. Whether in ads for Puma, RJ Reynolds, Glenfiddich and Delilah's Den, or in the sub-Swank humor of cinematic oddity Bikini Bandits, Grasse and Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) have built a small empire on selling crassness as a way of life to a grateful public.

All along, Grasse has walked the tightrope between being cool and being a dick. In Rochester, New York, the vote is probably two to one for dick. Last November, Grasse was invited to speak before the Rochester Advertising Federation. Upon his arrival, the locals knew something was not right. "Grasse" was dressed, Phil Spector-like, in a poufy wig, sunglasses and flared trousers. His assistant implored the audience not to look him straight in the eye. Instead of showing his ad reel, the man who would be Grasse showed Bikini Bandits, including scenes of a horny pope making out with strippers. A large portion of the audience headed for the door. Of course, it wasn't Grasse, but one of his art assistants who shaved his head for the occasion.

"I just thought it was fucking hilarious," explains Grasse, his face a malevolent grin. "There were no victims."

The good folk of Rochester disagree. "It was really bewildering," says Stephen Hall, president of the Rochester Advertising Federation. As the evening progressed, the Rochesterites began realizing they'd been taken for dupes. "We had people and clients drive in to hear Grasse speak," says Hall. "We spent hours organizing the event. In the end, we had to refund money and apologize-and we're not a wealthy organization. I'm not sure how that can be considered victimless."

Last September, Grasse remarried. He even cried at the wedding. He's the proud, doting father of a 19-month-old girl. There has been talk that Philly's favorite vulgarian is starting to mellow-no more screaming at employees, no more hurling of office equipment. Perhaps he might even redirect Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) away from its soft-porn, high-nicotine roots.

Nope. Right now, Grasse sits behind a beat-up desk in the backroom of his G-Mart store, his retail alter ego in Old City. He is a short man, but powerfully built; he probably could kick every adman's ass between here and New York City.

At G-Mart, consumers can buy t-shirts of a lovable chimp showing his rectum, and other ugly-hip clothing. Also available are various designs of Puma, the once cool, then lame, now cool again sneaker brand that Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) helped bring back from Wal-Mart oblivion. Around him, four strippers slip into panties and G-Mart half-t's three or four sizes too small. There's a catalog shoot later. As usual, Grasse bounces from the high to the sub-ooze.

There's talk of Sam Katz officially announcing his second assault on John Street. Grasse, who considers himself a libertarian conservative, offered to do Katz's ads for free: "I can get people who have never voted out and excited for him. You got to pitch to the under-30 crowd in a way they have never been approached before. Make them feel it's cool to be involved with Katz."

"We have a lot of political ad companies we've worked with before," said a Katz intimate. "Quaker City Mercantile's never done a political ad before in its career."

One of the reasons for the creation of G-Mart was that with the greater success of Quaker City Mercantile, fewer of its more affluent clients are into the over-the-top-into-the-ass-crack advertising Grasse loves. "We do G-Mart so we can do the really weird stuff," explains Grasse.

It didn't used to be that way. For its first five years, Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) struggled as it tried to incorporate Grasse's dark worldview into stodgy Philly advertising. (Artifacts from those early days include a polite rejection from a local wedding shop; Quaker City Mercantile's idea for an ad campaign featuring pregnant brides didn't seem quite appropriate.) Finally, Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) scored a breakthrough when Grasse designed ads for Zipperhead, the would-be hipster Philly clothing store on South Street, that featured Charles Manson and Jeffrey Dahmer. Building on that notoriety, Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) went guerrilla doing a print ad for Oaktree clothing spoofing Gap ads, proclaiming, "Mussolini, Stalin, Saddam Hussein, Mao, and Qaddafi wore khakis." Grasse became known for showing up at client pitches in costumes. In a successful attempt to get mtv to use Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) and let him do edgy, absurd spots for spring break programming, Grasse appeared at its office dressed as a nun-and denied he was dressed strangely when asked. At Franklin Mills mall, he appeared as Napoleon.

Now, the wildness is gone. Sure, there are moments, as in a 1999 Puma ad featuring Oscar De La Hoya. The boxer says family members notice his eyes going red while he's in the ring. Then he makes an analogy about a human face and a watermelon thrown against the wall: "That's how your fist feels against a body part or face," he says with a snarl. "I want to make him bleed more because I get so angry. I want to knock the guy out cold because I get so angry."

That ad was toned down before broadcasting. Most of the Puma spots are clever but tame, including a recent campaign celebrating Puma shoeing the Jamaican national track team, which features a Jamaican genie blinking Pumas onto unsuspecting locals.

Grasse's cigarette work has also evolved into mellow and inoffensive, while still incorporating a slight touch of the old Quaker City Mercantile. The usually effusive Grasse goes all corporate when it comes to RJ Reynolds. "I will not talk about our cigarette accounts," he states flatly. Indeed, as I head out for interviews with various Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) staffers, Grasse often shouts, "No cigarette talk." (Grasse also clammed up when I asked him if the rumors are true that Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) is pursuing Smith & Wesson as a client. He looked startled and muttered, "No comment.")

A look at Quaker City Mercantile's work for Red Kamel shows how the company has taken its guerrilla ad roots and applied them to mass-marketing America's number one health problem. On his first meeting with RJ Reynolds in Winston-Salem, Grasse bluntly informed the company that its Joe Camel campaign was a goofy disaster-not to mention a public-relations nightmare, considering its rep as an insidious marketing tool to underage smokers.

Grasse proposed the revival of Red Kamel, a classic cigarette brand from before World War ii. Instead of a straight-ahead ad campaign, Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) went about making Red Kamel cool in a subtler way. It created retro World War ii posters that harked back to old ads that made cigarette smoking seem debonair. At outdoor concerts, Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) set up a casbah-like tent for smokers, complete with direct-feed video, belly dancers and comfy chairs. Retro posters were sent to tattoo parlors. In Atlanta, Red Kamel sponsored a Russ Meyer film festival, with drinks and former stars available for autographs.

"I'm not even sure advertising works anymore," says Grasse. "If you don't do it as part of a whole brand-positioning effort involving distribution and marketing, it's not going to do anything."

Grasse isn't kidding. When I ask him what current television ads he finds effective, he thinks for a minute. "None," says Grasse. "But I'm more of a hater." He pauses. "Wait a minute, I really like those Coors commercials with the girls and the parties. That captures the essence of beer drinking."

Among Grasse's many hates: Volkswagen ads, particularly 2001's hit ad in which four would-be cool people drive a Cabriolet to a party, look at the merriment, then decide they'd rather just cruise around all night. In the background, Nick Drake, a long-dead British folkie, croons his ultra-mournful song "Pink Moon." "I hate that ad," says Grasse. "Any ad where I'm supposed to think the people are cooler and more clever than me drives me fucking crazy."

Back at G-Mart, the models are fully clothed, and the entourage heads over to a deserted Old City diner for an appropriately kitschy setting. Some of them ride over in a 1969 Dodge gto, a souped-up roadster that several of the Bikini Bandits ladies recently drove cross-country as part of the infamous Gumball Rally coast-to-coast race. Inside the diner, the ladies grapple with sausages and other elongated meats. Grasse's brother Pete and Larry McGearty, Quaker City Mercantile's promotional director, play dead-end diners aroused by tonight's specials.

"This will work perfectly," says Grasse.

While the photos turn out well, there seems to be a very 1997 feel to them. "I'm not really against the sex stuff," says Shyamala Joshi, McGearty's fiancee and Grasse's partner for 12 years. "It's a little offensive, but more, I just feel like it's over. You see this kind of stuff everywhere. It's just not very edgy." (Joshi is leaving Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) to pursue the proverbial "other interests," but Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) insiders hint she's sick of the potty humor.)

The same argument is made about Grasse's Bikini Bandits, the Citizen Kane of retarded humor movies. Literally and metaphorically. In addition to guest appearances by Corey Feldman and the late Joey Ramone, Bikini Bandits actually features a mentally challenged man, along with Peter Grasse delivering a crowd-pleasing turn as "Retarded Amish Boy." In the movie's most moving scene, young Grasse, outfitted with buck teeth, churns butter with an increasingly ecstatic look on his face until the cream blossoms all over his body. It is trEs Merchant Ivory. The script was written by Steven and Peter while on a family vacation in New Hampshire: "I told Pete I wanted to write a movie about breasts and girls. And he said, let's do it."

It won't happen again.

"Peter's wife has banned him from being in any of my future movies," confides Steven. "She thinks I'm making fun of him." He says nothing for a very long moment. "I'm not, of course."

The movie's conceit, if you can call it that, is a celebration of large-breasted women with large guns driving large cars. It screams of a sly parody of The Dukes of Hazzard on mescaline or an update of '70s exploitation films, but Grasse insists none of that is true.

"There is no subtext," he says. "That kind of toilet humor is what I grew up loving." Indeed, the creative use of shit has been a hallmark of Grasse's career. In addition to the exploits of Dirty Sanchez, the G-Mart website features parodies of excrement-related activities, including the new extreme sport of Dump Jumpers-intrepid athletes who will take a shit on your car at a red light or on your lap on the r6-and a link to RateMyPoo.com.

Simultaneously, Grasse has scaled down the boobs and the crap conceit with his clients. It may not have been by his personal choice. "I think there's a lot of market research that shows that Generation Y is not so much into that 'sticking it to the Establishment' and the shock stuff as Generation X," says Charles Szoradi, president of Monsoon, a competing ad firm in Philadelphia. "That approach has a short shelf life."

The original Adam Sandler in Grasse's family was Grandpa. When Grasse was 13, he brought his first girlfriend home to meet his folks. He introduced the young lass to his grandfather, Raymond Underwood, mit graduate, patent attorney and family crackup. "This is a real change of pace," Underwood said, looking at the girl. "Most of Steven's girlfriends are Negroes."

Like his current life, Grasse's childhood was a mixture of the puerile and ponderous. Growing up in Souderton, a small Mennonite community where Grasses have lived for generations, he was the middle child of three boys. His father was a printer who preached individualism. It was Grandpa Underwood who first introduced Grasse to Mad Magazine, and as a kid he would stay in his room, sketching stories featuring the members of Jethro Tull. "I was also really into Doctor Who," says Grasse. "I came close to going down the Dungeons & Dragons path."

At school, he was seen as a bit of a square. He earned the nickname "Straight-Ass Grasse" for his refusal to dabble in either weed or lager. Eventually, he started a rock band, the Hair Club for Men. A teacher gave him some advice: "Your band sucks, but the fliers and promotions are great. You should go into advertising."

The other life-changing moment in Grasse's youth occurred during his senior year. Bored, he decided to shave his head.

"It was really weird," remembers Peter, his younger brother. "Before, he was this guy who would come home with his underwear all torn because of all the wedgies he was getting. Then he shaved his head, and his whole personality changed."

After high-school graduation, Grasse headed to Thailand and then enrolled at Syracuse. He didn't spend much time on campus. There were two semesters in Nepal, where he wrote a paper on marketing Apple computers in the Himalayas. He used that to score ad internships in Hong Kong and London. After Syracuse, he headed to the Saatchi & Saatchi office in Auckland, New Zealand. There, he met his first wife, Emma Hagen. After leaving New Zealand, the two spent a year in Miami before starting Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) in Philadelphia. "It was simply because we could use my dad's printing office as a base," recalls Grasse.

Simultaneously, Grasse built a growing reputation as a barnacle on the ass of the Philadelphia ad community. At award dinners, he would heckle colleagues and then be surprised when they would rip him to clients. Nowadays, his relationships with his ad brethren are a little more cordial. "I really admire him," says Marc Brownstein, of the Brownstein Group, a major Philadelphia ad firm. "Certain ad execs know how to get attention, and Steven is one of them. He's got a great shtick. Now, I could pull my pants down in public and get attention, but it's not my style. But it works for them."

According to Grasse, staffing became a problem. (The firm, largely because of its recession-proof cigarette accounts, has quadrupled in size, from 20 to 80 employees, in the past five years.) "We were hiring all these people from New York, and they would stay for a few months and then leave," remembers Grasse. "I finally asked them-why are you leaving? They said because the people in Philly are so ugly, we can't find anyone we would want to date. Ever since, I've hired local people."

Grasse's intolerable management skills might have contributed to the defections. "He's fired me 20 times," says Larry McGearty, his promotions director. "But we always get back together 15 minutes later." "He just expects perfection," explains Ron Short, Quaker City Mercantile's longtime art director. "If you can't endure someone screaming at you one minute and being nice the next, you won't succeed here. But you should see the faces on his employees when he likes their work. It's like 'Dad really likes me.'"

Grasse is a charter member of the "I Hate Philadelphia But I Refuse to Leave" club. Ask why he stays in Philly-his family has just moved into a $1 million rehab in Society Hill-and he'll flippantly answer, "I do it to piss people off." However, in a more contemplative moment, he'll admit his affection: "I love the architecture here. I love the fact that Grasses have lived in the area for centuries. That's what wrong with America-no one has any roots. I'll never move."

Through the '90s, Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) continued to grow despite Grasse's propensity to scream at employees until they cried, left, or screamed back. A very public break with his wife Emma, including the police being called to mediate a fight at Quaker City Mercantile's offices, put him in a funk. His shit-kicking attitude hurt him on the dating scene. He was on a third date with a local ad exec when the woman innocently asked about his reputation for being a hard-ass. "I'm not mean! I'm not mean!" screamed Grasse, until the woman left.

"It was tough being single here," Grasse admits in a tender moment. "I mean, I'm not like the rest of the rich young people in this town, and the artists here saw me as a sellout. It was lonely."

In 1999, he met Sonia Kurtz, a 26-year-old Penn student. They quickly became an item, and their daughter was born in 2000. Last year, they tied the knot at the Art Alliance. "It's given me perspective in my life," says Grasse. "Now, I can turn it off and just be with them. Although I still don't really know how to relax. I just can't comprehend how people can play video games or cards. What's the point?"

Though the Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) offices are decorated with posters and paraphernalia from Red Kamel, Puma and a slew of other clients, the dominant item is multiple images of Steven Grasse: Steven with horns, Steven with baby, Steven smiling. It gives the office a Stalin-meets-Warhol feel. The client list no longer includes trendy clothiers with no money. Grasse takes real pride in its sin-industry emphasis: "This is America. You should have freedom to make your own choices."

But while Grasse will passionately defend his right to advertise a product the American Cancer Society says causes 440,000 deaths a year, you won't see him repping land developers or fast-food chains. "I'd never do Toll Brothers," says Grasse, whose agency was listed first in a series of "lost conscience" ads sponsored by anti-smoking groups that ran in Florida in 1998. "I think anybody who doesn't live in a house at least 50 years old should be shot. My town where I grew up is gone. Filled with subdivisions and minivans. It makes me sick."

Over a leisurely lunch at Buddakan, Grasse speaks intelligently on a variety of subjects, from existentialism to libertarianism to Adaptation. He talks hopefully of possibly getting the tourist campaign for his beloved city of Philadelphia. The chip on his shoulder has been temporarily removed. He tells of being one of two finalists to direct the first feature by the guys who brought you the massively funny newspaper parody The Onion. Grasse flew out to L.A. and took a meeting with Fox Searchlight that included David Zucker, producer of the legendary Airplane! comedies.

In no uncertain terms, Grasse told the jaws-agape Hollywood execs that he thought the script-an update of the 1970 cult comedy Kentucky Fried Movie-was quite lame. "I told them the film needed to be more about guerrilla filmmaking, like The Onion itself," says Grasse. Afterward, he called his agent and told him he didn't think the meeting went well. A few minutes later, his agent called back: "You're wrong. It went worse. They hated you."

Grasse was also a finalist to direct a film starring black comedian David Alan Grier. The concept? A stirring tale of two black guys who stick with ugly black women because they're loyal and cheaper. Fortunately for American cinema and Grasse's career, the money fell through. The story inspires me to ask Grasse the question I've been wanting to pose for weeks: Doesn't he ever aspire to do something a little higher-brow than frat-boy high jinks?

"Absolutely not," says Grasse, with a big smile. He points in the general direction of the Ritz Theaters. "I hate just about every movie that plays there. Why? Because they scream 'art.' I hate that. Give me Braveheart any day. I like a good epic. It embarrasses me when people are earnest. I told my agent that I'd love to meet M. Night Shyamalan. He told me, 'Oh, he'd hate what you do.' Fine. Whatever. I'm not about art. People see Bikini Bandits and say, 'Oh, you were trying to do Russ Meyer.' No I wasn't. I was trying to be Van Halen."

The only problem is that all the members of Van Halen are near 50. David Lee Roth no longer claims to be just a gigolo. A sad fact of life is, even rock stars and anarchists grow up. And though he doesn't like to admit to it, Grasse has grown up, too. Sure, there's a part of him that will always be the enfant terrible, in love with big tits and shit. But you don't find yourself in charge of Puma and RJ Reynolds accounts solely by dressing up as a nun and slagging the power elite. It takes grown-up concessions like work ethic, ruthlessness and long-term planning. Grasse poking his finger in the eye of the Establishment is just as conventional as Al Sharpton's rants or Rush Limbaugh's liberal-baiting. Or maybe Grasse's scatological affection is an attempt to hang on to his youth a little bit longer. That makes him the perfect demographic for his colleagues pushing Miatas and Rogaine.

The check is paid. Steven Grasse heads back to Quaker City Mercantile. There's a trip to Winston-Salem for more cigarette-selling, a sequel to Bikini Bandits to write, and who knows, maybe some cool way to push pistols. There's a jauntiness in his step. Yes, Steven Grasse is on the highway to hell, but it's paved with gold.you can rely on."


Philadelphia Magazine
http://www.phillymag.com/

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Oh La La Bikini Bandits

03/20/2003

Oh La La Bikini Bandits
03/20/2003

There's "freedom" fries, "freedom" toast and Inspector Gadget starring "Freedom" Stewart. One more and we"ll stick our "freedom" manicured nail down our throat and hurl, or "freedom" kiss a wall outlet and electrocute ourselves. But we have compatriots in our disdain. We have Beret!, the hardcore band so angry the members turned French with their overwhelming rage.

Meet the new faces of faux antipatriotism: young, cute and with painted-on outrageous moustaches and goatees. They wear black and white striped shirts and berets: they carry baguettes and drink wine. They smoke, hate hyped political correctness and sing (in French, of course) about all of the above onstage in their songs. They also like to punch, eat cheese, hate Morrissey and will be hawking their new album Fromage de la Rue. Beret! Is just one aspect of the new touring festival music, film and performance art known as The Backseat Media Festival. Sponsored by Backseat Conceptions, the production cozies up in Deep Ellum for two days. On Friday at Spiderbabies, Beret! Will perform along with James Brown and his one-man show called Glory Hole and the bands Urine Trouble and The Invincible Czars. Doors open at 10pm.

Saturday's programming is all film with a section of shorts (including Bill Plymphton's Hair High, The Creepies vs. Robot Monster and Barak Epstein's Prison A Go Go) beginning at 4p.m. The festival also includes the Dallas premiere of 4 Days in Panties starring James Brown of Glory Hole as a guy so obsessed with Chloe, one of the tattooed, pierced, dyed-haired girls from the Suicide Girls Web site, that the dude dresses like a lady to infiltrate the girls-only scene. Brining the Backseat incest full circle, Beret! stars as the girls' angry French boyfriends who fiercely protect their fidelity. The Suicide Girls, several of whom co-star, and Troma Entertainment, producers of Tromeo and Julliet, present 4 Days in Panties at 6:45 p.m.

Continuing the bizarre co-starring theme is the Dallas premiere of Bikini Bandits, which is described as Russ Meyer meets Pulp Fiction with a band of buxom bikini-ed babes running amok, driving classic cars and toting large guns. Maynard James Keenan from the band TOOL plays Satan, while the pope is played by the late Dee Dee Ramone (who surprisingly passed away before John Paul). Corey Feldman and Jello Biafra also make appearances. Bikini Bandits starts at 5:30 p.m. Admission for the evening of films is $5. What one will find in the Backseat is bizarre, surprising and definitely nothing like what was just in town for the Dallas Video Festival. It's also all just as ridiculous as "freedom" fries.

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Oh La La Bikini Bandits

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Behind the Lens: Puma Comes Back to Jamaica

03/01/2003

Behind the Lens: Puma Comes Back to Jamaica
03/01/2003

Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) campaign for Puma promotes the brand with Jamaican culture Olympic pride.

Quaker City Mercantile's latest campaign for Puma promotes the brand as if it had sponsored not just Jamaica's Olympic efforts but the whole country: tapping into the island nation's happy-go-lucky vibe, the four print ads currently running in magazine such as Details and Maxim show all kinds of people wearing Puma shoes and enjoying life. Gone are the surreal action shots that characterized Quaker City Mercantile's past work for Puma, also photographed by Warwick Saint. These Saint pictures portray a sense of fun that is accessible to a broader range of people. "I treated the whole thing like an editorial shoot," Saint says. "I tried to created something genuine...happy, but not contrived." Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) cast people off the street and set up four to five shots a day. Although many of the scenarios were sketched out beforehand, Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) president/creative director Steven Grasse says a certain amount of free association crept in. One of the more humorous: a man runs down a street with a Jamaican flag trailing behind. The kids in the background weren't planned, but their expressions seal the deal.

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Behind the Lens: Puma Comes Back to Jamaica

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ABRACADABRA! Puma!

01/13/2003

ABRACADABRA! Puma!
03/01/2003

A genie outfits runners with new shoes in recent TV work by Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) for Puma.

Ever want a genie in a magic lamp to outfit you with new shoes? Well, it happens in new TV work by Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) for Puma.

The effort celebrates Puma's signing last year of a multiyear sponsorship contract with the Jamaican National and Olympic teams.

One spot, which appears in 60-, 45-, 30- and 15-second versions and as a 30-second tease, shows a guy finding a lamp on the beach. After he rubs it, a dreadlocked genie appears. The man, who notices that the genie's Pumas are glittering, wishes for everyone in Jamaica to have Puma shoes.

The ad then shows Pumas magically appearing on people's feet-including a newborn baby and a woman ironing. At the end, the Puma logo is shown with the line, "Proud sponsor of the 2003 Jamaican Athletics Federation."

"We really strove for kind of a low-tech feel as opposed to having it be all overproduced," said Steven Grasse, creative director/CEO at Philadelphia-based Quaker City Mercantile.

The TV work was written by Grasse and directed by Lisa Rubish from Bob Industries in Los Angeles. The effort also includes print, which was shot by Warrick Saint.

The spot is airing in Europe, Asia and Australia. Print is running in the U.S. in the February issue of Details, among others.

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ABRACADABRA! Puma!

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All Business Features Quaker City Mercantile's Puma Campaign

01/06/2003

All Business Features Quaker City Mercantile's Puma Campaign
01/06/03

"Strategy: Puma Gets Running Start in 2003 With Worldwide Push for H. Street"
German-based athletic footwear and apparel company Puma will take on a Jamaican flair beginning this month in ads for H. Street, a new colorful running shoe designed for high-impact use on city streets and high school tracks.
The integrated TV and print campaign will run in North America, Europe and Asia, via Quaker City Mercantile, Philadelphia, but U.S. consumers will only see the print component. Budget was not disclosed. Puma spent $3.3 million in the U.S. from Jan.-Sept. 2002, per CMR.
The campaign builds on the relationship between the trendy athletic brand and the Jamaican people through the color, music and passion of the island's culture and Puma products. Puma last year signed a multi-year sponsorship contract with the Jamaican National and Olympic teams and will supply apparel and footwear through 2008.
Print breaks in the U.S. with four executions in March issues of Details, Black Book, Flaunt, Interview, The Fader, Vibe and Nylon. One image features two elderly Jamaican women dressed in their Sunday finest, complete with vibrant Puma H. Streets. Another shot shows an athlete running through the streets triumphantly carrying an oversized Jamaican flag wearing matching H. Streets.
The TV spot, which will air in 15-, 30-, 45- and 60-second versions, shows a Jamaican man strolling down the beach when he discovers a magic lamp and a hip Genie who grants his wish that everyone have a pair of shoes just like the Genie's vibrant H. Streets. Across the island, shoes are replaced, from the dancing feet of a gospel choir in rehearsal to a bus full of passengers and a woman at home ironing.
The tag reads, "Puma, the proud sponsor of the Jamaican National Team."
The unisex H Street shoes will be available this spring for $70.

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All Business Features Quaker City Mercantile's Puma Campaign

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