This column praises those brainiacs of Madison Ave who obsess over single syllable words (and sounds) in an effort to propel their client's product to the tip-top of the profit-pantheon.
"The right name can zoom a product into a commercial success. The wrong one can wreck its sales and waste the advertising dollars spent promoting it... If one day you hear of a product called 'Heck' or 'Gosh', don't be surprised. Slang is more popular than the king's English in product naming. Again, it's because you use it more naturally. Newest proof of this came after the phrase 'poof - there goes perspiration' (a TV commercial for Stopette spray deodorant) made 'poof' a new American slang word."
"For ten years it has been Elmer Wheeler's profession to find out for his clients what words, spoken across the counter, will sell merchandise. It is shrewd psychology applied to a neglected link in the chain of business...":
"Don't ask if, ask which. Don't ever give the customer the choice between something and nothing."
Wheeler knows he alone is not the gate keeper of successful sales pitches - he recalled seeing a blindman with a sign reading, "It's spring, and I am blind".
This article is composed of 15 thumbnail biographies that serve to profile the most victorious men (and one woman) to have ever plied their craft in the world of American advertising during the Twenties and early Thirties. The fact that many of the clients listed herein are still around today will indicate how thoroughly these innovators had succeeded in making their names "household words". Some of the the brainiacs profiled are Stanley Resor of J. Walter Thompson, Raymond Rubicam of Young & Rubicam, Gerard Lambert of Lambert & Feasley, Bruce Barton of BBDO and copywriter Lillian Eichler.
"[As the 19th Century was coming to an end] salesmanship evolved a technique more refined than pulpit or platform oratory; advertising became more subtle in method, more concrete in results than any form of proselyting argument. The art which Milton put into selecting words which should make man think about God was excelled by the care with which American writers of advertisements assembled words designed to persuade man to consume more chewing gum. The man, or advertising agency, who wrote an effective selling slogan, such as 'It Floats', received far greater compensation than Milton for Paradise Lost."
After the Wall Street Crash of 1929 it was generally recognized by the red-meat-eaters on Madison Avenue that the rules of the ad game had been re-written. There were far fewer dollars around than there were during the good ol' Twenties, and what little cash remained seldom changed addresses with the same devil-may-care sense of abandon that it used to. Yet as bleak as the commercial landscape was in 1932, those hardy corner-office boys, those executives with the gray flannel ulcers remembered that they were in the optimism business and if there was a way to turn it around, they would find it.
In the attached Vanity Fair article, James Montgomery Flagg (1877 – 1960) had a good laugh at the hand that fed him: the New York advertising establishment.
Better remembered in our own time as the creator of the iconic "I Want You for the U.S. Army" poster (1917), Flagg was a prolific artist and one of the highest paid magazine and advertising illustrators of his day. As the era of mass-media advertising developed, Flagg didn't just have a good seat on the fifty-yard line; he was a player on the field and he saw his work reproduced in all sorts of unlikely venues.