Letters: Some Historical Notes for the 'Mad Men' Addict

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RE: "What You Missed Last Night on Mad Men" (AdAge.com)

In reference to [Fred Danzig's] post-script regarding my grandfather, Emerson Foote: Since his name was mentioned on a recent episode of "Mad Men," he has been receiving a great deal of attention online. Every other blog that has posted anything about him has been extremely kind, and it has been a very proud and exciting experience for us to see him being recognized for his contributions to both the world of advertising and the world of public service all these years later. I don't doubt that you are very knowledgeable in terms of advertising history, but it seems as if you have forgotten who you are talking about, and I feel that you have chosen your words poorly. You paint a picture of a downtrodden man, unemployable and powerless, with no promising associations and nowhere to turn. While I am 100% certain he would have laughed off your comment that "about that time, November 1965, he was begging for work in a full-page Advertising Age ad that he wrote," I cannot. He was used to criticism -- he took on the entire tobacco industry. And he did it before anyone else.

Let me also remind you that you are talking about a man who successfully led two of the largest agencies on the planet -- Foote, Cone & Belding (founder) and McCann Erickson -- and played key roles in two of the largest public-health movements in human history -- the fight against tobacco and the fight against cancer, and was a director of the American Cancer Society. He is the man that Albert Lasker, "the father of modern advertising," groomed and handpicked to be his successor, and to this day he may be the best proof we have that you actually can be wildly successful in advertising without selling your soul. ...

In 1981, Dr. Billy I. Ross, chairman of the department of mass communications at Texas Tech University, telephoned my grandfather with an invitation to dictate his oral history for students of advertising and others in the future. ... During the [editing] process they realized that they had something resembling an autobiography rather than a series of anecdotal stories relating to advertising.

A few months ago, we were contacted by the university, and it seems as if this quarter-century-old project may finally come to fruition. I hold a copy of it in my hands at this very minute, and not a moment too soon. As we are considering what to do with this manuscript, I think it is fitting that the first thing we do with it is let Emerson Foote himself set the record straight in regards to what he was doing and thinking in November 1965.

From his manuscript:

"I was a little bit hurt, I must confess, that nobody was asking me to go back. This, despite the fact that in 1965 I received far more publicity, personally, than I ever had in my entire life, including some national TV appearances (a few), an almost two-page spread in Newsweek, and a lot of newspaper publicity. Possibly two factors contributed to this. One was my age, 58, and the other was that I had taken an aggressive public position against the interest of most advertising agencies. Almost all U.S. agencies solicited and accepted cigarette advertising. Anyway, after much wrestling with the issue, I decided to make a serious effort to return to the advertising business, while still devoting a considerable portion of my time to the smoking and health field, as I had in the past to other health issues.

"Since my telephone wasn't ringing, I decided to run a want ad for a job. For this purpose, I chose the vehicle of a full-page ad in Advertising Age. My headline was 'Wanted. Another Opportunity to Serve in the Advertising Agency Business.'" . . .

On another subject, you are correct, Emerson was a manic depressive, and at certain times in his life, things were very difficult for him. But let me ask you this: How is this relevant? He was able to accomplish all that he did in spite of his illness, and in his 85 years, he achieved more than the average man could in several lifetimes. ...

Words like "giant" and "titan" have been used to describe this man. You refer to him as a beggar after a legendary career in advertising that spanned over the course of almost four decades and a lifetime of public service. ... His conviction left him starting from scratch three times throughout his career, and every single time, he climbed back to the top. All of those guys back then were "Mad Men." Emerson Foote was the baddest man in advertising, period.

I do know, and appreciate, the complete Emerson Foote story. Beyond his pioneering anti-tobacco campaign and his work to promote mental health, here was a man who achieved legendary status in the advertising agency field despite his lifelong struggle with his mental illness. It is a remarkable story and an inspiring one. In my meetings with Mr. Foote, he always performed as an executive who was at the top of his game. His own personal situation never intruded and was, for the advertising press, out of bounds.

In Daniel Foote's response to my piece, I couldn't help note that he used the words, "downtrodden," "unemployed" and "powerless," based on his interpretation of my article. Clearly, all who knew Emerson Foote would rather characterize him as a business leader of heroic standing, given the full impact of his work. For that reason, he was included in my "Ad Age's Top 100 Advertising People of the 20th Century" compilation that was part of our "The Advertising Century" special issue.

I do regret that my own choice of words troubled Daniel Foote and his family. Along with them, I hope that we will see "Emerson Foote"' appear in future episodes of "Mad Men," when the full measure of his presence in the agency business could be appreciated by today's generation.

When "Mad Men" misfired on that earlier London Fog episode, you printed my reply and factual correction. Now, they are at it again and, whether by coincidence or design, Gilbert Advertising is again on their radar and confused minds. In a recent episode, "Blowing Smoke," Draper's agency is terminated by Lucky Strike, and then he publishes an ad saying he will no longer take on a tobacco account. Then, in a "courageous" moment, he adds that his firm is "not like BBDO or Gilbert Advertising -- firms that are happy to work for tobacco companies." Wow! My agency never published a penny of tobacco advertising. When I brought in Roy Grace and Evan Stark from DDB to form Gilbert, Grace & Stark, we ran ads in the Times and Wall Street Journal. Brown & Williamson approached us with a new, low-tar-and-nicotine "safe" cigarette. We bowed out of the competition as there were just too many questions about "safe." End of story.

But Gilbert Advertising and BBDO. Oh, if I only had those billings. ...


In the Marketer of the Year profile of Chick-fil-A (AA, Oct. 18), VP-Marketing David Salyers was misidentified as David Slater.

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