It's 1930. Hoover is president and the bottom has fallen out of the stock market. Newspapers talk about a Great Depression. College kids are calling it the "rat race" but boy am I lucky to be in it, especially in radio and especially at J. Walter Thompson. If any place has integrity, it's J Walter. Stanley insists that, Prohibition or not, we'll never advertise a hard liquor and that we should expend as much energy promoting social and charitable causes as we do on General Motors, for which we're opening offices everywhere to sell cars abroad.
The agency, which began in 1864 wholesaling space in religious periodicals, has been on the 11th floor of the Graybar Building since April 1927. It's next to Grand Central, an easy commute. The Resors have got the place in shape-we're billing 154% more than we were a decade ago-and they are some classy act. Stanley's a Latinist; studied classics at Yale. Helen Lansdowne Resor is a feminist and mighty fine copywriter. David Ogilvy called her the finest one of her time.
They call it the "Woman's Agency": There are three women execs. Ruth Waldo, the supervisor on feminine copy, was the first VP.
I never knew them but the poet Hart Crane, novelist John P. Marquand and non-fiction writer Walter Lord wrote copy here. The place-all 40,000 square feet of it-is elaborate ... elegant ... with wrought iron gates and iron peacocks ornamenting the office doors-they were commissioned by Helen Resor when JWT moved into the Graybar in 1927-but the unspoken rule around here is that they're always kept open. The place is like a museum, like an extension of the Resors' living room. They collect art; the walls are de-lovely.
At my last place, more an assembly line, clerks opened letters all day, typed, took steno or only filed. Here, people stop and talk in the halls and pop in on each other. On every desk there's this new dispenser of transparent tape. They call it Scotch, like the drink. Best of all I'm taking home almost $70 a week-almost five times what the messenger boy gets.
The agency has over 1,000 employees, half of them overseas. We're placing around 8% of all the magazine ads and 11% of radio, and have 11 of the 100 leading national accounts-more than any other agency. But the Depression has slashed our revenue. We've got separate groups for Lever's Lux and the company's Rinso laundry soap. An account here is a brand, not a client. And we call our account supervisors backstops, as if someone around here is dropping the ball.
As a junior employee I'm encouraged to take courses given here. It's a good way to show my stuff as JWT promotes from within. But it's also a good way to keep up on what's happening. At the agency we create the shows and integrate their products into them. I counted 20 mentions of Oxydol in each 15-minute broadcast of "Ma Perkins." P&G really cleaned up with that laundry powder! I have to listen competitively to see how often "Amos 'n' Andy" mention Pepsodent and Rudy Vallee brings up Fleischmann's Yeast on that musical variety show, and enter them in our radio record book. JWT has got several shows on air, raking in radio revenues of over $60,000 a month. This week my boss piled on "Around the World With Libby" for me to monitor. The format of these shows is changing: You can't hire a band, announce it's sponsored by so-and-so and get away with it anymore. Even our Maxwell House show has messages from the Old Colonel's music room to get the coffee perking.
Hearsay is, there's been some problem with our Aunt Jemima program. Dialogue among the troupe who sing and play at Col. Higbee's plantation brings up the name Aunt Jemima between each number and listeners like it. But the client doesn't. Seems no one had been pre-sold on this execution and couldn't figure out why all the murmuring.
Lots of companies are manufacturing fear: Lifebuoy invented "B.O.," Colgate figures only 40% of Americans brush their teeth. And of course, we created luckless Mildred who "bags the bouquets but never a beau."
It's 1945. The war is over and the War Council has morphed into the Ad Council. In a few months we're expecting a full blast baby boom. Things are buzzing. Rationing's been lifted. The new 1946 Fords look great-but then they're the first new ones any of us have seen in four years. Ford scooped the industry, getting into new car production first.
Everything seems new ... We're still doing a few good men for the Marines but the creatives are readying ads for something called antihistamines to fight the common cold and doing marketing plans for long-play records and a stick-on bra. We got two briefs from Pan Am: They're adding movies "8,000 feet over the Atlantic" on the New York-London route, and want us to push the first time since Pearl Harbor folks can fly to the Caribbean by Clipper without wartime restrictions.
A lot of wartime stuff is being turned into consumer products and we're gearing up to work on it. The aerosol spray is being used in processed cheese, whipped cream, shaving cream, deodorant, hair spray. Word is, Prell is getting ready to launch a shampoo in a tube. We coined "There's a Ford in your future" since the car company came aboard in December 1943-but now we can swim for shore. We're growing like magic even though Stanley (Resor) won't take anyone off an account to do things speculatively. When R.J. Reynolds Tobacco dangled Camel before us, Resor told them submitting even a slogan on spec would "prostitute" his profession!
I work in the 2-year-old account planning department of JWT in New York. The year earlier, the Townsend brothers came out with a 27-point system to evaluate ad effectiveness. Other shops are getting into account planning but JWT got there first, soon after we set up the first consumer research panel in 1939 with 5,500 households. Panelists earn points good for merchandise from a catalog-it's worth around $50 a year. They think the program is run by an Emily Rogers because "she" sends out holiday cards and congrats on requisite occasions. Actually, "Emily" is a research assistant named Wallace Flynn who sits outside my office.
There are 787 of us here-2,300 around the globe-including 43 VPs. We were billing $55 million in 1941-had to close some offices in Nazi-occupied Europe-but by 1945 are up to $80 million with $15 million of that coming in from overseas. Not that we consider ourselves an American agency. We're a world shop. I've had a few job feelers lately with good pay, health and retirement plans-who hasn't?-but JWT is pretty swank and prestigious. I eat in the executive dining room almost daily-very tony and subsidized though unnecessary as VPs here earn $20,000 to $50,000 a year-compared to the stenographer who makes maybe $40 a week. At least she's now got carbon paper, electric typewriters and ballpoint pens to make her life easier.
Lots of gals (including Eileen Cleere) are leaving their typewriters for returning husbands. While none of my women colleagues is being shown the door, we're opening it for the rest of America. During the Depression our ads glorified house and home. During the war we showed the femmes as heroines of the assembly line. Now that the guys will be coming home we have to free up their jobs. Of course, we'll idealize traditional family values and upward mobility with a new home, new car, new life. And as a carrot, we'll show America how all these new gizmos make housework easier. As a stick, we'll show them families stressing under the strain of mom working.
It's 1960. Kennedy won the race for president, and despite some "sit-ins" for civil rights, the American dream is a reality. Everyone's eating McDonald's and TV dinners and, a big thank you to the Pan-American Coffee Bureau for inventing the "coffee break." We're enjoying it here at J. Walter.
Advertising is not too popular right now: We're being called hucksters and waste makers. In the agency we're doing motivational research. A few years ago Ernest Dichter made a fortune telling advertisers how to tap hidden desires for security, sex, acceptance, status to get people to buy. Even bigger, we're in the midst of, well, a creative revolution. And I'm a creative at J. Walter. For all the talk about advertising being a man's field, 54% of the 819 workers in our New York office are women. Thirty-six of them are writers; nine are group heads. Four are VPs. I'm taking home almost $15,000 a year. But I sometimes wonder if it's the same drill over at that new hotshot ad shop Doyle Dane Bernbach. Despite Alfred Politz bemoaning creative that instead of making the product interesting makes the advertising interesting, everyone is talking about that agency's work for the VW Beetle. Instead of some gal in a gown draped over a hood, the guys behind "Think small" have come out with simple, funny stuff that stands conventional auto ads on their head. We, like other agencies, have adopted the "creative team" approach, pairing a copywriter and art director.
So far, around here it's resulted in new work for the Marines. They're looking for a few good men and we're trying to send them their way. But the trophy account I landed is making a 1961 car romantic, glamorous, masculine, speedy, strong and luxurious. The print ad with a violet sky talks about "Thunderbird country where everything is magic" and where "the distance between two points is enchantment." It's tough to break through: Cars are the most advertised category out there, and each model has something distinctive. Cadillac has got those tail fins; others have panoramic windshields or shiny chrome trim. We're busy in TV but don't control the shows anymore. Blame Firestone: They refused to change their stodgy classical music format though it was killing NBC's Monday 8:30-9 p.m. ratings. I can't blame NBC Prez Pat Weaver for firing back by creating "Today" and "The Tonight Show" and selling them to lots of sponsors instead of just one.
Nine out of 10 homes now have a TV. Three years ago we launched an in-house studio to produce color TV commercials. We created the first one for Betty Crocker in 1951. Thanks to videotape now we can prerecord spots. Our Kraft Theater has been going strong since 1947, and we're the No. 1 agency in TV billings. We just did a new newspaper ad for RCA Victor Sportabouts, portables from "the most trusted name in television" with a complete off-remote control. That should move these sets. Our ads for their color TVs are selling those consoles. Just before the World Series we reminded men that they didn't know what they're missing 'til they see baseball on RCA Victor color TV. This season alone "it's the next best thing to having a box for 77 Cub games, 43 White Sox games or 25 Cincinnati Reds games."
My office is carpeted and full of antiques-though I've got this ultramodern "liquid paper" to white-out mistakes in my writing. Music is piped in and the lighting is soft. It's swank. But then JWT is at the top of its game. Between 1948 and '58 our business nearly tripled and we're doing over $300 million in billings.
It is 1975. The race riots, assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Kennedy brothers, oil shortages, and Vietnam War are behind us, but the legacy of political and social upheaval remains. Half the population is under 25 and they're vocal about challenging old attitudes of authority, materialism and conformism. "Pepsi Generation" and "Think young" aimed to capture youth, establish a relationship with their audiences and tickle some funny bones. Advertisers have trumpeted the parts they played in sending astronauts to the moon and the Surgeon General has gone after tobacco companies, which have gone all out to diversify, and some magazines like The New Yorker won't accept them anymore.
Our trend-spotter, Rena Bartos, says only 16% of Americans claim they hate advertising, but admitting I work in it invariably elicits a frosty reception. Gerald Ford has become America's president in the wake of Watergate and Richard Nixon's resignation, and at JWT we've got a new leader too: Don Johnston, an M.A. in economics from Johns Hopkins who'd overseen the agency's European operations. Hope he can perk things up. I've been making $14,500 with no raise for 18 months-just enough to swing the new Ford Mustang II for $3,529. (We've done that model's ads since '64.) Although we're well on our way to breaking the $1 billion mark in worldwide volume, our stock hovers around $7 a share, less than a fifth of what it sold for in 1969 when we raised $13 million by going public. That carried us through a deep downturn when interest rates soared. Johnston plans to make JWT an umbrella for subsidiaries like PR firms, specialty marketing operations and smaller ad agencies.
Everyone's got at least one phone, TV is a cluttered landscape and now there's talk of linking the computers we're using as typewriters. Meantime, I carry around a floppy disk to hold my records. Dot-matrix printers and pocket calculators are commonplace around the office. So are minorities since the Equal Employment Opportunity Act passed in 1972, but there's ghettoization by subject matter. Most of the women work on food accounts.
I now work in the new account management department at JWT in New York. TV is the core of our culture, on at least 6 hours a day in most homes, but the major networks aren't home free. They've designated 7 p.m.-9 p.m. as "family hour," but no one can decide what's suitable for family hour or what to call the other stuff: Objectionable? Controversial? Mature?
Now "Jaws" is packing them in at the movies ... thanks to new heavy pre-opening marketing and wide release instead of the traditional gradual opening and reliance on word-of-mouth. More blockbusters should further crimp TV.
At the agency known for its international presence and ability to help a marketer launch a product simultaneously in multiple countries, we're working on 12 different lines of Kodak including the big ones, film and Instamatic cameras, plus business systems, radiography et al. But mainly we're into "positioning." Branding 7Up the "Un-Cola" doubled its sales. Our ads boast that Sugar-Free 7Up is the fastest growing soft drink in America, and folks should put their money where their mouth is with Close-up toothpaste. Creatives, as those who make the ads call themselves, may get a lot of attention but my money's on media as the place to be. HBO's launch has fragmented TV more, and last month, in September, Ali took on Joe Frazier in the "Thrilla in Manila" fight. It was the first time satellites linked cable systems; I feel it's a big step in solidifying the modern cable business. A Dutch edition of Reader's Digest carries a three-page personalized ad, where GM addresses subscribers by name to interest them in the new Opel.
It is 1990. We've been at 466 Lexington since September 1981 with a new modern phone system tied to a computer and lighting system.
The average Joe works 47 hours a week-20% more than he did in 1973- and enjoys just 16 hours a week of leisure time. Advertising is ubiquitous, Michael Jackson is crooning the "Choice of a New Generation" and Harvard professor Ted Levitt is crowing about market globalization.
UPC scanners are collecting checkout data, Perrier has launched the bottled water craze and Jewel Foods the rush to generics. Mars made a costly mistake in 1982, passing up the chance to use M&M's in the movie "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial." Rival Hershey grabbed it. Their sales of Reese's Pieces tripling within two weeks of the movie's release suggest product placement is going to get big. By June 1987, WPP Group had gobbled 5% of JWT's shares, and WPP chief Martin Sorrell declared he'd control it through a leveraged buyout even though JWT was 18 times the size of his own agency. After initial resistance and two weeks of negotiations, we agreed, at a purchase price of $566 million. After a hearty dose of gallows humor around here, we figured it's a pretty good price for an industry wracked by upheaval: 20% to 25% of all accounts shifted agencies in the last decade.
Agencies are unbundling their media departments and reinventing themselves to handle PR, promotion, direct mail, package design, ethnic marketing, high-tech and integrated marketing. Coke parceling assignments out to 26 different agencies has us jittery: It's tough to compete with nimble creative boutiques. At the same time, so many clients are consolidating agencies in all-or-nothing plays. But as network prices continue to rocket, we're experimenting with finding consumers elsewhere, like running ads in movies, or producing infomercials, which zoomed to become a $4.5 billion business in the past 10 years.
But that's not my job. At JWT I've become a $45,000 systems person. From my office when I'm not rearranging 0s and 1s, I can watch MTV, read USA Today, send a color fax and log on our computer system, all at the same time. Almost 25 million of us now use the Internet-up from just 213 in 1981. Computers have revolutionized billing. We can provide data and analyses to our teams and marketers quickly, and data on market segmentation, product proliferation, automated distribution, demographics and profits in a flash. (That's helped us win back the $20 million Miracle Whip account that we'd lost to FCB in 1986.)
But they've also become indispensable on the creative floors. So many of the great spots out there rely on the computer for effects, like Coke's Polar Bears and California Raisin Advisory Board's hip Claymation raisins doing "I Heard It Through the Grapevine." But what has really gripped America is a pink hare from Energizer that walks into commercials because it never stops running. Bet that campaign keeps going and going.
It's 2005. The Clinton saga that got us in an uproar has been supplanted by 9/11 and the second Gulf War. Grey, the last independent holdout, sold for $1.2 billion. TiVo is prevalent and there's finally stability after a siege of downsizing following the dot-com crash. JWT is 127-the world's fourth-largest agency and its oldest-and is getting more than a nip and tuck. After just a year as CEO, Bob Jeffrey, who replaced the legendary Charlotte Beers, formally change the agency's name to JWT and is bent on transforming it from a service-driven organization ruled by the rational to a creative organism inspired by the visceral-those are his words. Collectively, we've been blessed with business. We've got some 8,500 people working for us in 86 countries. In late 2003 after WPP acquired Cordiant, we inherited the bulk of its clients like Pfizer's Actifed, Benadryl, Neosporin, Rolaids and Visine, and more than 100 new staffers. In 2005 we just landed creative duties on Pfizer's recently acquired Purell hand sanitizer.
Our worldwide executive group is still all male, but there are women in middle management and some people of color. As a black woman I'm still in the minority here, but it's not like it was six years ago when NAACP blasted TV for its "virtual whitewash" in prime time. In fall 1999, not one prime-time show had any "minority" in a leading role. Now there are black directors, actors and writers, and even interracial couples in ads for Heineken, Harley-Davidson and BMW. To think JWT thought it was risky business in 1972 to use a black Santa to pitch Kodak's pocket Instamatic camera, in Ebony!
Bernice Kanner is a former Ad Age reporter who has written a number of books on marketing and other topics, most recently "Pocketbook Power, How to Reach the Hearts & Minds of Today's Most Coveted Consumers: Women." For 13 years she wrote the "On Madison Avenue"
column for New York Magazine and is currently a syndicated columnist for MarketWatch. She has another book in her "Are You Normal?" series arriving on Father's Day in June-"When It Comes to Guys, What's Normal?"