D.L. Blair was founded in 1960 by Cy Draddy and Marty Landis in New York. Blair was one of the first promotion consulting agencies in advertising history, second only to a now-defunct company named Ralph Glendinning that opened just weeks before Blair. At the time, those agencies were involved mostly in store coupons and jingle contests, but as business grew more sophisticated and competition soared, sales promotion grew as well.
Blair was responsible for creating promotional strategies in the early 1960s that continue today. In 1960, it created the first preselected-number sweepstakes for Life. The following year, it developed the first scratch-off game for client Tydol Veedol. In 1962, it introduced the first "matching-halves" game for Shell Oil and in 1966 the first "magic screen" game for Procter & Gamble Co. (A magic screen campaign requires that the consumer acquire a screen&emdash;usually a red plastic overlay&emdash;through an initial purchase; when the screen is placed over a picture or message on the packaging of a subsequent purchase, it reveals a message.)
In January 1968, a few months after Mr. Landis left the company, Mr. Draddy hired Tom Conlon, a promotional marketing executive from Benton &Bowles whose approach to promotions fit the company's existing philosophy while giving it an additional push. Two years after joining the company, Mr. Conlon was named president. (He became CEO in 1975 following Mr. Draddy's death.)
By 1969, Blair had crossed into international territory, working for Imperial Tobacco Co. in Canada. Its campaign for the marketer drew the largest market share increase ever in the tight tobacco category, destroying assumptions about cigarette brand loyalty.
The agency was asked to take Imperial's weakest brand, Sweet Caporal, and raise its market share from less than 1%. The agency devised a simple promotion involving miniature, scratch-off playing cards that worked so well, Imperial's major competitors enlisted the aid of the Canadian government to force the company to withdraw the promotion. By the time that happened, Sweet Caporal had gained 25% of the market in just seven months.
On the other side of the border, beginning late in 1969, Democratic Congressman John Dingell urged the Federal Trade Commission to recognize what he perceived as the damaging nature of sweepstakes practices in the U.S. The FTC began a lawsuit to limit the use of sweepstakes as a promotional tool in which Blair, along with McDonald's, P&G and Reuben H. Donnelly, one of Blair's major competitors, were named. Taken to court, Blair triumphed over the FTC in January 1973.
The other companies named in the suits, however, had avoided going to court by agreeing to operate under strict, FTC-devised rules for more than 20 years (except P&G, which successfully argued that its limitations be lifted several years earlier).
During that period, Blair enjoyed a latitude of business practices that others did not. But the controversy stigmatized the sweepstakes business and Blair often had to convince clients to try sales promotions.
By the 1980s, D.L. Blair had an impressive client roster, including Kraft Foods (which signed on in 1962) and Miller Brewing Co. (1974). Blair had also expanded internationally, opening satellite offices to serve Shell Oil and Kellogg Co. in Sydney and Melbourne in the late 1960s. In 1977, the agency set up a small staff in London to serve British American Tobacco.
In 1982, D.L. Blair was hired by American Greetings as its promotional agency of record. In 1985, Mr. Conlon created and trademarked a winning promotion sponsored by P&G as a way to involve a large audience. "Watch 'n' Win" was a new concept in which viewers wishing to enter a sweepstakes needed information presented at the end of a prime-time TV program, when viewership had usually declined dramatically.
Business for Blair moved briskly in the 1990s; it executed one sweepstake, game or contest a day. In 1991, it was named the Coca-Cola Co.'s promotional agency of record, executing all promotions for all Coke's brands. In 1998, Blair ran an hourlong infomercial for Coca-Cola in Russia across six time zones combined with an "under the cap" contest already popular in the U.S.; the telecast gained the highest ratings to date for a TV program in that market.
In April 1997, Blair agreed to be acquired by the Interpublic Group of Cos. under Draft Worldwide, a global direct-marketing agency. In the deal, Draft allowed Blair to operate autonomously under its own name while sharing capabilities and resources.
Early in the 21st century, the company was the leader in its field, capable of executing eight sweepstakes, contests or games a day&emdash;about 3,000 promotions per year. Anticipating further steady growth through the Internet, the agency, based in Garden City, N.Y., expanded its fulfillment facilities in Nebraska to house a large workforce to implement promotional work through the new medium.