Founded by Louis R. Wasey, 1914; was among the first U.S. agencies to develop a network of international offices, 1930s; bought by David B. Williams Co., 1955; merged with Ruthrauff & Ryan to form Erwin, Wasey, Ruthrauff & Ryan, 1957; became part of Interpublic Inc., 1963; Erwin Wasey name retired, 1979.
In September 1914, Louis R. Wasey and Will Jefferson left Lord & Thomas to open Wasey & Jefferson & Co., Chicago. In February 1915, they were joined by Charles R. Erwin, a senior Lord & Taylor officer who had originally planned to retire. The shop was renamed Erwin, Wasey & Jefferson; when Mr. Jefferson retired within the year, the name was changed to Erwin, Wasey & Co.
Among the clients that left Lord & Thomas for the new agency were Olive Tablet Co., Musterole Co. and the largest, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., which disagreed with Lord & Thomas' hard-sell creative approach.
One brand the agency handled for many years was Barbasol, which was established by Mr. Wasey in the 1920s. Using radio, Erwin Wasey devised one of the most enduring early commercial jingles, "Singin' Sam, the Barbasol man." By the end of the decade, Barbasol was the country's No. 1 shaving cream. (The account moved to George Walsh Co. in June 1958 and, in 1961, the jingle was revived with new lyrics.)
Among the people hired in Erwin Wasey's early days was Arthur Kudner, who headed the copy department. In the early 1930s, Mr. Kudner worked on the account of F.W. Young Co., marketer of Absorbine Jr. foot liniment. Mr. Kudner invented and named the main affliction against which the brand was positioned, "athlete's foot." In 1930, the agency hired a young Indianapolis adman, Leo Burnett, who opened his own agency in 1935.
By 1920, Erwin Wasey was billing about $4 million a year. The agency opened a London office, headed by Mr. Erwin's son-in-law, to service American clients doing business overseas. In 1924, the agency opened a New York office; within a few years, that office, headed by Mr. Wasey, had become the agency's flagship. Mr. Kudner moved to New York when he was offered the presidency (a post he held until he left the agency to set up his own shop in 1935) and Mr. Wasey became chairman.
The agency became a strong advocate of product sampling, starting with sample-size offerings of Barbasol shaving cream. Five hundred thousand samples were handed out to men in subway and elevated stations in New York, a technique that, in combination with the network radio 15-minute "Singin' Sam" program, built the brand overnight.
By the 1940s, the agency represented a large number of mid-size marketers. It was not the diversity of the agency's accounts so much as the diversity of its locations that made Erwin Wasey unusual for its size. During the 1920s and '30s, the agency had built a considerable European network. Even during World War II, when its offices in Paris, the Hague, Helsinki and Oslo were under Nazi occupation, $3 million of the agency's total billings of $17 million were from overseas.
By 1954, its billings had more than doubled, to nearly $37 million. By 1955, however, its rank among the Advertising Age top 60 had fallen to No. 22.
In December of that year, Howard Williams, who had joined Erwin Wasey in 1932, and his son David, who had joined the shop in 1945, decided to buy the agency, which by then was billing $35.7 million. They formed the David B. Williams Co., a holding company and bought Erwin Wasey.
On Sept. 2, 1957, Williams Co. bought Ruthrauff & Ryan and on Oct. 1 merged the two to form Erwin, Wasey, Ruthrauff & Ryan. The combined agency billed $73 million, $19 million of which came from Erwin Wasey overseas interests and another $14 million from Ruthrauff & Ryan's London office. At the time, it was hailed as the largest advertising merger in history.
Erwin, Wasey, Ruthrauff & Ryan in turn acquired a mid-sized Pittsburgh agency, W.S. Walker Advertising, in 1959. But generally growth was modest. Then in October 1963, holding company Interpublic Inc. bought Williams Co.
Under Interpublic, Erwin, Wasey, Ruthrauff & Ryan continued to operate as before, although with declining volume and with its headquarters moved to Los Angeles. In August 1964, just before the presidential election, the Republican National Committee unexpectedly moved its advertising from the Leo Burnett Co. to Erwin, Wasey, Ruthrauff & Ryan in an attempt to save the election prospects of Barry Goldwater.
Although Erwin, Wasey, Ruthrauff & Ryan picked up the business just before the period of greatest media spending, it made no memorable creative contributions. The famous Goldwater campaign theme, "In your heart you know he's right," was the work of Burnett.
Shortly after the election, Ruthrauff & Ryan was dropped from the agency name and the shop continued as Erwin Wasey. The remainder of the 1960s saw steady losses and after 1970, the agency no longer functioned as an independent entity. The parent company shifted all Erwin Wasey overseas units into Interpublic's international division to create a new company, Wasey, Pritchard Wood & Quadrant.
In October 1970, the New York office, whose billings were down to about $5 million, was combined into the McCann-Erickson flagship operation, where it functioned as McCann's medical division. Erwin Wasey offices in Pittsburgh, Houston and San Juan were closed. In 1979, the name Erwin, Wasey was retired from the Interpublic roster.