Born in 1844, Daniel Lord moved to Chicago in 1870 from Long Island and opened his first ad agency, Sharp & Lord, in 1871, followed by two more agencies, Chandler, Lord & Co. and Lord & Brewster & Co. In 1881, he joined Ambrose Thomas to form Lord & Thomas.
Beginning as a space broker for newspapers and magazines, L&T evolved slowly into an agent for advertisers. By the early 1900s, L&T was handling billings of approximately $900,000 and was the third-largest agency in the U.S.; total advertising handled through all agencies at the time was about $12 million, according to Advertising Age. Mr. Lord retired in 1904 and died in May 1930; Mr. Thomas died in 1906.
Albert Lasker, who arrived in Chicago at age 18 in 1898 from Galveston, Texas, to take a job with L&T, began buying up the company in 1906 after the death of Mr. Thomas. By 1912, he was the sole owner of L&T, which had billings of $6 million. Ownership was a formality, however; Mr. Lasker had dominated the agency almost from the day he started.
Advertising in the U.S. before Mr. Lasker mostly consisted of a simple declarative statement of availability. It took demand for granted and rarely felt the need to persuade or motivate. Advertising for the most part was local and primarily retail. In 1904, Mr. Lasker met pioneering copywriter John E. Kennedy, who saw advertising as "salesmanship in print" and believed it was driven by a reason why the consumer should make the purchase. Mr. Lasker promptly hired Mr. Kennedy at $28,000 a year, although L&T had never paid a copywriter more than $1,600 per year. Mr. Lasker embraced the "reason why" principle as an ideology; recruited and trained a staff of nine young apostles in its formulas; and created an updated copy department, the first of its kind.
The first creative "philosophy"
Mr. Kennedy left L&T in 1906 to form Ethridge-Kennedy Co., never to make such a splash again. But under Mr. Lasker, Mr. Kennedy's ideas became the first creative "philosophy" to sweep the industry. What Mr. Lasker needed most was a disciple to preach his gospel, make it work and acquire converts. He found him in Claude Hopkins, a man who lived by the clock, measured each day by his productivity and never argued with his boss. Although Mr. Hopkins' salary eventually rose to $185,000 a year, he regarded extravagance as immoral.
In the first 20 years of the 20th century, advertising grew side by side with the march of science into daily life through electricity, the telephone, radio, recording and transportation. The more that intellectuals contemplated the wonders of the Machine Age, the more they found in its specificity and predictability a system for understanding people. What trickled down to Messrs. Hopkins and Lasker was the certainty that selling was a science and that effective selling was a matter of scientific principle.
L&T began to codify a series of advertising techniques that included coupons, sampling, copy testing, demonstrations and the "preemptive claim." This was the idea that an ordinary attribute, common to all similar products, could be made to seem exclusive by being the first to claim it, then claiming it more often than anyone else. A perfect example was Mr. Hopkins' claim to the "preemptive claim" itself. L&T copy favored short sentences; tight, well-reasoned persuasion; and a clear serif typeface (Cheltenham bold). The agency believed that pictures wasted space. "We are a copy agency," Lasker decreed. The idea won L&T such early blue-chip clients as Sunkist, Van Camp, Quaker Oats and Goodyear. In Mr. Hopkins' first decade with L&T, billings tripled to $18 million, briefly making it the country's No. 1 agency.
By the end of World War I, vast production capacity built for war made possible a consumer-driven economy in which advertising played a pivotal role. In 1923, L&T published its philosophy in a book called "Scientific Advertising," written by Mr. Hopkins, who said that everything in advertising was either right or wrong. In the late 1920s, L&T distilled its text into a series of 50 house ads that not only defined L&T as an agency but also set forth a policy of hard-selling advertising that would influence much of the profession for generations.
In 1926, L&T ventured into its only merger when it combined with Thomas Logan Inc. to become Lord & Thomas and Logan. When Mr. Logan died two years later, his name was removed from the agency, which became Lord & Thomas again. Mr. Lasker never considered adding his name to the banner.
Building product categories
The 1920s were inspired years for L&T. It built product categories that had barely existed before the war and helped make them a part of middle-class life. Some of these categories signaled fundamental changes in U.S. mores. L&T made Kotex respectable to women of the era. It took Palmolive from an obscure toilet soap to one of the great brands of the century with a simple promise: "Keep that school girl complexion."
In the 1920s, L&T not only made Pepsodent the country's leading toothpaste, Mr. Lasker became a major stockholder as well. When he learned that the formula contained a mild detergent called sodium alkyl sulphate, he asked Mr. Hopkins to coin a name, which he arbitrarily decided should contain three vowels and two consonants. The result was "Irium", among the first in a line of "secret ingredients" the industry would invent for years to come. It was a classic refinement of Mr. Hopkins's preemptive claim.
Another resulted from an early meeting with Frigidaire. L&T asked what made its refrigerators economical. A condenser, the company explained, with a single moving part. Mr. Lasker turned to a subordinate. "Name it," he said, "and make it the basis of the campaign." It became the "Meter Miser."
In 1925, the agency acquired the account of American Tobacco Co., under the leadership of George Washington Hill. By 1930, L&T had built Lucky Strike cigarettes into the country's top cigarette brand. L&T created many Lucky Strike ads to Mr. Hill's specifications, including one picturing a ravaged Sabine woman being carried off by a Roman warrior. Yet Lucky Strike was the brand that liberated U.S. women from the taboos against smoking.
The agency, at Mr. Hill's insistence, built campaigns on remarkable claims. One advertised Lucky Strike as a cough cure because "it's toasted," a step in the refining process relatively common to all tobaccos. It also claimed that Lucky Strike could help women control their weight—"Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet." By 1929, American Tobacco not only represented nearly one-third of L&T's $40 million in billings, it was the largest single account in advertising. By 1931, it had grown to $20 million.
Despite demanding clients, however, Mr. Lasker made sure that L&T guarded its independence. In June 1938, one of his oldest clients, Quaker Oats, submitted agency copy to an outside consultant, Townsend & Townsend, a copy evaluation company that claimed to score an ad's selling power based on "a fixed relationship between sales results and 27 basic selling elements." Without hesitation, the agency resigned the account, ending a relationship that had started in 1908.
Although L&T had adapted to change well, it had a blind spot: research. Early in the century L&T had been considered a research innovator when it set up a "record of results department." But as the field expanded, Mr. Lasker came to resent its second-guessing of the copywriter. Its rituals, protocols and intrusiveness made him impatient. The appearance of the Townsend system was especially intolerable because it seemed scientific-an ironic twist for an agency that had done much to advance the notion of advertising as a science.
A radio pioneer
Meanwhile, L&T became an early pioneer in radio. In 1928, L&T and Pepsodent effectively baptized network radio with its first hit, "Amos 'n' Andy." A landmark in broadcasting history, it drove radio sales to a critical mass, threw network expansion into high gear and launched the stampede of advertisers to radio. A decade later, when Amos' wife, Ruby, was to give birth, L&T helped engineer radio's first national promotional contest by inviting listeners to give the baby a name. The winner collected $5,000.
In 1928, L&T took American Tobacco into radio with "The Lucky Strike Dance Orchestra." L&T was followed the lead of Lennen & Mitchell, which two years earlier had debuted a musical program under the sponsorship of P. Lorillard Co.'s Old Gold brand. In April 1935, Lucky Strike introduced "Your Hit Parade," which continued the pop-song format but with the added element of a weekly ranking in popularity. (The program would move into TV in 1950—produced by Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn—and run until June 1958, still using the format created by L&T.)
Between 1927 and 1931, L&T is said to have controlled 30% of all radio ad dollars. It pioneered many of the basic broadcast formats: comedy, variety, soap operas and police shows. In the fall of 1931, L&T was looking for a radio property for American Tobacco's Creamo cigars. It took on a young baritone, Bing Crosby; dubbed him the "Creamo Singer"; and put him on CBS. In 1938, the agency dropped "Amos 'n' Andy" on behalf of Pepsodent and replaced it with a comedian fresh from Broadway, Bob Hope. In August 1942, the agency put another new singer, Frank Sinatra, on the air in a weekly program, "Songs by Sinatra."
Shortly after the Quaker Oats affair in 1938, Mr. Lasker gave up the presidency of L&T, though not ownership. Don Francisco moved from the agency's Los Angeles office that year to New York, where he assumed the presidency, clearing the way for Don Belding to take over the Los Angeles job.
On Dec. 29, 1942, for a variety of legal and tax reasons, Mr. Lasker virtually gave the agency to the managers of its three main offices: Emerson Foote in New York, Fairfax Cone in Chicago and Mr. Belding in Los Angeles. (Mr. Francisco, whom Mr. Lasker loved as a son, would have been a founding partner, but with the U.S. at war, he had left the agency several months before to work for Nelson Rockefeller's Office of Inter-American Affairs.)
Mr. Lasker gave them the agency but not the name, snuffing out the Lord & Thomas brand. On Jan. 4, 1943, employees returned after the long New Year's weekend to find the same offices, furniture, accounts and colleagues but a different name on the door: Foote, Cone & Belding. Mr. Lasker lived for another decade but never became actively involved in advertising again.