The Greats in Advertising And What Makes Them So Good
As a gift at the end of my jury experience at the Cannes Lions advertising festival, my soon-to-be-legal husband (thank you, New York State Senate) Bryan Fuhr handed me a first edition copy of advertising legend George Lois’ memoir Be Careful, George. What’s special about it is not only the author George Lois, but how it got to me.
Bryan first found the book in Paris at Shakespeare & Company, an homage to the original lending library founded by Sylvia Beach, which served literary greats such as Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce. Run by George Whitman and his daughter Sylvia (named after the original) since 1951, it’s still a famous center for literary expats in Paris and an annual destination and touchstone for people like us. Other than McNally Jackson in New York, it’s probably my favorite bookstore in the world. The beaten-up yet still readable book had no price listed. When Bryan went to pay for it, he learned there was no price because it simply wasn’t for sale. Bryan pleaded with Sylvia that the book was a gift for me —who works in advertising and who he was going to visit next at the Cannes Lions Advertising Festival. Sylvia’s answer has touched us both: He could have it but she wouldn’t charge him because, as she said, it sounded like the book would be more important to me than to them — and her father George would have wanted me to have it.
So with careful fingers and great attention did I start to read George Lois’ memoir. Famous for campaigns such as Xerox, Aunt Jemima, and even MTV (“I Want My MTV”), it’s a hilarious read of a Greek boy growing up in a tough Irish neighborhood and finding his way to the center of an industry. And if you’re a lover of design, for ten years of poignant and provocative Esquire Covers. Lois comes from a generation of greats in advertising, which, to me, include Bill Bernbach, David Ogilvy and Mary Wells. I only recently attended the Advertising Educational Foundation (AEF) Lifetime Achievement Award dinner for Mary Wells. Mary Wells was among the first to break the glass ceiling for women in marketing, started her own agency in the sexy sixties and contributing successful work like Alka Seltzer “Plop Plop Fizz Fizz Oh What A Relief It Is” and Braniff Airlines for which she had the planes painted colors for the first time and stewardesses dressed by designers. (I think the closest to real fame I’ve gotten in my work is hiring Alice Playton from the Plop Plop, Fizz Fizz commercials twenty years later to do radio spots for Stella D’oro Breadsticks). Rumor has it Peggy Olsen in TV’s “Mad Men” is based on Mary Wells.
Who are the greats of today— and what does it take to be come one? Is it about winning the most Cannes Lions, the way a baseball player hits home runs? Is it about being first to use photography, do have done a well-remembered television commercial, create the first web advertising, or make a best-selling mobile app? Is it about your behavior —being brave and uncompromising the way George Lois famously dangled outside a building to protect a campaign from being killed by a client? Maybe it’s about campaigns and wisdom the way our agency founder David Ogilvy is immortalized in his aphorisms. (i.e. “The consumer is not a moron. She is my wife.”) It certainly can’t be about success in terms of raw money or wealth, since it’s mostly non-creatives that earn all the big dough. I can’t imagine many of them at all will be remembered for more than the assault on creativity done by stockholder pressures for year-on-year growth. It’s definitely about bravery and boldness. To paraphrase David Ogilvy, we shouldn’t bunt but aim out of the park. “Aim for the company of the immortals.” And he meant with our ideas.
Who is great? I think Mary Wells is great. I think D.O. is great. I think George and Silvia are great. All of them.
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