Bookmark and Share

Season Five.
"Mad Women: The Great Women of Advertising"

Airs Saturday March 26th and Thursday March 31st, 2011

This week, the Age of Persuasion looks at the Great Women of Advertising. The Hall Of Famers who broke the rules, kicked open the doors and created some of the most famous advertising of our times. We'll meet the first advertising woman ever, the woman who created the first images of wives as Happy Homemakers, the woman who revolutionized the retail business, the female creative director who inspired the "I Love New York" campaign, as well as some of the top ad women of today.

Move over Mad Men, it's time to honour the Mad Women.

Download Flash Player to view this content.

Subscribe to the podcasts by RSS or by iTunes.

Click through for more visual elements from this episode.

One of the most revered sports films of all time is Slapshot.

It starred Paul Newman, and tells the story of a minor league hockey team that decides to use violence as a way to attract fans. Slapshot is often cited as the favourite movie of professional hockey players, because it is to true to reality, with all its insights into hockey teams, the struggles, the hardships and the rough language. But if you've never looked closely at the credits, you may be surprised to learn the movie was written by a woman. Her name was Nancy Dowd:

It's the same with commercials. Because they have no credits, you never know when they have been written by women. Yet, some of the most famous advertising campaigns have, in fact, been created by extraordinary women.

The first ad woman (or Mad Woman) on record was Mathilde C. Weil. She moved from Germany to New York in 1870. Not long after, her husband died, leaving her with no means of support. So she began booking magazine space for a friend, then decided to start her own agency, called The M.C. Weil Agency. Here is the rather stern-looking Ms. Weil:

Matilde Weil.jpeg

She had a knack for understanding what periodicals women liked to read, and was wildly successful. She died in 1903, and left behind a sizeable fortune. But good old Mathilde was the first woman to hand out an ad shingle, and inspired many other women.

Across town in New York, an enterprising couple named Stanley and Helen Resor were growing an agency named J. Walter Thompson. Stanley had bought the company from its namesake in 1916, and ran the company. Helen was the Creative Director.

Stanley and Helen knew one thing: The major purchasers of goods and services were women, and that this market could be expanded. So Helen formed the Women's Editorial Department - a creative group comprised solely of women. Soon, these women were overseeing 75% of the company's clients and billings - and the agency was the biggest in America at the time. One of the most famous ads Helen created was for Woodbury's Facial Soap. It is credited as being the first time "sex" was used to sell a product:

Woodbury skin.jpg

Yes, Helen Resor brought sex to advertising in 1917, and it has reverberated every since. She also is credited with being the first to use nudity (albeit tastefully) in advertising with another print ad for Woodbury:

Woodbury nude.jpg:

Helen Resor and her team would not only create landmark campaigns, but they helped define the "Happy Homemaker" imagery that Madison Avenue has used every since.

Another pioneering adwoman was Bernice Fitz-Gibbon:

Bernice Fitz-Gibbon.jpeg

She specialized in retail advertising, and would go on to be the highest paid woman in advertising in the 1940s, earning over $50K - or over $800K - in today's dollars. She did groundbreaking and business-building work for Macys and Gimbels, and wrote a book about her colourful career:

Macys, Gimbels and me book.jpg

Another Mad Woman pioneer was Phyllis Robinson. She was inspired by Fitz-Gibbon, and decided to make her career in advertising copywriting. She was hired by Bill Bernbach when he started his agency, and he named her Copy Chief. The agency would turn out to be the most influential agency of all time, called Doyle Dane Bernbach. Robinson supervised some of the best, and toughest, admen of the era:

Phyllis Robinson.jpg

Their work together changed the entire industry, and they did it with campaigns like this one for Volkswagen:

One of the copywriters that Robinson hired was Mary Wells. She was beautiful, creative and confident, and she would go on to create her own highly awarded agency called Wells Rich Green:


Within six months, her agency was one of the top 50 agencies in the country. Their work was funny, strategic and memorable. Like this historic commercial for Alka-Seltzer:

And this one (that I love) for the AMC Rebel in 1969:

Maybe Wells Rich Green's most famous campaign was the one that turned about New York's fortunes:

Another famous Mad Woman is Charlotte Beers. She rose through the ranks to become an Account Director in an era where there were almost no females in those positions. Beers also had a knack for landing new business, and that ability didn't go unnoticed. She became the first female vice president in J. Walter Thompson history, and was later tapped to become the president of global ad agency Ogilvy & Mather in 1992:

Charlotte Beers.jpg

She helped land the $500M IBM account, and Fortune Magazine named her one of the most powerful women in America. Beers is number 49 on the Top 100 Advertising People of All Time List, according to Advertising Age Magazine.

Another well-respected Mad Woman is Linda Kaplan-Thaler. She began her career at J. Walter Thompson, following in the distant footsteps of Helen Resor. There, she wrote the famous Toys 'R Us jingle that is still used over 25 years later:

She left JWT to start her own agency in 1997, called The Kaplan-Thaler Group. The agency is largely managed by women, and as Kaplan-Thaler says, "There's enough estrogen around our offices to make Arnold Schwarzenegger ovulate." Her agency has done a lot of great work, but probably the most famous is for insurance company, Aflac:

The voice of the duck, by the way, was provided by comedian Gilbert Gottfried:

Gottfried + Duck.jpg

Gottfried, by the way, was fired a few weeks ago for making fun of the earthquake in Japan via Twitter.

Aflac does a huge amount of business in Japan.

And that's the way the ducky crumbles.