JWT Exec Grisman Dies at 87

Influential Adman Also Wrote Books, Denounced TV Violence, Promoted Reading

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Arnold Ellis Grisman, a longtime JWT employee renowned for pushing social engagement and penning the "56 for 56" marketing campaign for Ford in 1956, died of cancer-related complications on March 13. He was 87.

Joining JWT in 1955, he gained the notice of top executives a year later when created the "56 for 56" campaign, which offered consumers a '56 Ford for $56 monthly payments. The campaign quickly went national and is credited with kick-starting then-manager Lee Iacocca's career at the automotive company. He is also credited with naming the Ford Mustang. Mr. Grisman's long relationship with Ford earned him enormous respect from the company, which wanted to name its "L.T.D." model the "A.E.G." in his honor, but he refused, saying (with the insight of a true advertiser) Ford would sell more Mustangs with the former name, even though it didn't stand for anything.

In 1971, he became the first creative director at JWT, and quickly became a strategic councilor, advising CEO Don Johnston on how to position the agency.

Crusader against violence
Mr. Grisman made waves in the industry and beyond in 1976, when he wrote a speech, "Desensitization of America to Violence," urging agencies and clients to stop advertising on programs promoting excess violence, something unheard of from agencies and years ahead of the debate that continues to this day. Kodak, among others, supported this stance.

"He predicted the vulgarization of the culture," recalled Burt Manning, former CEO of JWT who worked with Mr. Grisman. "It was an extremely graceful, powerful explanation of a position. It threatened a lot of people."

A prolific writer, Mr. Grisman published three books: "Early to Rise," "Bongo" and "Winning Streak" in addition to several stories. As an advertiser often accused of destroying reading through TV, he gave back by co-founding the American Reading Council with Julia Palmer.

Erudite adman
"He was an unusual ad guy. He seemed sort of academic, wearing sweaters and smoking pipes. He was very literary and always making allusions to history and literature that we didn't always get," Mr. Manning said. "A very modest, quiet, unassuming guy. The way I heard it, when he got married, he needed money so he went into advertising."

Mr. Grisman graduated from Harvard, and because of his fluency in German, Russian and Italian he was one of six students handpicked by William "Wild Bill" Donovan to join the Office of Strategic Services that was formed during World War II. His assignments included re-establishing the Italian telegraph lines and decoding communications to spy on the German military. He also fought at the Battle of Anzio and was the sole surviving member of his platoon, losing much of his hearing in the process.

He is survived by his wife, Rita Grisman; his daughter, Suzanna Kaplan; and two grandchildren. He had a son, the late Jonathan Grisman, from his first marriage, which ended in divorce. He is also survived by a sister, Rachelle Grisman, two stepdaughters from his second marriage and five step-grandchildren.
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