Local Obituaries

Ad whiz Bill Drier got Americans cruising on Carnival with jingle

Bill Drier, who loved boating and the water, at the wheel of his boat in Mount Dora, Florida.
Bill Drier, who loved boating and the water, at the wheel of his boat in Mount Dora, Florida. Facebook

Miami advertising executive William “Bill” Drier is responsible for one of the most infectious ear worms to come out of the industry.

If you watched television in the mid-1980s can you possibly forget the infectious tune that went along with the lyrics, “In the mornin’/In the evenin’/Ain’t we got fun.”

Bet you’re humming.

As co-founder of McFarland & Drier, the Miami advertising agency that created the Kathie Lee Gifford ads for Carnival Cruise Line, Drier was the creative whiz behind those commercials. He went along with Carnival CEO Micky Arison who pushed for then Kathie Lee Johnson to become the company’s celebrity face — choosing her over more familiar names at the time like Bernadette Peters, Sandy Duncan and Three’s Company co-star Joyce DeWitt in 1984.

Drier didn’t write the original melody for Ain’t We Got Fun — that came from a Richard Whiting foxtrot in the 1920s. But he was shrewd. “In looking for music, [Bill] discovered that he could buy rights to Ain’t We Got Fun for a song,” said Tim Gallagher, retired vice president of public relations for Carnival.

Drier’s tweaking of the song, Gifford’s giddy performance and the enticing images worked. The ads propelled Gifford’s career and put Carnival on travel enthusiasts’ radar. The jingle, part of the initial $10 million account with Carnival, cemented McFarland & Drier as a premier ad agency in Florida. Among its accounts: AAA, MetroZoo, Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, Florida Department of Commerce, the Falls Shopping Center, the Miami Herald and former Miami News.

“What people don't realize is the tremendous impact he had on the developing cruise industry through his work for Royal [Caribbean] and then later for Carnival,” Gallagher said. “Many industry observers felt that while the Kathie Lee Gifford commercials were great for Carnival they actually benefited the entire industry. It was the first cruise line network campaign and it showed all the features and fun that a cruise had to offer.”

Drier’s death at his retirement home in Mount Dora in central Florida, June 20 at 83, touched many in the industry.

“He was the creative genius behind the execution of our first several series of commercials for Carnival,” said Bob Dickinson, retired chief executive officer of Carnival Cruise Line. “He had a keen sense of how to trigger people’s emotions and the results speak for themselves. We became the largest and most popular cruise line in the world within months of that campaign.’’

After the first Ain’t We Got Fun commercial aired on July 9, 1984, the company added three ships in a 22-month period, Dickinson said. “Demand filled those ships. We doubled the size of our fleet in that 22 months.”

Gifford and Arison took to Twitter to share memories of Drier, who was a lieutenant in the Air Force. He began his advertising career in New York for Doyle Dane Bernbach. In 1972, Drier moved to Miami to be creative director at Hume Smith Mickelberry before founding McFarland & Drier at the turn of the decade.

“Saddened by the loss of the wonderful Bill Drier who spearheaded the original @CarnivalCruise commercials. He was a true visionary,” Gifford posted. In another Tweet, directed as a reply to Arison, she said: “He was a wonderful man with a wonderful sense of humor and an incredible knack for storytelling. He was so sweet to my kids.”

The ad exec and TV star formed a mutual admiration society. Drier told a Herald reporter in 1995: “Kathie Lee is the consummate professional. She sets the tone for these shoots.”

Arison told the Herald: “Bill Drier was an important part of our company’s history and the driving force behind the TV campaign that made Carnival synonymous with cruising. When Carnival Cruise Line launched the cruise industry’s first national advertising campaign featuring Kathie Lee Gifford in 1984, Bill was instrumental in conceptualizing a series of memorable ads that really captured the essence of what a Carnival cruise was all about. Bill left an indelible mark on our company and industry and he’ll be forever missed.”

Such was his reputation, when Drier and co-founder Bill McFarland sold their $48 million advertising agency to the Ohio firm Hameroff/Milenthal/Spence in 1994, their names were added to the new company’s masthead. Billings at the Miami office soared to $100 million.

Drier remained as president and executive creative director of HMS/McFarland & Drier for two years after the merger. Only when Drier, a recipient of numerous Addy Awards, left did the McFarland & Drier name finally retire. Drier and McFarland were affectionately known as Bill and Bill. “In a former life, we were probably a vaudeville act or something,” Drier quipped in a 1987 Miami News profile.

Bill Drier was an important part of our company’s history and the driving force behind the TV campaign that made Carnival synonymous with cruising.

Micky Arison, Carnival Cruise Lines founder.

Born April 7, 1933, in Cincinnati, Ohio, Drier’s grandfather was a tinsmith who had a business on the banks of the Ohio River. “Now I have an ad agency on the Miami River. And I suppose that’s progress,” Drier told the Herald in 1987. His love of boating and the sea, mingled with his ear for music, delighted his family, daughter Dinah O’Toole said.

“The word ‘fun’ had a meaning to him all on its own,’’ she recounted. “He made everything fun for his family, creating a jingle for any activity that took place. Whether it was waking up in the morning, showering or driving in the car, there was a jingle he created for every activity that his kids remember and still chant.”

Drier’s son David, now a hotel director with Carnival, was a champion swimmer at Christopher Columbus High School in the early-’80s and at college. His father got into the spirit.

“When the family hosted half of the Auburn men's swim team one Thanksgiving, the team members all had a symbolic ear piercing which he was perplexed by. So he decided to get one of his daughter’s beads out of her craft kit and glue his own earring on to the amusement of the teammates,” recalled O’Toole.

After retiring in the late-’90s, Drier and his wife Maryellen moved to Mount Dora. He could often be found on the water in one of his wooden Chris-Craft boats on river trips from Central Florida to Jacksonville. “He loved to teach his kids boating and fishing and anything to do with the water,” said his daughter.

“He was a placid individual,” added Dickinson. “A great sense of humor and took life in stride. He was a joy to be around and there was never any drama — which is unusual with creative types. He was the exception. Very even keeled.”

Drier is survived by his wife, two children and grandson Devon. Donations in his name can be made to Cornerstone Hospice & Palliative Care Foundation.

Howard Cohen: 305-376-3619, @HowardCohen