Israel’s anti-Don Draper Makes the Big Leagues

Can the mysteriously super-successful promoter G. Yafit save Channel 10?

It looks like a parody of a 1980s newscast. The woman sits in a tiny studio, at a desk. Her make-up is heavy. Her business suit is heavier. Theme music kicks in: a sort of generic tinkling that could date from any time from 1940. But clearly something important is about to be said.

She starts talking, a wide smile on her plain face, welcoming you in. She has a wonderful product for you. A new snack. An adult diaper. Health insurance. Mosquito repellent – whatever it is, she’s tried it, it’s wonderful, and you should try it too. It. Will. Change. Your. Life. Guaranteed.

That's about how every commercial "Gimmel Yafit" (real name: Yafit Greenberg) has gone for 20 years, if not more.

Queen of the screen

And with that simple shtick, G. Yafit has become the queen of Israeli advertising. She has made a fortune out of her one-fits-all template ads, low-end and low-brow. She is the anti-Don Draper: a celebrity adwoman who isn't slick or creative. She doesn't woo or wow. She is just that nice lady who tells you what to buy.

And she may become one of the strongest powers in Israeli television.

Last week, cosmetics billionaire-heir Ronald Lauder announced he was selling his 30% share in Channel 10. He's given the perennially floundering network some $125 million in the last ten years. Evidently he felt that was enough.

The surprise was the buyer.

To understand the surprise, you first have to understand who G. Yafit is. But how do you explain the inexplicable? It’s not easy to do if you’re not Israeli and don't share the cultural baggage of a nation that didn’t even have color TV until the 1980s.

Born to a Masorti family in Bnei Brak in 1951, Yafa Mimon started her career in the advertising departments of pop magazines. When she divorced Eyal Greenberg, her first husband and current business partner, she kept his name.

For years she wrote marketing pieces, specializing in faux-news stories – actually endorsements – that ran in newspapers and magazines. That's when she started using the name G. Yafit.

Her big break arrived with the establishment of commercial television in Israel, in the form of Channel 2, in 1993. (Channel 10 is the second commercial TV station. End of list.)

She transported not only her now-established nom de guerre, G. Yafit, but also her promotional method: building faux-news items. Taking advantage of Channel 2’s low advertising rates, she bought airtime at floor prices and resold it to her clients. Thus G. Yafit started her new career of television infomercials and became an instant celebrity.

Pretty much as fast, she was parodied by comedy shows, which – often cruelly – mocked her two biggest catchphrases: “It’s worth it!” and “It’s guaranteed!”

But her stuff worked. Products endorsed by G. Yafit sold. Her brand grew. The niche she had created – low-end advertisements that couldn't be simpler – was high-return. Many of Israel’s biggest brands use her to this day.

Greenberg offers no sophistication or wit. But she understands the Israeli consumer. She is a memento of days past, in the most positive sense: a comforting reminder of simplicity and directness in a cruel, overly sophisticated, frightening world.

A fairy princess or G. Yafit

Today she rules an advertising, publicity, production and real estate empire worth tens of millions of shekels. With close friends like Sara and Benjamin Netanyahu and purim costumes in her image, she's not just a salesperson: she is an institution.

At one point she tried passing the torch to her daughter-in-law, featuring her in commercials, but it didn’t work. It felt forced. 

Yet Greenberg is the eternal outsider, scorned by the pompous, perfumed advertising clique. She is disdained by her peers, who charge their clients a fortune only to fail to do what she does with one-tenth their budget.

Might that explain why this savviest of businesswomen is buying 30% of Israel’s second-largest TV channel?

Financially speaking, it's a strange move. Channel 10 is a train wreck, a bottomless pit that's swallowed probably half a billion dollars since its establishment. It owes $30 million. It's been teetering on the brink of bankruptcy for years and has been bailed out countless times by the government.

No wonder Ron Lauder wants out. But why does Greenberg want in? Maybe because the smirks she suffers in the industry will morph into groveling smiles. Never mind that she doesn't have the wherewithal, like Lauder did, to keep shoveling money into the network. But Greenberg, it seems, is dead set on joining the big leagues, whatever the cost, capping off her legacy with the purchase of a TV channel. And who knows, she just might pull it off. And if not, she’ll die trying. Guaranteed.