Published on .

Reprints Reprints

Predecessor Blackett-Sample-Hummert opened in Chicago, 1924; new partnership formed creating Dancer-Fitzgerald-Sample, 1943; moved to New York, 1948; joined Dorland, Ltd., London, to become DFS-Dorland International, 1970; acquired by Saatchi & Saatchi, 1986; merged with Compton to become Saatchi & Saatchi DFS Compton, 1987; renamed Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, 1991.

In 1924, Hill Blackett, John Glen Sample and Hays MacFarland opened a new agency in Chicago, Blackett-Sample-Hummert. The third name belonged to Frank Hummert, a writer who had worked with Mr. Blackett at Lord & Thomas and was among the first to join the new shop.

The agency became a major force in radio in the 1930s, starting with "Betty and Bob," a General Mills-sponsored serial launched Oct. 10, 1932, on the National Broadcasting Co.'s Blue Network. Conceived and written by Mr. Hummert, it was the first daytime drama to explore the issues of love, money, jealousy, faithfulness and life philosophy that would soon drive many other "soap operas." By the time the program ended in 1940, it had given birth to an entire genre of daytime radio and had made BSH the leading producer of network soaps in advertising.

In the early 1930s, the agency hired Anne Ashenhurst, who in 1935 married Mr. Hummert. Soon after that the names Frank and Anne Hummert became synonymous with such radio soap operas as "The Romance of Helen Trent," "Just Plain Bill," "Lorenzo Jones," "Stella Dallas," "Mary Noble" and "Backstage Wife." The agency's children's programs included "Little Orphan Annie" and "Captain Midnight" for Ovaltine.

Among the chief marketers that spurred BSH's success in radio was General Mills. In 1925, the company paid the agency $25,000 to study its advertising, which was heavily weighted toward promoting Gold Medal flour. The agency found that the brand was widely known but little used, and replaced the product's long-standing slogan, "eventually, why not now" with "kitchen tested." Market share for Gold Medal reportedly rose from 11% to 20%.

The agency's package-goods success with General Mills led it to a long association with Procter & Gamble Co., beginning in 1933 with Oxydol. The agency used a 1› sale to encourage consumers to try the product, which trailed rival Lever Brothers' Rinso. BSH put the product into daytime radio when the Hummerts created "Ma Perkins."

By 1934, according to the Variety Radio Directory, more than half of all sponsored network radio time was controlled by 10 ad agencies. BSH was the leader, trailed by L&T, J. Walter Thompson Co., Benton & Bowles and Young & Rubicam. At its peak in the early 1940s, BSH wrote and produced 45 different radio shows, and bought $12 million of airtime.

Although the center of the agency's creative activity remained in Chicago, the agency opened a major office in New York in the 1930s and later branched out to Toronto.

Reconstitution: Dancer, Fitzgerald, Sample

Personality differences between Messrs. Blackett and Sample led to a breakup in 1943, with Mr. Sample taking over the agency. Before entering the Navy, where he became a decorated commander, Mr. Sample asked two senior officers of BSH, Howard "Mix" Dancer and Clifford L. Fitzgerald, to join him as partners and rechristened the agency Dancer, Fitzgerald, Sample. In late 1943, the Hummerts left to set up their own production company, Air Features; Mr. Blackett also departed to start his own agency, Hill Blackett & Co., taking with him the Ovaltine account.

DFS opened for business on Dec. 31, 1943, and was the No. 8 U.S. agency, with billings of $23 million. Mr. Sample returned to the agency after the war, but left the shop for good in 1948.

Under Messrs. Dancer and Fitzgerald, the agency remained a leading presence in radio largely due to its ongoing power in the soap opera field. In 1951, for the 17th consecutive year, DFS led all other agencies in radio billings with more than $19 million, vs. $11.6 million for No. 2 BBDO.

Research became another strength of the agency after the war with the hiring of Lyndon O. Brown as senior VP-merchandising and research. He came to advertising from an academic background at Carlton College, Northfield, Minn., where he had written an influential book, "Marketing and Distribution Research." By 1953, about one-fifth of the agency's 250 New York employees were involved in research, a reflection of the agency's involvement with P&G and General Mills, both committed to a strategic approach to advertising based on scientific and quantitative research.

In 1962, DFS closed its Chicago office, which had fallen to about $6 million in billings, vs. $95 million for the New York office. Sewall Gardner, senior VP-general manager of the Chicago office, led 25 DFS staffers to Post & Morr, which became Post, Morr & Gardner; in late 1963, it merged with Keyes, Madden & Jones to form Post-Keyes-Gardner, which became a major Chicago agency in the 1970s.

In 1970, DFS turned its attention to building a more international scope by partnering with Dorland Advertising Holdings, Ltd., London, and Dorland Werbeagentur, Munich. Through an exchange of stock, DFS created DFS-Dorland International with combined billings of $237 million. In 1974, the agency's international partnership (by then known as DFS Dorland and Fortune) merged with Advico-Delpire, adding another $30 million in European billings. DFS had a 20% stake in the conglomerate. As the agency expanded in Europe, it retreated in Canada, selling out to McConnell Advertising in April 1973, which became McConnell/DFS.

By the mid-1970s, billings stood at $250 million; within five years the agency's billings more than doubled to $558 million, including 70 new European accounts acquired in 1980 alone. Among world agencies that year, DFS ranked No. 20.

"Where's the beef?"

DFS added an enduring phrase to the American lexicon in 1984 through its work for Wendy's International. Seeking to promote the larger size of the Wendy's hamburger compared to competitors' burgers, the agency hired quirky director Joe Sedelmaier to shoot a commercial written by copywriter Cliff Freeman in which three elderly ladies examined an unnamed rival's product. "Where's the beef?" demanded one of the ladies, played with gruff determination by Clara Peller. The campaign boosted Wendy's sales by 23% over figures for the year earlier. Advertising Age in 1999 ranked the spot No. 47 among the top 100 ads of the 20th century.

By 1986, DFS had become a desirable acquisition target. Its most aggressive suitor was Saatchi & Saatchi Co., which had purchased the Dorland agency in London in 1981 for $8 million. Dorland, in turn, bought out DFS' London office in 1984. In 1986, Dorland "loaned" DFS $75 million in exchange for an option to buy 100 percent of the agency's common stock at any time. The loan was funded by Saatchi and was, in effect, the agency's purchase price. On Feb. 24, 1986, Saatchi announced the acquisition of DFS through a merger with Dorland. The new company was called DFS Dorland Worldwide and ranked as the world's No. 16 agency network.

On July 21, 1987, DFS was split off from Dorland and merged with Saatchi & Saatchi Compton to create a $2.3 billion giant with an equally gigantic name, Saatchi & Saatchi DFS Compton. In 1991, the parent company simplified the name by dropping DFS and Compton and rechristening the New York flagship Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising.

In this article:
Most Popular