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In a 1941 essay in Life, Henry Luce famously called this "The American Century." To which we would add, it was also the Advertising Century, and the two remain intimately twined. Advertising played a key role in powering the miracle American economy of the past 50 years, and has had a profound impact -- for good and ill -- on our culture.

Are we overstating the power of marketing, of brands? Not if you believe the late, great Marshall McLuhan, who said that, "Historians and archaeologists will one day discover that the ads of our time are the richest and most faithful daily reflections any society ever made of its whole range of activities." Nor if you've read accounts of citizens in former communist countries cheering the arrival of a McDonald's restaurant or a Coca-Cola delivery truck, brand marks that have become global symbols of freedom and choice (though the French may beg to differ).

For Advertising Age, which has gone to press some 3,500 times in the past 70 years with in-depth coverage of the ad industry, the decision to publish a special issue analyzing the 20th century through the lens of advertising, marketing and media offered us the opportunity of . . . well, of a millennium.

We set out to examine all the ways in which advertising has entertained, moved and motivated us over the years. This issue celebrates and ranks the 100 best campaigns of the 20th century (hint: Don't think big). It also celebrates and ranks the 100 most influential people in the businesses we cover.

How did we determine the rankings? The hard way: Beginning last fall, we dispatched a small army of researchers to build comprehensive lists of great work and careers. Editors (and former editors) of Ad Age met periodically to argue, discuss and prune the lists (well, mostly to argue). In essence, we were trying to re-create the history of advertising, warts and all. How well we succeeded you can judge for yourself in these pages.

There are surprises on both lists bound to spark debate, and we welcome that. While few will argue with our choice of the most influential person, some readers will be surprised to learn how high on the list we put controversial Interpublic founder Marion Harper Jr. (he's No. 2, for pioneering the shape of the modern agency business).

Others will be disappointed with our decision to name the Marlboro Man, symbol of a product blamed for the deaths of millions, as the No. 1 ad icon. Tobacco advertising has long bedeviled the industry, but in the final analysis it seemed to us a mistake not to recognize the work for what it was -- an enormously successful brand-builder -- and for what it meant for our times.

Of course, this issue offers much more than rankings. There are essays, stories and memoirs exploring with great insight the twists and turns of the advertising and media industries, penned by some of the top writers in business journalism, including James Brady, Bob Garfield, Anthony Vagnoni, Randall Rothenberg, Kevin Goldman and Dottie Enrico. We even asked two Ad Age veterans to come out of retirement for this issue: former editor and industry authority Fred Danzig, who wrote the top 100 people profiles, and longtime Washington editor Stan Cohen, who identifies the precise moment in history when serious government regulation of advertising began (hint: think Camelot).

Just as importantly, this issue also features viewpoints from top industry players, including conversations between West Coast creative superstars Jeff Goodby and Hal Riney, and between BBDO biggies Ted Sann and Phil Dusenberry. There's a tribute by copywriter Marty Cooke to art director Helmut Krone, and an essay by McCann-Erickson's Sean Fitzpatrick lamenting the dissolution of agency-client loyalty.

We'd like to offer special thanks to Iris Cohen Selinger, who served as editor of this special issue, contributing endless hours, brilliant ideas, strong opinions, deep contacts and a sharp eye. And to Martin Musker, graphics editor for Advertising Age's Business Marketing, who designed the beautiful layouts.

And now, in the words of one of the greatest marketers of the millennium, P. T.

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