Bernbach, Lois, Gossage, Chiat, Wieden and McElligott.
In over twenty years I can only recall hearing the name Mary Wells once; Tim Delaney referenced her in a tone that implied he thought she wasn’t completely useless. (Obviously something like that sticks with you.)
I started reading her biography a few years ago, but had to stop, her chest thumping and name dropping was so loud the neighbours were complaining.“Sure I had in me what it takes to lead the agency into becoming a global behemoth, but I liked doing creative work more.”
“Research told us our campaign for Love Cosmetics was more recognisable than the Statue Of Liberty.”
“There were only two talents in the agency I could completely trust – myself and Charlie.”
OK love, we get it, you were very good.
But, to be fair, she was. (In 1975 Bill Bernbach asked her to buy and run DDB. It very nearly happened.)
After a brief spell writing retail ads in the fifties, she joined Doyle Dane Bernbach.
Within no time at all she was running her own group.
Whilst at DDB she wrote for and ran The French Tourist Board account.
(The campaign was shot by the great Elliott Erwitt.)
In 1965 she left DDB to run a small agency called Jack Tinker & Partners.
First, she tackles a fantastically dull client; Braniff Airlines.
She doesn’t write ads, she overhauls the whole company image, adding a bit of colour to the previously grey airline.
Redesigning logos, airport lounges, ticket offices and getting trendy 60’s fashion bod Emilio Pucci to redesign the uniforms.
But most impressive of all, she talked the airline into painting their planes bright, vivid colours.
It was “The end of the plain plane”.
Coloured planes were a revelation, there are stories of families visiting airports just to take a look at Braniff’s freaky coloured planes.
Braniff became world-famous and cool.
They then shot this classic ad.
Mary wrote a these classics for Alka-Seltzer, they could run today, (if someone could find a copy that isn’t 10th generation).
They had a brief to sell B&H 100s to women, the thinking was that the extra length made them look elegant.
She ignored the brief, instead of highlighting the advantages of B&H 100s, she highlighted its disadvantages, mutilating the product in every ad.
Not an easy sell, but the campaign’s irreverence made B&H 100s popular with cool, anti-establishment types.
In 1966 she set up an agency with two other creatives; Wells Rich Greene.
Wells Rich Greene becomes the fastest growing agency of the seventies.
(Who’d have thought an agency with three creative partners would take off?)
They developed the concept for a new cosmetics brand.
They name it, choose the fragrances, design the packaging then advertise it.
They name it ‘Love Cosmetics’.
They got Donovan to do the music for the commercial; ‘Wear Your Love Like Heaven’.
They win American Motors.
The car company had a major issue with their range, it was too wide, it confused people.
The solution was to show side-by-side comparisons with the leading cars from each segment.
So for example, The Javelin was American Motors’ version of the universally known Ford Mustang.
It sounds like an obvious idea, but it’s one that takes very brave client, not everyone wants to their more famous competitor in their ad.
But it worked.
Having positioned the category of each car they set about selling them.
They also made some great Commercials.
With Alka-Seltzer, Mary asked “Would taking two tablets would increase their effectiveness?”
Alka-Seltzer change their packaging, two tablets are now the recommended rather than one, it Mary to write the line ‘Plop Plop Fizz Fizz Fast Fast’, later refined to ‘Plink Plink Fizz’.
Midas Mufflers, or exhausts to us Brits, had a problem, they wanted to grow but said they were in a category of one, there were no other national exhaust fitting companies.
WRG found their competition: local garages.
People went there for petrol, tyres and a car wash; why not mufflers? It was very convenient.
So Midas took on local garages, saying they were not well stocked, staffed or informed.
But they did it with great charm.
In 1975, New York City was a mess.
It’d run out of money and the government was refusing to bail them out.
It was knee-deep in rubbish, due to strikes.
The one area it lead the world ‘murder’, they had more of them than any other city on the planet.
In an effort to bring in some desperately needed cash, Wells Rich Greene were called in.
After a bit of research, WRG found a truth; deep down, wherever people were from, they loved the New York.
Not the reality of New York, but the idea ‘New York’, the spirit of it.
First, Mary calls up Milton Glaser, she briefs him in a taxi to design a logo/bumper sticker thingy, for New Yorkers to get behind, he draws this before they get out of the cab.
It becomes this.
Which becomes this.
People declare their love of NY, the logo starts to appear everywhere.
On TV, they didn’t apologise, they just celebrated NY. Who doesn’t remember this?
Wells Rich Greene moved on into the eighties, winning more and more business and fewer and fewer awards.
I don’t know if the two are related, but it’s tough to find any of their work beyond this point. Especially in awards annuals.
Like rock stars, if you die at you’re producing great work, your reputation lives on, live on to become rich and start producing average work, you get forgotten, (no matter how groundbreaking your early stuff may have been).
A shame, because for about a decade, Mary Wells rocked.
She created the kind of integrated, 360°, media-neutral communications that all agencies aspire to produce today.
She just did it 46 years ago.
9 responses to Hands up who’s heard of MARY WELLS?
Just a quick note – I found that the audio cut out halfway through most of the Vimeo links. Not sure if it was just me, but worth checking as it might be some kind of upload error…
Thanks Martin, I’ll get the audio visual department to check into it.
Lol…I know it’s 8 years later but those audio personnel really just let it be 😉 Any chance of an update / upgrade?
Dave, this is fantastic…thanks so much, just incredible to have this resource so well put across here. ed x
It’s good to put all this ‘rubbish’,as Kirsty calls it, to some use, and also have more space for quilts, muffin recipes or spare cushions or whatever she wants extra room for in the loft.
Hope you’re well.
Hi Dave, great stuff, really enjoyed reading this. I wonder if she was the inspiration for ‘Peggy’ in ‘MadMen’?
I’m sure I’ve heard or read that Peggy was based on Mary.
Dear Dave Dye
Firstly thank you for this wonderfully insightful and in depth blog.
I would like to use the original I heart NY drawing of Milton Glaser and the I heart NY that follows “It becomes this” for a blog where I mentions Mary Welss’ involvement with this iconic image. Of course I will link back to your blog. .
Would that be fine with you, or do you have email addresses where I could ask permission?
Shall appreciate a speedy response.
That’s cool with me Roela,
thanks for asking.
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