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The remarkable era of B&B and the real GeorgeWhipple

By Published on .

On a crisp fall day in New York in 1963, I had a pleasant lunch with George Whipple, the affable PR director of Benton & Bowles. If the name is familiar, it's because "George Whipple" is also the name of the grocer who couldn't stop squeezing the Charmin toilet paper in that brand's famous ads. B&B and client Procter & Gamble Co. used George's name so they couldn't be sued by anyone claiming their name had been used for the ad's prissy grocery-manager character.

As I walked back to our offices, the bells of St. Patrick's Cathedral were chiming but I didn't know why. At the office, people asked if I had heard anything more. "About what?" I replied. It was the day President Kennedy was assassinated.

In 1985, B&B, the agency whose slogan was "it's not creative unless it sells," merged with D'Arcy MacManus Masius to form D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles (then the biggest agency merger ever). Two mergers later, DMB&B is owned by France's Publicis Groupe and faces the end of its road: Publicis plans to close it down and spread its accounts and people among other Publicis-owned agencies.

What Publicis is ending William Benton and Chester Bowles, the B&B of DMB&B, began in 1929. Before they went on to major accomplishments in other fields (Mr. Benton in 1935, Mr. Bowles in 1941), B&B handled client missions today's agencies rarely see.

Bill Benton once warned client General Foods that the distribution system for GF's newly acquired Hellman's mayonnaise was falling apart. GF chief Colby Chester contacted the biggest maker of mayonnaise in the West, the Gold Dust Corp., marketer of the Best Foods line of products, and turned over the Hellman's business for a 30% interest in Gold Dust. But Mr. Benton was afraid he might have talked himself out of the Hellman's account. GF's Mr. Chester then urged Gold Dust to keep B&B, and the Gold Dust president gave B&B the whole Best Foods account.

When private-label brands cut deeply into such GF products as Maxwell House coffee and Post Toasties cereal during the Great Depression, Mr. Benton took on another unusual assignment. Dispatched by GF, he met with the heads of the 15 largest marketers, got them to agree to meet to discuss the private-label problem and acted as general secretary of the group.

After his B&B days, Mr. Benton became a University of Chicago VP, bought the Encyclopaedia Britannica company, then moved into government as assistant U.S. secretary of state. Chester Bowles, creative director of the agency, took up his own career in government service and politics after B&B. In 1949, Mr. Bowles, by then governor of Connecticut, appointed former partner Benton to fill an unexpired term in the U.S. Senate. Mr. Bowles was later elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

What of George Whipple, the PR man, not the Charmin squeezer? Longtime Ad Age Editor Fred Danzig, now retired, remembers that Mr. Whipple created a Madison Avenue landmark, Rattazzi's, a restaurant and watering hole at 48th Street and Madison. It even boasted a plaque outside to salute the site as a quasi-gathering place for ad men and women.

Fred adds that an office building now occupies that location and, like Rattazzi's, the plaque is long gone.

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