If you were the baby girl in the 1993 print ad below—by The Martin Agency for Healthtex baby clothes—you might have had reason to be a little miffed. You just got called bald and toothless in the headline, and the copy dwelled insistently—almost insultingly!—on whether you were, in fact, not a girl but a boy. An auspicious start to a modeling career, this wasn't.
Or was it?
Sage Coy rolled with it, in any case (whether or not she could actually roll over at such an age). And she and her family have nothing but fond memories of the experience—as evidenced by the fact that Sage's father, Bill Coy, recently contacted The Martin Agency, 22 years later, to reminisce about it.
Click the ad to enlarge:
"An advertising friend sent me the ad recently and said it had won some award years ago. So, I Googled the ad, and The Martin Agency came up," he tells AdFreak. "I saw that they had an office in New York City, and Sage was playing cello there, on tour with the Portland Cello Project. And I thought the man who did the ad might like to come and see her."
That man was none other than Joe Alexander. In 1993, he was a copywriter in just his third year at the Richmond, Va., shop. He has since risen, of course, to become the decorated agency's chief creative officer.
He remembers the campaign well.
"At the time, nobody was writing long copy about baby clothes," he says. "The category was all about showing cute kids with some fluffy headline. We knew that parents, and especially moms, love to read everything when they are pregnant. They can't get enough information. So my partner, Jelly Helm, and I just embraced it and tried to find truths every parent could relate to. I think we ended up writing 30 ads in this campaign over five years or so.
"We had this great insight overall for the campaign—the first baby clothes for parents. Meaning, Heathtex was the rare brand of baby clothes in 1993 that made it really easy to dress your baby: snaps, elastic waistbands, washable fabrics, big neck openings and really cute stuff. I was personally in the throes of having 6-, 3- and 1-year-old girls, so I was writing from a strong, truthful POV. The funny thing is: I always thought Sage was a boy."
She wasn't, but that was the point of the ad—to reassure parents that Healthtex would help their boys look like boys, and girls look like girls. (This was long before anyone looked down on gender labeling.) "That's why we always make it easy," Alexander's copy explained, "for your infant to look the only way he or she is supposed to look: cute."
Alexander says Sage was chosen as the model simply because "she was bald and she was amazingly photogenic." But Bill Coy admits that the modeling agency that the family had been working with did have specific orders—to find a girl who looked like a boy.
"The Wehmann Agency in Minneapolis called and asked if Sage was still bald. Yes, she was!" Bill recalls. "But as new parents of a little girl who had to tape a bow on her head because people loved our 'little boy,' we were a bit put off. Then they said it was just what they were looking for. So, game on!"
Sage's mom, Andrien Thomas—a former model herself—took Sage to the shoot and says everything went swimmingly. Funnily enough, Sage actually wasn't toothless at the time. She had a front tooth, which made for an adorable smirk—but that would have sunk the headline, so a different shot was used.
And what a memorable ad it became.
"Everybody thinks their children are cute, but when we saw her in print, she almost didn't look real," Bill says. "It was both pages inside the cover of Parents magazine and started what we think was a very successful little modeling career."
Indeed, Sage would go on to appear in a slew of ads and other projects. She did print work for brands like Target, Kohler and Kohl's. Her first commercial was for the "Virginia Is for Families" campaign. (Her big line was, "Are we there yet?") She also appeared in the 2005 film North Country, sharing scenes with Charlize Theron and Woody Harrelson.
Her biggest advertising moment was a brief appearance on the grandest stage of all—the Super Bowl—in one of the most beloved ads ever to air on the game. She's the farm girl sitting on the pile of hay at the 0:17 mark of Mullen's 1999 Monster.com spot. Her speaking line doubles as the name of the ad: "When I grow up…"
Now in her 20s, Sage is a musician. She has been touring with the Portland Cello Project, a collective of cello players in Portland, Ore. But seeing her old Healthtex ad today brings her right back to that whole other life.
"I would have to say it's a cute ad. Look at those big baby cheeks!" she says. "I'm definitely hit by a wave of nostalgia when I see this now—it's been quite a while since I did any acting or commercial work. It reminds me of a really unique time in my life, as this ad opened the door for all of the print work and acting that I had the opportunity to do growing up.
"I'm also reminded of how lovely my parents are," she adds. "They have always been very supportive of my interests, challenged me, but never pushed me to be involved in projects that I didn't want to be a part of. That's incredibly important, especially since I crawled into the industry at such a young age."
The ad brings Joe Alexander back, too. In fact, he included it in The Martin Agency's just-released coffee-table book celebrating its 50th anniversary and all the great advertising it's done in that time.
"I've always felt this ad was one of the iconic ads in our history," he says. "The headline and Sage's look—I mean, you can never lose with a cute baby, right? It's amazing to see how Sage has grown into such a cool person. That just adds to the iconic status of the ad, for me."
He adds: "Thanks, Bill, for reaching out. And Sage, I'm sorry I called you bald and toothless and took advantage of you just to sell some onesies. I'm glad it didn't hold you back."