The origins of the persuasion industry

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The last of the Madison Avenue mavericks of Mad Men: ‘Meet Jerry Della Femina, the door-to-door salesman who became become so influential in US advertising he’s Peggy Olson, Don Draper and Bert Cooper rolled into one’. His 1970 book, From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor, is reissued in a retro-style jacket that is now de rigeur for any discussion or reference to this period (now thoroughly re-worked as the cradle of modern attitudes towards consumption and commodification).

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We also like The Persuasion Industry, John Pearson and Graham Turner’s look at the ‘British Advertising and Public Industry in Action’, first published in 1965. In a sense, this is a book in thrall to the glories relayed over the Atlantic from Madison Avenue, chronicling the point at which sex and aspiration begin to creep into marketing in Britain. Pearson and Turner (who also wrote of The Car Makers, implying a broad swathe of knowledge covering both the manufacture as well as the emerging art of selling cars) begin the book with a look at Ford UK’s shift from small-scale agency to large one, with the names cited eventually to dissolve into the acronymical stew that characterises the modern agency.

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The quotes are revealing, as is the advert illustrated above – ‘Four bedrooms… Three children… Two Fords!’. The company eventually settled on the London Press Exchange, one of the oldest agencies in the country. Their head of account, Bryan Oakes, had this to say about their approach, ‘In our ads, we always give people the important facts about the car, the basic consumer benefits. In addition we always give a hint of the people who might use the car – but we play it up a bit [italics ours]…. Here, for instance [in a Ford Anglia advertisement, maybe this or this], the kids obviously go to private school and the mother is efficient, a little bit cool but marvellous in bed. There’s gloss, gleam, the size, the bigness – this, we’re saying, is the life you’ll be living.’ Yet, as the book explains on page 39, Ford knew at the time that 50% of Anglia buyers were on relatively modest incomes.

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LPE eventually became part of Leo Burnett, a company that keeps its corporate history behind a very slick flash interface. An agency founded on the core belief of creating ‘inherent drama’ and the signature provision of a bowl of green apples on the reception desk, the acquisition of LPE in 1969 gave it a global foothold, kick-starting the era of the truly international agency (perhaps also relevant, the Museum of Public Relations). It was a canny buy, for in the early 60s, LPE were masters of this new kind of aspirational marketing. A few pages later we get to their campaign for National Benzole, one of the myriad small oil companies eventually swallowed up by the giants (much like the ad agencies themselves), known for putting its name to some rather quaint maps. They weren’t a patch on the Shell Guides, but according to Ian Byrne’s excellent Petrol Maps site, there were some ‘superb’ guidebooks edited by Hugh Casson and illustrated by Paul Sharp.

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We digress. LPE’s National Benzole campaign was centered around what Mr Oakes called ‘the Getaway People‘. This was 1963. ‘They were the people who did the good things… the jet set, clean-limbed beautiful girls, the gods and goddesses who did exotic things. We used expensive cars – E-Type Jaguars and Aston-Martins [sic] – and the promise was that, if you get this petrol, you’re aligning yourself with those wonderful people, midnight drives on the beach and so on. Of course, it’s tough luck – you don’t happen to have a Jag just yet, or a girl like that, but any day now…’. And so begins a game of unsubtle collusion between punter, promoter and manufacturer, with cars as engines of virility and promise. The industry never found a different way of selling cars, and hasn’t really needed to. The book also tackles Oxo, Guiness, politics and PR and is highly recommended.

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Other things. Bad children’s books: ‘The Best Things to Drink Are under the Sink’ is probably the best but overall not a patch on the Washington Post invitational from a few years ago, the results of which have now blended into a thousand websites, with most begging out for real print treatment (‘The Protocols of the Grandpas of Zion’ and ‘Why Can’t Mr. Fork and Ms. Electrical Outlet Be Friends?’, for example).

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Slow Painters, the antithesis of the painting a day crowd (via Slow Muse / Lego Architecture / Review, a local bookshop / many, many British car advertisements / Lovely Design, creative stuff / interactive graphics by Scott Snibbe / Found Shopping Lists / how to disguise a tethering application as an iPhone torch. Neat.

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How quickly does the security apparatus of the past becomes the heritage of the present? It’ll be a while before the multi-headed hydra chronicled in Top Secret America creates the same fond fascination generated by the Cold War. How would a Subterranea Britannica of post-9/11 USA appear?

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