Advertising Age doesn't mince words. In the case of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and its then bull-headed support of a "cool" cartoon character used to help sell Camel cigarettes, it became a running battle of First Amendment rights with what the editorial then argued: "Mass media advertising explodes out of a shotgun and sprays everything in its path, kids included."
While editors grappled with a long-held tenet that marketers have a right to advertise legal products, Ad Age and numerous others ultimately decided Joe Camel was a special case. The battle over Joe's advertising and merchandising went on for years before the Old Joe campaign was pulled in 1997.
Ad Age had a powerful precedent when it came to the issue of smoking. In 1971, RJR advertised Winchester Little Cigars on TV-after TV had banned all cigarette spots. But were they really legally advertised cigars or actually a cigarette in brown paper? Ad Age went after the smoke strongly in editorials, and commercials for the "inhalable" cigar were pulled from the airwaves.
As the leading voice in the advertising industry, this publication has helped set the agenda on key issues. Here are some other examples in which the leader led:
In 1968, a year in which Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated, Ad Age called in a front-page editorial for the ad industry to band together behind a massive promotion for gun control and passage of legislation making any crime carried out with a deadly weapon a federal offense. The industry responded in a wave of ads, letters and comments. David Ogilvy offered additional ideas to stop violence. Toy marketers shouldn't be allowed to make toy guns "just as candy makers no longer make candy cigarettes," he told AA.
The rigged TV quiz shows of the 1950s led to a number of hearings in Washington. While all the gory details were covered by Ad Age, it was a series of editorials written by columnist Sid Bernstein that proposed what he called the "Magazine Concept." This at the time was a revolutionary position: Instead of advertisers owning programs and networks merely selling time, networks would control content, as editors provide content in magazines. All an advertiser could have is the right to have spots in popular programs.
Should advertising be taxed? First it was Florida in 1987, then the federal officials in Washington got interested. Florida's tax on advertising, which included media purchases, was repealed barely six months after enactment after protests from Ad Age, marketers and agencies. A number of editorials and news coverage kept this a hot-button issue as assorted other states considered an ad tax. One editorial in 1993, before a vote came up in Congress, said: "It's the vote that says advertising, at tax time, is to be treated differently than sales staff salaries, telephone costs or any of dozens of other fully deductible business expenses. It's the vote that lowers the advertising to the level of the business lunch-partly deductible."
Time banking became front-page news in 1982. But how the process of collecting spot TV ad time was used exploded into what a front-page story that year called "one of the largest financial scandals in the history of advertising," staining JWT Group and its syndication unit headed by Marie Luisi. JWT eventually wrote off $25 million and shut down the syndication unit. Ms. Luisi, who was dismissed by the shop, later lost her libel case against the agency.
Also in the courts, the four-year running battle between the owner of Duane Jones Co. and a group of breakaway agency executives filled the pages of Ad Age in the early 1950s. The lengthy trial and two appeals ultimately awarded Duane Jones $300,000 plus court costs. It changed the rules for breakaway agencies and account piracy. Prior to the Jones case, agency executives generally were free to take accounts with them when they left an agency.
In May 1990, Ad Age headlined that TV Guide was being shopped. News Corp. owner Rupert Murdoch responded by canceling his ad schedule and publicly offering $1 million if Crain Communications Inc. could produce a source for the story. Owner Rance Crain's attitude was that we would not give up any source and that we'd fight any lawsuit. The episode got a great deal of media attention, and ultimately, Mr. Murdoch sold the listings giant in 1998 to Tele-Communications Inc.'s United Video Satellite Group.
Ad Age was not averse to controversial positions. With the nation wracked by drug abuse in the 1980s, Mr. Bernstein took a step back and asked the impossible: "Legalize all those drugs," said the headline as Mr. Bernstein made the serious point that legalization would dry up "the unbelievable sums of money involved in illegal usage, and it would greatly dent the glamor and aura of defying authority." He concluded by noting that "education and persuasion are reducing alcohol and tobacco usage. They could do the same with drugs."
Measuring public opinion is critical to the advertising world, but in its award to pollster Richard Wirthlin as Marketer of the Year for 1980, Ad Age took readers inside the election warroom, a peek rarely seen as researchers under Mr. Wirthlin developed the Black Book that formed the basis of the Reagan election effort under adman Peter Dailey. The inside story of the Reagan victory was part of a Special Report in Ad Age in December 1980. The research and polling techniques (including dramatic use of computer modeling in politics) elicited from soon-to-be President Reagan, "Mr. Wirthlin has been right in every single instance he has taken polls for me ..."
harper the recluse
And sometimes, through its entrepreneurial spirit, Ad Age found its front-page stories in unusual places. Marion Harper Jr., the man who reinvented the agency business, was after his split from Interpublic Group of Cos. far removed from the agency scene in the late 1970s. Some called him reclusive. Reporter John Revett tracked him down in August 1979 at his mother's home in Oklahoma City. In a front-page "non-interview," Mr. Revett guided Mr. Harper through a discussion of McCann-Erickson and Interpublic ("A lot of people thought it was funny when I said there would be billion-dollar agencies"), the agency business in general and his fears that a large shop becomes "something else" than an advertising agency.
In 1987, columnist James Brady wrote the gripping first-person story of the Chilko River tragedy (see story on Page 66). While many news organizations covered the loss of five admen from afar, Mr. Brady was one of the few on the scene in Canada.
Readers have come to expect the way in which Ad Age goes the extra mile for a story. One such instance was when writer and former Leo Burnett creative head Carl Hixon traveled to Chateau Touffou in France. His assignment? Lunch, a chateau tour-and a lengthy sit-down interview with David Ogilvy. Mr. Ogilvy's first of many tips for young copywriters? "Get an education in anything other than advertising ... Learn to write ... get a job [in research to] learn what makes your fellow creatures tick. ...
"Get a job writing direct mail to learn [reality]. Finally, get a job in an agency that takes the trouble to teach its recruits how to write good television commercials." And that was just the beginning of an interview that stretched across three pages.
Of course, Ad Age has always been quick to recognize trends. One of those moments in advertising history came in 1972, and it largely defined the philosophy applied to ads for the rest of the decade and, some say, to this day. In a landmark three-part series, Jack Trout and Al Ries told readers, "The Positioning Era Cometh." The series was a classic "how-to" tutorial on helping marketers define the position their product owns, what position the marketer wants, and explain how to budget and resist internal and competitor pressure (see related story on Page 32).
Similarly, Ad Age was among the first to connect the Internet, commerce and marketing. In early 1992, Ad Age ran its first Interactive Marketing Special Report and began regular coverage of the topic, keeping its audience wired into developments in the fast-growing field that today includes an Ad Age Digital edition and a range of Web-based products. By 1993, shortly after a ban on business use of the World Wide Web was lifted, Ad Age and Prodigy Services Co. began the Advertising Age Prodigy edition.
Finally, Ad Age editors over the many years have espoused what all successful marketers know, despite the temptation to act otherwise. During recessionary periods, Ad Age consistently ran editorials advising marketers that a recession was not a good time to cut back on advertising. Simple, right?
contributing: stanley e. cohen, joe cappo, fred danzig, lawrence e. doherty, larry edwards
Mike Ryan supervised the assembly of the 75th Anniversary project. Now Special Reports editor, he has held several editing positions at Ad Age since joining in 1978 and is already collecting background material for the newspaper's next big anniversary in 2030.