Eichler’s Ad Man Ran Clever Campaigns

Advertisments and brochures for Eichler Homes come across as works of art. Jerry Grantz worked with designers and photographers on Eichler's creative marketing campaigns.

On his first day working Joe Eichler’s new subdivision in Walnut Creek, Jerry Grantz was assigned the task of picking up cigarette butts. When Eichler began building in Southern California, Jerry knocked on farmers’ doors requesting permission to install subdivision billboard signs near their orange groves.

He also sold homes in several subdivisions.

A man with a masters degree in market research from the University of Michigan, and a real estate broker, Jerry learned from Eichler that to get a job done you did whatever it takes. And for most of his five or six years with Eichler, Jerry did what he does best:

Marketing and advertising.

“I was given the chance of my lifetime at Eichler Homes,” Jerry says, during an interview in his spacious, modern 1970s condo near San Francisco’s Lake Merced.

Jerry Grantz spent much of his career in marketing, working for several builders, including Gerson Baker, who built the community where he lives today. Jerry says his work for Joe Eichler changed his life. Jerry is seated above in a vintage Eames chair. Behind the plant to his left is an Eames plywood splint from World War II. Photos by Dave Weinstein

During his time with Joe, which started in 1959, Grantz totally revamped Eichler Homes’ advertising style, always aiming, he says, at the relatively small percentage of potential homeowners – 25 percent – that were thought to be open to the appeal of these modern houses.

“That’s what’s misunderstood about this,” says Jerry, who is 82. “Nobody wanted them!” His expressive voice takes on the tones of skeptical shoppers. “ ‘Look at that, it’s gonna burn down.’ ‘And look at that, it’s all glass, and it's night time and people are looking in on me,’ one woman said. ‘And those cabinets! Ugh!’ ”

Grantz, a Chicagoan, worked closely with Joe Eichler’s son Ned, mostly on print advertising for newspapers, as well as magazines.

He also worked on neighborhood brochures and other materials, and the occasional radio spot, but not on TV, which Eichler Homes did not use. Eichler marketing also pushed magazines like Sunset to write about Eichlers. Jerry believes Ned did much of that work.

“[Eichler] hired me because I had a master degree in market research. He wanted to know if I could tell him if he could sell 100 units on a particular piece of property,” Jerry recalls.

Grantz was the copywriter and often developed the theme of each campaign. He worked with several designers whose work, as anyone who looks at it can tell, was both advanced for its time, very intellectual, and superb.

'Cheap Dirt Dirt Cheap' was one of the first ads Jerry helped devise for Joe Eichler. It brought immediate attention to the homes -- and to the ads themselves. Ads courtesy of Jerry Grantz

The designers included the great Nicholas Sidjakov, a man from Latvia who also created children’s books.

Early on Grantz, who became an ardent supporter of what is now called mid-century modern design, understood that he had to aim his marketing high – at sophisticated people with sophisticated taste.

But each subdivision had to be marketed differently, Jerry says, because the people in each area were different. He was surprised by how much difference a few miles could make. There was the time he was marketing subdivisions in Sunnyvale and San Jose, just a few miles apart, “two subdivisions offering almost the same product, one doing well, one not. Why does that happen? The markets are different.”

“Understanding who you are selling to becomes so basic,” Jerry says, adding that the goal of advertising is “to connect. That is what you’re doing.”

The campaigns Jerry helped devise, unlike most campaigns for new homes, did not in the main show the houses. Jerry says it was Ned, who was overall in charge of marketing for Eichler Homes, who gave him this freedom.

“A normal builder wants his houses in [the ads],” Jerry says. “He wants a picture. We didn’t do it.”

“I would never have gotten through this without Ned Eichler.”

Joe Eichler paid little attention to the ads, Jerry says – surprising in a man known for his focus on detail. (There was one ad created by Jerry that did arouse Joe’s attention – but we will hear about that one in next week’s post, which is part two of this interview with Jerry Grantz.)

The 'Sweet Decision' advertisement played on the idea of joy and childhood. Some photos in the ads were by Ernie Braun or other photographers, and some were stock photos.

Before Jerry arrived, Eichler Homes had been working with a couple of advertising consultants, one of whom was with a small ad agency. One of them, Jerry recalls, was Ned’s cousin. Their ads were relatively traditional. Ned told Jerry to fire them.

Unlike the prior ad men, Jerry worked in-house for Joe, first at the Eichler Homes’ office on El Camino Real in Palo Alto, then in Palo Alto’s Edgewood Shopping Center, which Eichler built.

One ad played up creativity – how creative Eichler’s architects were in devising “300 plans,” which a photo illustrated by showing a young girl painting at an easel.

“Something is touching you here,” Jerry says of the ads. “That’s the whole purpose. You can’t do what everybody else does.”

Another ad, with the words “Cheap Dirt, Dirt Cheap,” showed an image not of a house but of a chunk of sod with a flower sprouting from it.

Beneath the photo was Jerry’s copy. “Homes have increased in price! Hardly a debatable statement. Have you ever wondered why? You hear about rising building costs, skyrocketing labor costs. But there’s one that outstrips them all. That’s the cost of land.”

The copy goes on to say that Eichler bought land in San Jose’s Willow Glen four years ago – before prices rose. “That’s why they’re priced at $21,950 to $24,950.”

The ad worked, Jerry says – and won 'month’s honors' in the marketing paper Ad-News & Views.

“To take up so much space in an ad for homes with a picture having nothing, at first glance, to do with houses is seemingly dangerous practice...if you use run-of-the-mill ads as a guide,” the editors wrote.

Yet, “the ad stands head and shoulders above the ordinary.” The magazine praises the photo as something “few readers would pass...by. Few would not stop to find out about that chunk of dirt.”

“We lift our spades to Eichler homes this month.”

Next week we conclude our discussion with Jerry Grantz about the world of Eichler Homes advertising and marketing – and we learn about the one ad that caught Joe’s attention -- and caused him to fume.

A home in the Fairhills subdivision in Orange County, where Jerry arranged to place sales billboards when the subdivision was new.

Keep in touch with the Eichler Network. SUBSCRIBE to our free e-newsletter