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Episode Seven: Man And Machine
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Wilbur Ruthrauff and Fritz Ryan opened their agency in New York in 1912. By the 1920s, Ruthrauff & Ryan was a force to be reckoned with in direct mail. Out of its early work, R&R developed a reputation for taking on undistinguished products and differentiating them from the competition with simple, sometimes detailed, copy written in a newsy manner.
The most famous early R&R direct ad was the work of 25-year-old copywriter John Caples for the U.S. School of Music: "They laughed when I sat down at the piano, but when I started to play!" In the late 1930s, the agency launched Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends & Influence People" in a series of densely packed, editorial-style ads that included celebrity endorsements and other points of interest. In the manner of the mail-order style, each ad ended by asking for the sale and providing a coupon.
Even in conventional media ads, R&R layouts tended to be segmented and cluttered with a multiplicity of typefaces and photographs of different sizes and shapes competing for attention. They also featured a sequence of individual photos, each captioned and often using comic strip-style dialogue balloons.
In December 1925, R&R won Rinso, its first Lever Brothers business. A decade later, playing against the fear of social isolation, R&R positioned another Lever product, Lifebuoy, as a "health soap" that could stop body odor. When consumers were offended by the phrase "body odor," Cal McCarthy, an account exec, created the euphemism "B.O." for the offending idea.
By the mid-1930s, R&R had offices in New York, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo. Its account roster included Canadian Pacific Railways, Cocomalt, Franco-American, Gillette, Goodrich, Ironized Yeast, Lea & Perrins, Noxzema, Tums and Wrigley.
The hard-selling R&R style found a client in American Tobacco Co.'s George Washington Hill. In 1940, Mr. Hill had Pall Mall moved from Compton Advertising. But in September 1946, Mr. Hill died and American Tobacco shifted R&R's Lucky Strike and Pall Mall responsibility to Foote, Cone & Belding.
Meanwhile, the agency had become very much a family business by the end of World War II. Fritz Ryan's son Barry became president, and Bourne Ruthrauff and Quincy Ryan senior VPs. The installation of a second generation of Ruthrauffs and Ryans in controlling positions angered several nonfamily stockholders.
Raymond Sullivan left the agency in July 1946, taking with him two other key R&R executives, Donald Stauffer and Heagan Bayles. Along with Robert Colwell from J. Walter Thompson Co., they established Sullivan, Stauffer, Colwell & Bayles, which was the first of the "hot" postwar agencies. The new shop used its connections to R&R talent as well as to its clients and began to whittle away at R&R's base.
Lever Brothers moved Lifebuoy and Silver Dust from R&R to SSC&B, which saw its billings double to $10 million by the end of 1948. Noxzema followed the same year. SSC&B even picked up Pall Mall.
R&R still managed to continue its tradition of growth, reaching an estimated record of nearly $50 million at midcentury. In February 1952, it celebrated its 40th anniversary in apparent good health by announcing the acquisition of Melamed-Hobbs, a Minneapolis agency. The purchase brought in additional billings of about $2.1 million. At about the same time, R&R acquired Strang & Prosser, Seattle. Then the agency began a 12-year slide into extinction.
End of the line
In March, the agency lost its $9 million Dodge account to Grant Advertising after 18 years. The following October, Lever moved Rinso to Hewitt, Ogilvy, Benson & Mather and Spry to FCB, thus ending a relationship that had made R&R the top Lever agency before the war. R&R ended 1952 out of the ranks of the top 10. R&R won the $9 million Motorola account in 1952, then lost it two years later. In September 1954, R&R thought it had replaced Dodge with Packard, but 13 months later it lost Packard to D'Arcy Advertising. By the end of 1956, R&R had fallen from the industry's No. 6 U.S. agency a decade before to No. 20, with $39 million in billings.
In 1957, a new management team headed by Bob Watson and F. Kenneth Beirn took over, ending the Ruthrauff and Ryan dynasties. Surviving founder Fritz Ryan had died two years earlier, in December 1955, just 11 months after his retirement at age 72. His son Barry briefly moved into the chairmanship and then stepped down in favor of the new management.
On Aug. 30, 1957, R&R joined with Erwin, Wasey & Co., Chicago, in what was the largest agency merger in history to that point. The combined unit was called Erwin, Wasey, Ruthrauff & Ryan and briefly became the No. 11 U.S. agency. There was considerable imbalance in the resources of the two agencies. Erwin Wasey was more than twice the value of R&R and had a strong international network, which made R&R the weaker of the two partners. Also, all of the R&R founders were deceased, while Louis Wasey was still active and remained so until his death in 1961. Most important, real authority fell to David Williams from the Erwin Wasey side, who went on to take full ownership under the banner of the David Williams Co.
By 1961, EWR&R had fallen to a rank of No. 20. Finally in October 1963, in a move that startled the industry, the agency was bought by Interpublic, a holding company created to contain a group of separate agencies while avoiding problems of client conflict. The deal created considerable excitement, though more for its size than for any substantive issues. It was the biggest advertising acquisition in history and made Interpublic the world's largest advertising company.
For R&R, however, it was the end of the line. In December 1964, the names Ruthrauff & Ryan were dropped from the agency logo.