If I asked you who was the most successful advertising man ever,
whose name would you give? Saatchi - Charles or Maurice? Leo
David Ogilvy? J. Walter Thompson?
I doubt many of you would reply, ’Albert Lasker’. But even though others
may have had more influence on advertising - and even that is doubtful -
if making money is the measure, Lasker was the man. In the early days of
this century, with the aid of Claude Hopkins, perhaps the most able
copywriter who ever lived, he built Lord & Thomas to become America’s
and the world’s largest ad agency, a position they retained for some
His dominance (and arrogance) were such that he used to say Lord &
Thomas was merely Albert Lasker under that trading name.
The reason the agency succeeded, besides talent and hard work, was
because they were the first to define, claim for themselves and promote
an intelligent description of advertising: ’salesmanship in print’.
One day in 1941, to the general surprise of the people in the industry,
Lasker decided advertising was a bit of a bore, and went to work in
President Roosevelt’s cabinet. He more or less gave away the agency to
four people: Emerson Foote, Fairfax Cone and Don Belding in the US and
Mike Masius in London. They formed two separate firms in the UK and US
whose descendants, FCB and DMB&B, for all I know might, when combined,
constitute the world’s largest agency even now.
Lasker was responsible for the dastardly idea I call titular
It came to mind the other day when looking in the hairdresser’s windows
across the road and marvelling, first at their prices, and second at the
fatuous titles crimpers now boast. If you want your barnet cropped by a
mere ’Designer’ it costs pounds 15 to pounds 20, depending on your sex.
’Directors’ charge up to pounds 25, ’Consultants’ up to pounds 30,
’Senior Consultants’ up to pounds 35, and ’Associates’ up to pounds 40.
You have to ask for a quote, likely to be horrendous, if you want their
’International Creative Director’ to ruffle your locks.
This gives rise to all sorts of fanciful speculations about exchanges at
social events, such as: ’Jemima, darling, you look fabulous. Who
creatively directs your hair?’ Such a lunatic escalation of titles in a
job requiring no more talent than plumbing made me roar with laughter
until I recalled how it all began.
After working like a lunatic for years, interspersed with the odd
nervous breakdown, Lasker took some time off, allowing J. Walter
Thompson to steal a march. The old fox called his senior account
handlers together to announce a clever wheeze he thought might help them
regain supremacy. ’From tomorrow,’ he said, ’you are all
So if you ever wondered why so many plonkers at your agency, no matter
how juvenile, dull or idle, are called a director, and most are on the
board, now you know. It makes them happy, costs less than giving them a
rise, and most clients are flattered by it.