Just before he died last March, ad agency man Walter Weir sent me a piece he did on the very first detergent, a product called Scoop, brought out a year before the $45 million introduction of Tide.
The man who introduced Scoop, Larry Fink, was a client of Walter Weir's agency, but he gave Scoop to a longtime friend of his, in spite of Walter's writing the lyrics and music for a Scoop singing commercial:
Extry! Extry! Read all about it!
Scoop's at your grocer's-
don't be without it.
Gets all the dishes clean
as a whistle.
No other powder does all this'll.
Walter wrote that Larry Fink had spent $1 million in newspaper advertising for Scoop in New York. When Tide's $45 million campaign appeared, Scoop disappeared. New Yorkers who had enthusiastically discovered and bought Scoop bought Tide. (The $45 million figure seems a bit on the hefty side back 50 years ago, even for P&G.)
That little article was only one of many that Walter sent me over the years, and we ran most of them. For the most part, they dealt with interesting campaigns and marketing battles he was involved in at his own agencies-including West, Weir & Bartel, N.W. Ayer, Compton Advertising-altogether 11 agencies.
This year his son Tony sent me a booklet he wrote on his dad's 87-year life. As with many other people, Walter got into advertising on a fluke. He tried to get a job as a reporter for the old Philadelphia Record, but he walked into the office of the ad manager instead of the editor. The ad manager, as Tony recounted, gave Walter some advice "that would change his life. The man told him that if he wanted to write, Walter should go to an advertising agency-where they paid higher salaries."
So he applied for a job at N.W. Ayer & Son, then the world's largest ad agency, but he was told to come back in four years after he'd gotten a college degree.
"He decided to sit in the Ayer lobby every day so that those who had interviewed him and turned him down would see him. Eventually, they began to nod to him, then wave. He did this for 33 days until finally one of them called him up and offered him a job in the Detail Bureau for $20 a week. It was October of 1928," Tony writes.
Walter was not only determined, he was a prolific writer. Tony said he would work long hours in New York, then come home and write some more-short stories, poems and articles for the leading consumer magazines of the day.
And for 25 years Walter Weir wrote, anonymously, the most popular column in Advertising Age, "The Creative Man's Corner," in which he took to task advertising that did not live up to the principles "he so passionately embraced," as Tony put it.
His work for War Bonds and Victory Stamps, whose names he coined, later led to the formation of the Advertising Council. He was called to Washington when he wrote an article for Printer's Ink deriding the lagging war effort. Entitled "Fighting mad," it was reprinted by more than 600 newspapers. The article ended with these words: "I'm fed up with singing plaintive songs, I want to sing battle songs."
Walter was always a fighter for what he believed in, and he believed in good advertising deeply. He said in one of his books: "Your copy, more than you realize, is you; and you are what you believe."
Not a bad epitaph for an adman.