John Petersen Warwick, Adman Behind Timex 'Torture Test,' Dies at 90

Warwick & Legler Chairman, CEO for 33 Years Until Retiring in 1991

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John Petersen Warwick.
John Petersen Warwick. Credit: Courtesy of the Warwick family

John Petersen Warwick, the adman behind the Timex "Torture Test" campaign and Warwick & Legler chairman and CEO, died June 26. He was 90.

After joining Warwick & Legler in 1949, founded 10 years earlier by his father Paul Warwick and Henry Legler, Mr. Warwick devoted 42 years to the agency. He was its chairman and CEO for 33 years until he retired in 1991.

The shop became Warwick, Welsh & Miller in 1973; Warwick Advertising -- the name it is most commonly known as -- in 1982; Warwick, Baker & Fiore in 1989; and finally Warwick, Baker & O'Neill in 1996 until it closed in 2001.

At its height, the internationally recognized agency had more than 250 employees in its New York office and 75 employees in its Paris, London, Frankfurt and Brussels offices. It also had a San Diego branch and was a member of the Alliance International partnership of independent agencies that served clients with international needs.

"He was a real adman," Brian Warwick said of his father. "He believed in knowing the client's business almost better than the client knew their business. He really tried everything possible to make the client happy with the end product because he knew what he was representing."

One of the most famous campaigns under Mr. Warwick's stewardship at the agency was the Timex "Torture Test." It was the first network TV campaign for Timex, which began at Hirshon-Garfield in 1956 and was moved to Warwick & Legler two years later. In the commericals, celebrity newscaster John Cameron Swayze conducted "torture tests" on the watch, including a live 1958 television spot to demonstrate the watch's durability after being attached to the front of a speedboat propeller in water.

"He took it to a new level with John Cameron Swayze and the speedboat propeller," Brian Warwick said. "It catapulted the brand."

Timex's market shares more than doubled after the campaign launched and the brand held the number one market share position in the U.S. in the mid-1960s.

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For 46 years, the Warwick agency represented Joseph E. Seagram & Sons and its brands 7 Crown, VO, Extra Dry Gin and Crown Royal Whisky. The famous print campaign of the "Seven & Seven" drink made from Seagram's 7 Crown and 7-Up was created at the shop.

The agency's 1972 Seagram print campaign brought attention to drinking and driving. The handwritten sentence "I can drive when I drink" became illegible as its writer consumed alcoholic drinks.

Mr. Warwick helped foster a relationship with United States Tobacco in 1969 that lasted decades and included print and television campaigns for Skoal and Copenhagen smokeless products.

"I remember growing up and going to CEO's houses," Brian Warwick said. "He really dug in and became personal friends with so many of these people. He made it more than just representation for ad business."

The shop's clients included Revlon, Pfizer, Mennen, Bausch & Lomb, Benjamin Moore, United States Tobacco, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Fruit of the Loom, Burlington Industries, Schering-Plough, Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield and Sterling Drug. The agency also worked on creative for Air Canada, Coppertone, Schaefer, Heineken and Amstel Light beers for Van Hunching & Co., Smithsonian Magazine, Parade Magazine and Crafted with Pride in U.S.A.

Mr. Warwick believed in pro bono and public service work. Through the years, he represented American Mental Health Fund, The Miami Project to Cure Spinal Paralysis, Burke Rehabilitation Hospital and The Advertising Council.

He was on the board of Association of American Advertising Agencies for two terms.

Mr. Warwick served for three years in the U.S. Navy during World War II and as a Naval Reserve officer for 16 years. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1948.

Since 1990, he was afflicted with a rare form of peripheral neuropathy, a disease that causes painful nerve damage. In 1995, Mr. Warwick helped found The Neuropathy Association in NYC, which later merged with the Foundation of Peripheral Neuropathy.

His personal interests included American history and golf. He was a member of Winged Foot Golf Club, National Golf Links of America and served as the president of Westhampton Country Club in the early 1980s.

"He was a terrific all-around gentleman and a wonderful family man," said his son Brian. "He was selfless, always willing to help other people. He embodied the spirit of someone who commanded respect and he built a business that was incredibly well-respected in its field."

He is survived by his wife of 53 years, Janet Mick Warwick; son Brian; daughter Jennifer Warwick Sokolowski; and four grandchildren.

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