Really, would you buy a car from this man?
With a foolish grin, adark gray suit and a handful of hundred-dollar bills, he's been likened to a politician, a baseball player and even a president.
Yes, J. Raymond Gaeng -- known simply as the Ford Man to Baltimore and Washington television viewers -- spent two years trying to persuade people to head on down to the Ford dealer and buy a car.
But now that the Bel Air resident's days as the perpetually smiling and always amenable purveyor of automotive bargains are over, he's trying to sell something quite different -- himself.
"I feel that now is the time to start a different part of my career," said the 50ish Linwood Avenue resident of his new venture, Gaeng and Gang Advertising and Marketing Consultants. "I see it developing into a consultancy business with steady clients."
For Gaeng, advertising -- both as the star of a series of commercials seen by as many as 6 million people and as an account supervisor at Baltimore's biggest ad agency -- is oldhat.
With an English degree from Loyola College, some acting experience in New York and a couple Johns Hopkins University seminars, the Baltimore native has spent his entire professional life in the advertising world. For the last 20 years, he was with W.B. Doner& Co., the Baltimore-based firm with annual billings of close to $500 million.
"I have always had an interest in advertising," Gaeng said. "I have worked in the ad business, and now I want to put elements of my experience into practice for people who need it."
Gaeng and Gang -- actually an office in his home -- has no client base yet. But the newcompany also has very low start-up costs -- printing of stationery and business cards mostly -- and fits in well with Gaeng's other post-Doner pursuit.
"There are two things that I wanted to accomplish,"the father of five grown children said. "I wanted to see if there was life after Doner, and if there was life after Ford Man."
Since leaving Doner in December, he has been pursuing television commercial spots, albeit somewhat casually.
Indeed, his entre to the world ofadvertising "talent" -- ad speak for actors in a commercial -- came as somewhat of an accident. In 1988, he and some other ad supervisorswere trying to pitch a campaign to Washington-area Ford dealers. When preparing the story boards and the potential newspaper ads, one of his colleagues asked Gaeng to pose for a Polaroid snapshot.
That snapshot was to be used just as an illustration until an actual actor could be found -- instead, it caught the Washington group's eyes. They wanted him.
In June 1988, his Ford Man character began to gracedfull-page ads in the Washington Post, The Sun and other area papers.
The Ford Man campaign moved on the air later that year, and ran through the summer of last year.
Before he entered television commercials, he performed some vaudeville at the Hippodrome in Baltimore, and was known to do an impression or two.
"You can use acting experience in advertising," he said. "You use a lot of the elements of acting in presentations to clients."
With Doner, he was involved in many accounts, including such companies as the Orioles, National Brewing Co., and Hess Shoes.
And, of course, Baltimore and Washington area Ford dealers.
As Ford Man, he has been immortalized in a 4-foot high painted portrait used in a President's Day ad, which he now keeps at home; in posters, used early in the campaign; and in dozens of full-sized cardboard cutouts.
And, he says, the ever-enduring face recognition trails him everywhere. Whether he's at Memorial Stadium, at a drugstore in Bel Air or at a stoplight at 28th and Charles streets in Baltimore, somebody invariably asks him if he knows that he looks "just like that guy on TV who gives out money."
Oh, and yes,he and his wife, Francis deSales, both drive Fords.