When Benton & Bowles opened in New York in 1929, its first accounts were Hellmann's mayonnaise and Certo, a product used to make jam and jelly. William Benton, Chester Bowles and their wives conducted door-to-door consumer surveys on the secrets of jam- and jelly-making; using the results, they created a magazine advertisement that helped boost product sales.
By the end of its first year, Benton & Bowles had billings of $40,000 and 10 accounts, including additional General Foods products, Bristol-Myers Co. and Colgate-Palmolive Co. In April 1933, Atherton W. Hobler joined the agency as a new partner, bringing with him $5 million more in General Foods accounts for Maxwell House coffee, Post bran flakes, Post Toasties, Log Cabin syrup, Walter Baker's cocoa and chocolate and Diamond Crystal salt.
Once the country's best-selling coffee, by 1932 Maxwell House saw its sales decline. Benton & Bowles conducted a survey and discovered that consumers perceived the brand as too expensive and not as high quality as competing products. The agency advised General Foods to improve the product, reduce the price and increase brand awareness by sponsoring a one-hour radio variety show, which Mr. Bowles called "Maxwell House Showboat."
Mr. Bowles also created radio shows and commercials to advertise Hellmann's mayonnaise and wrote and produced the radio soap opera "Young Doctor Malone" to promote General Foods products. He is credited with a number of radio firsts: using cue cards to generate laughter and applause from studio audiences, employing sound effects and jingles in spots, introducing dual sponsorship of shows and crafting testimonial advertising. By the mid-1930s, Benton & Bowles' "Showboat," "Palmolive Beauty Box" and "Town Hall Tonight" (for Ipana toothpaste) were three of the nation's four leading network radio programs. In 1935, Benton & Bowles ranked No. 6 among U.S. agencies, with billings of about $10 million.
In 1936, Mr. Benton sold his interest in the agency, and Mr. Bowles became chairman. About this time, Mr. Bowles was credited with creating slice-of-life advertising. In addition, the agency's West Coast production office produced a number of high-rated radio shows, including the legendary "Burns and Allen."
By the end of the 1930s, Dr Pepper, Prudential Life Insurance and Columbia Records had been added to the client roster. The agency was producing "Gang Busters" and "Hilltop House" for Palmolive, "Ripley's Believe It or Not" for Post, "Myrt & Marge" for Super Suds and "Stepmother" for Colgate.
By 1940, Mr. Bowles wanted to leave the agency, but several major clients objected. Copywriter and account exec Ted Bates left in December 1940 to launch his own agency, taking the multimillion-dollar Colgate account with him. Mr. Bowles landed Procter & Gamble Co.'s Ivory Snow in mid-1941, before resigning as chairman later that year. He was succeeded by Mr. Hobler, who is credited with establishing the first agency copy-testing department and, with the advent of TV, selling P&G on sponsoring "The Loretta Young Show."
Over the years, the agency created a number of significant campaigns. For Texaco, Benton & Bowles created the famous slogan "You can trust your car to the men who wear the star" in the 1940s. In the late 1950s, it boosted P&G's Crest toothpaste with "Look, Ma! No cavities!" and, in the 1960s, P&G's Charmin toilet tissue with "Please don't squeeze the Charmin" and brokerage house E.F. Hutton with "When E.F. Hutton talks . . . people listen." In the 1970s, it introduced Budweiser's "This Bud's for you" slogan and revitalized General Foods' Post Grape Nuts brand by positioning it as a "100% natural cereal" and casting naturalist and wild foods expert Euell Gibbons in spots for the product.
With the financial power of General Foods and P&G, Benton & Bowles remained among the last agencies to be active in TV program production. Lee Rich, head of the agency's Benton and Bowles TV department, played a major role in the development of "The Danny Thomas Show" and "The Andy Griffith Show," both for General Foods, and "The Dick Van Dyke Show," for P&G.
Benton & Bowles' international billings climbed in the mid-1960s as domestic billings declined. The agency lost $21 million in U.S. billings from 1966 to 1967, while international billings more than doubled from $21.4 million to $47.5 million. Much of the gain came from newly acquired foreign agencies following a year of aggressive expansion. Benton & Bowles International was formalized as a separate corporate entity in February 1968. In 1970, domestic billings were up slightly, and international billings continued their ascent, climbing more than 20%.
In 1985, Benton & Bowles merged with D'Arcy-MacManus & Masius to become D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, the No. 8 agency in the U.S. At the time, Benton & Bowles' accounts included Beatrice Foods' Tropicana orange juice, Hardee's Food Systems, long-distance phone company MCI Corp., Nabisco Brands' Planters Nuts products, Texaco and numerous P&G and Richardson-Vicks brands.