John H. Tinker & Partners opened in May 1960 in New York as an experimental "think tank" built by McCann-Erickson and its parent, Interpublic Inc. It sought to isolate and nurture the creative function apart from the day-to-day aspects of normal agency activity, particularly administrative duties, which were seen as a drain on time and creative freedom, and became a center in advertising's "creative revolution" of the '60s.
Key personnel in addition to Jack Tinker included Donald Calhoun, the shop's creative director; Myron McDonald, an account supervisor; and Herta Herzog, a psychologist and authority on behavioral and motivational research.
The parent agency made assignments on a special-project basis from its client roster to the Tinker "laboratory" (Buick and Coca-Cola were among the first) and sometimes detached personnel on a temporary basis from the main agency to work on those projects. Among the earliest campaigns Tinker worked on was the introduction of the Bulova Accutron watch.
In the early and middle 1960s, Tinker was renowned as the most exciting place to work in the ad industry. With the exception of its ads for the Buick Riviera, a model that Tinker named and launched, the agency was extremely discreet about both its work and its clients. The high level of security was designed to indicate to marketers that this was a special shop set up to handle special problems on an ad hoc basis. An advertiser could approach Tinker without the knowledge of its current agency and be sure that agency would never find out.
Shortly after Tinker was established, McCann underwent a major reorganization that resulted in the formation of Interpublic Inc. (later renamed Interpublic Group of Cos.), a holding company consisting of three agency networks with Marion Harper as chairman. Though Tinker remained a unit of McCann, it reported directly to Mr. Harper.
In May 1964, Miles Laboratories, the marketer of Alka-Seltzer, dismissed its longtime agency, Wade Advertising, and moved the $12 million account to Tinker, which had $6 million in billings at the time. As a result of the assignment, the agency began to function more in the manner of traditional advertising agencies.
In January 1966, Wade closed its doors altogether, and its Miles account group was moved to Tinker, which took on One-A-Day and Chocks vitamins, Nervine and Toni Co., a unit of Gillette. At the end of that year, Tinker had increased its billings to $37 million.
Meanwhile, Mary Wells, Tinker's creative star, left to form her own agency. Ms. Wells had become a major presence on the Alka-Seltzer account and also had brought $2.5 million in Braniff International airline business to the agency. (She took the Braniff business with her when she left.) Also in 1966, Mr. Tinker had a heart attack and began to reduce his workload at the agency.
The Alka-Seltzer effort
By the end of the 1960s, Miles Labs had grown into a $20 million account for Tinker. Indeed, Tinker's best-remembered work was for Miles' Alka-Seltzer: "No matter what shape your stomach's in," created by Richard Rich and Stewart Greene, who left with Mary Wells to found Wells, Rich, Greene.
During the five years that Tinker handled Alka-Seltzer, the agency brought about a fundamental change in the way antacid medicines were advertised, discarding diagrams of acid dripping on stomach linings. Instead, the agency introduced wit, parody, irony and a new level of believability to its messages.
But the agency's failure to win and hold other accounts of similar size made it increasingly dependent on a single piece of business. The first sign of trouble at the shop came in 1967, when Miles moved its vitamin brands to J. Walter Thompson Co. The following year, William Weilbacher, Tinker's key account person on Miles, also left for JWT.
The instability at the agency was further aggravated by a general weakening of Interpublic's profitability and the subsequent need for significant retrenchment. That series of setbacks was capped in November 1967 when Interpublic ousted Mr. Harper. By that time, Mr. Tinker himself was already in semiretirement, and the agency effectively lost its strongest champions.
In an effort to bolster Tinker's position—the agency had billings of $30 million by the end of the decade, down from $46 million in 1967—its parent in 1969 merged the shop into Erwin, Wasey & Co., another Interpublic unit. But two weeks later, Tinker lost the Miles account on which its financial footing largely rested.
Four months after the merger with Erwin, Wasey, Interpublic re-established Tinker as an independent shop, only to again merge it, in November 1970, with Pritchard Wood Associates, London. A year later, Interpublic again attempted to restructure the agency via a merger with yet another of its units, but the 1970s passed with little growth.
In March 1976, Interpublic merged Tinker with Campbell-Ewald International, forming Tinker, Campbell-Ewald based in C-E's New York offices. But by the end of the decade, the Tinker name had been merged out of existence. Jack Tinker died in 1985.