Albert G. Wade founded Wade Advertising Agency in 1909 in Chicago. The Wade family retained ownership of the advertising agency until it closed in 1966, with the stewardship of the company passing from Albert to his son Walter in 1932, then to his grandson, A.G. "Jeff" Wade III.
The agency built a stable of accounts in both industrial and consumer marketing and, over its history, made several significant contributions to the advertising business. One such innovation was the introduction of the Bon Ami "little chick" icon. This endearing symbol, used to support Bon Ami's claim that its gentle cleanser was non-abrasive ("Hasn't scratched yet"), was part of a successful campaign that lasted more than 50 years and is generally recognized as the first animal character used in mass advertising.
Wade Advertising's biggest claim to fame, however, was its relationship with Miles Laboratories, which it signed in 1917, and its Alka-Seltzer brand. Wade's fortunes seemed to rise and fall based on its relationship with that account. The brand was launched with a print campaign inviting people to get a free sample of Alka-Seltzer at their local drugstore. In 1932, radio spots began airing on WLS in Chicago, and the following year, Alka-Seltzer became the sponsor of one of the station's most highly rated shows, "Saturday Night Barn Dance."
Print advertising for Alka-Seltzer touted both the benefits of the product and Miles' sponsorship of "Barn Dance." The tagline, "For prompt, pleasant relief," appeared along with information about the NBC radio network broadcast.
Sponsorships became a staple of Miles' advertising strategy, and it barely missed a beat as radio's popularity was gradually eclipsed by that of TV.
Some of that success can be attributed to Wade's aggressive approach to media buying. The agency's philosophy—that it was necessary to spend money to make money—led to a nearly $5 million dollar ad budget in the years preceding World War II, a very high figure for the time. Miles was the No. 16 network radio advertiser in 1939, spending $1.2 million in that medium alone. Wade also introduced some creative and catchy slogans, such as, "Be wise—Alkalize with Alka-Seltzer!"
During radio broadcasts, two tablets of the product were dropped into a glass of water and held next to a microphone while the announcer extolled the virtues of effervescence with the words, "Listen to it fizz!" In 1952, the pitch "Alka-Seltzer-for that feel better feeling" was first unveiled; it was used for the next nine years. In the mid-1950s, the agency coined the taglines "Action in a glass" and "Relief is just a swallow away."
In 1951, the agency developed "Speedy," a red-haired, rosy-cheeked cartoon boy with a toothy grin and a magic wand to represent Alka-Seltzer. The character, originally a painted wooden figure, wore an Alka-Seltzer tablet on his head emblazoned with his name; another tablet comprised his torso. Speedy won numerous advertising awards, including one for top commercial of the 1950s.
In 1964, Miles withdrew the Alka-Seltzer business from Wade, saying it wanted to seek wider creative options for the line. It awarded the account to Jack Tinker & Partners, a move that shook the advertising world and marked the beginning of the end for Wade, which seemed untouched by the "creative revolution" that shook Madison Avenue in the 1960s. Miles and Alka-Seltzer did not constitute the agency's total business, but they represented a high percentage of billings and much of its reputation.
While Forrest Owen, president of Wade, tried to hold the business together after the departure of Alka-Seltzer, everything started to unravel. Accounts left, including Falstaff Brewing and Seven-Up Bottling of Los Angeles; key executives followed. Then the other Miles lines departed. In 1965, Bactine went to Tinker, leaving only the Miles One-A-Day and Chocks vitamins accounts at Wade.
In January 1966, after a solid client presentation to Miles for its vitamin lines, Wade Advertising realized it had a losing battle on its hands. Miles was taking away the rest of its business. Jeff Wade made a deal with Interpublic conceding the remaining Miles business to Tinker, while retaining a position on Tinker's account team. The Toni Co., another key account, switched to Tinker just days later. Within two weeks, Wade closed its doors.