Norman, Craig & Kummel was launched in June 1955, after the buyout of New York-based William H. Weintraub & Co. In January 1955, William Weintraub Sr. sold his controlling interest in the company to four agency executives: Elkin Kaufman, Norman B. Norman, Eugene Kummel and B. David Kaplan. Mr. Kaufman, president of the restructured agency, resigned in June, and Mr. Norman, who had been exec VP, succeeded him. With the hiring of Walter Craig as VP-radio and TV later that year, the agency was renamed Norman, Craig & Kummel.
NCK, which arrived on Madison Avenue at a time when the U.S. was experiencing rapid economic expansion, had its own sales approach, developed by Mr. Norman. Ted Bates & Co. had its "unique selling proposition" and Ogilvy, Benson & Mather its "brand image"; Mr. Norman called his agency's strategy "Empathy."
The theory consisted of six canons or tenets; when put together, the first letters of each tenet spelled P-E-O-P-L-E: Put people in the sell; Excitingly different look and sound; Open the way through the heart-not the head; Put in an important reason why; Living visuals people will talk about; Eliminate any non-preemptive selling proposition.
That approach led to the agency's success with such notable campaigns as Maiden Form's "I Dreamed . . . ," Hertz's "Let Hertz Put You in the Driver's Seat," Ajax's "Stronger than Dirt" (the White Knight) and Chanel's "Every Woman Alive Loves Chanel No. 5."
One of the earliest examples of this philosophy was the agency's quiz show, "The $64,000 Question," launched in 1955. It was the only time in the history of broadcasting that an agency bought a program with its own money. Mr. Craig was put in charge of the show, which the agency developed with the idea, new at the time, that a single sponsor would be featured during the program. After much effort, he convinced Revlon Inc., a client since 1948, to be the show's sole sponsor.
The show premiered on June 7, 1955, and within four weeks was No. 1 in the ratings. It raised Revlon's sales and profits and significantly increased consumer awareness of Revlon's products, pushing the company far out in front of its competitors. The show was such a success that it was widely copied. But despite the program's popularity, after only 13 weeks Revlon owner Charles Revson fired NCK, the marketer's agency of seven years, and hired Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn.
The move spurred a bitter rivalry between NCK and BBDO that extended from the entertainment stage to the political arena. NCK's contempt for BBDO was evidenced in 1956 when the shop accepted the account of the U.S. Democratic National Committee.
At that time many big agencies were unwilling to take the Democrats' account for fear of alienating the Republican businessmen who headed many client companies. NCK, however, went after the multimillion-dollar account with great fervor to go head-to-head with BBDO, which handled the Republican National Committee account. The agency got its wish in 1956.
Two of the agency's principals, Messrs. Kummel and Craig, were directly in charge of the campaign of presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson. At the national convention, they added touches that were totally new in the annals of American politics. They helped the convention manager in Chicago hire singers, performers and a color guard.
NCK also provided the introduction to the keynote speech of the convention, with a script written by the agency prior to the convention. For the first time in history, the campaign of the Democrats appeared to be more a political show than a simple exercise in advertising.
Meanwhile, NCK switched gears in its "Empathy" approach, incorporating sexy imagery and themes into its ads for such clients as Maiden Form, Colgate-Palmolive Co.'s Veto deodorant, Sportsman cologne and Chanel No. 5. Sex, the agency believed, sold cosmetics and lingerie products.
The suggestive approach
NCK's suggestive Maiden Form ads, which began appearing in 1949, stretched the boundaries of what was acceptable at that time. The ads, which bore the tagline, "I dreamed . . . in my Maidenform bra," featured half-clad female models alongside fully dressed men in environments such as financial offices or architects' drafting rooms.
The campaign infuriated feminists, but despite the controversy, the Maiden Form ads had an astounding effect on women and society. The "I dreamed" idea pioneered the mention of unmentionables in advertising.
The sexy selling approach not only worked to transfix women, NCK was also able to use it successfully to attract teen-age girls to Chanel No. 5-long considered a woman's fragrance. NCK put Chanel No. 5 in teens' lives for the first time in 1956. The ads abandoned the image of the perfume's classic bottle in favor of sexy models in their teens and copy that referred to growing up and falling in love.
The agency placed monthly ads in Seventeen with a tagline that read, "If the exciting things of growing up are happening to you, you're ready for Chanel." One showed a boy and girl in slickers walking in the rain. The copy under the illustration said: "When you'd rather be we then me . . . you're ready for Chanel."
Because package goods and automotive services could not be advertised in the same way as fragrances and lingerie, NCK took a different approach to the "Empathy" principle with clients Ajax and Hertz. In its 1959 campaign for Hertz, the shop depicted a man dropping into the driver's seat of a car from the sky. The tagline, "Let Hertz put you in the driver's seat," became one of the most widely recognized ad slogans.
NCK's empathy-driven campaign for Colgate-Palmolive's Ajax cleanser—featuring a knight on horseback and the tagline "Give me something stronger than dirt"—was also a runaway success. The campaign, which ran from 1962 to 1967, shook Procter & Gamble Co., which spent a great deal of money trying to unhorse the White Knight.
In 1972, NCK—which since the 1960s had expanded overseas by buying local agencies—moved into Mexico and built Arellano, NCK Publicidad S.A. de C.V. from the ground up. That agency won Colgate-Palmolive's $1.7 million assignment in 1972, boosting the shop to the top of the Mexican agency ranks. By 1982, NCK had gained more than 50 accounts worldwide.
In 1961, the parent company of NCK was renamed the NCK Organization. By 1982, the NCK Organization had 1,184 employees in 32 offices worldwide. It reported gross income of $69.8 million and worldwide billings of $433.5 million. By 1983, the company had become the No. 4 European agency network. That year the NCK Organization merged with Foote, Cone & Belding Communications and the NCK name disappeared.