By the age of 30, Mr. Gossage had landed a job as promotion manager for radio station KLX, San Francisco. He later moved to CBS, where he worked for a few years until he began graduate work in sociology at the Universities of Paris and Geneva.
In 1954, he joined San Francisco ad agency Brisacher, Wheeler & Staff and was named a VP after a year. Mr. Gossage found his first commercial success with his "Win Yourself a Kangaroo" campaign for little-known Qantas Airlines, under the headline, "Be the first kid on your block to own a kangaroo!"
In 1957, Mr. Gossage and his partners, Stan Freberg and J. Joseph Weiner, formed Weiner & Gossage.
Mr. Gossage's ads generally contained long copy and informal artwork. "Nobody reads advertising," he said. "People read what interests them and sometimes it's an ad." He also frequently used contests or reply coupons, believing that the job of an ad is to engage the consumer in a dialogue with the advertiser. His ad coupons could be sent to advertisers; sometimes they were designed to send to government agencies to urge policy changes.
Mr. Gossage's important campaigns and clients included a 1969 effort for Heileman Brewing Co.'s Rainier beer that featured a 1,000-mile walk from San Francisco to the Seattle World's Fair by a retired 79-year-old postman.
The agency's 1967 Great International Paper Airplane Competition for Scientific American drew entries from around the world. That campaign helped establish the magazine as a viable place for air and travel advertising. The Fina Oil & Chemical Co. campaign featured an improvement on the compressed air offered at service stations throughout the nation; Fina's air contained a pink additive that, the ads purported, made it better.
Mr. Gossage's headline for Land Rover—"At 60 miles an hour, the loudest noise in this new Land Rover comes from the roar of the engine"—drew praise from David Ogilvy, whose understated 1958 headline for Rolls-Royce ("At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock") was the object of parody.
Mr. Gossage's commercial and financial success freed him to focus on the issues and causes that interested him. He and G. Mason Feigen, a business associate, promoted Marshall McLuhan, the University of Toronto professor who won acclaim for his discussion of the mass media. Mr. Gossage also believed in the power of advocacy advertising, feeling that advertising, in promoting goods for sale, was not being used properly; its proper place, in his estimation, was to provide information and education concerning specific issues.
Advertising, Mr. Gossage believed, was too valuable to be wasted on commercial products. Instead, it should be used to promote social causes. In addition to his unconventional work, Mr. Gossage was known for his articulate criticism of advertising's abuses. He was particularly outspoken against the commission system for ad agencies, which, he asserted, provided incentive for exploitation. He worked for fees and made arrangements with his clients to be compensated proportionately for the growth of their businesses as a result of his advertising.
When he learned he had leukemia, Mr. Gossage took steps to ensure the continuation of his agency, which by then was known as Freeman & Gossage. He and his partner, Robert B. Freeman, formed Shade Tree Corp. as an umbrella agency for the various activities and causes of the agency. Jerry Mander, who had written much of the agency's copy in the period leading up to Mr. Gossage's death, was brought on board to take the reins of the business. The agency was renamed Freeman, Mander & Gossage in November 1968. It closed in 1971.
Mr. Gossage died July 9, 1969. He was posthumously inducted into the Copywriters Hall of Fame on March 26, 1970.
Born in Chicago, Aug. 13, 1917; opened Weiner & Gossage in San Francisco, 1957; agency became Freeman & Gossage, 1963; agency renamed Freeman, Mander & Gossage, November 1968; died July 9, 1969; posthumously inducted into Copywriters Hall of Fame, 1970; Freeman, Mander & Gossage folded, 1971.