Mary Wells

Bernbach, Lois, Gossage, Chiat, Wieden and Fallon, (Well, McElligott really, but that’s another blog).
But 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.

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.

Here’s a few quotes: “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 recognizable 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 to her, she was.
In the late fifties she joined Doyle Dane Bernbach.
Within no time she was running her own group.

mary wells 2
(In 1975  Bill Bernbach asked her to buy and run DDB. It very nearly happened.)

Whilst at DDB she ran The French Tourist Board account, here’s one of the ads she did for them.
French bike
Shot by Elliott Erwitt, it’s become, arguably the most iconic image of France.

In 1965 she leaves DDB to run 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”.

 Braniff2 Braniff1


At the time, it was a revelation, with stories of families visiting airports just to look at the Braniff  planes.
It made Braniff  not only world-famous, but cool.

They also shot this classic ad:

She wrote a these classics for Alka Seltzer, they could run today, (if someone could find a copy that isn’t 10th generation.)

They got a brief  to sell B&H 100s to women, the thinking was that the extra length made them look elegant.
The brief was ignored.
Instead they sold a campaign where the product was routinely mutilated, never an easy sell, but the campaign’s irreverence helped make B&H 100s popular with cool, anti-establishment types in the Sixties.


In 1966 she set up an agency with two other creatives; Wells Rich Greene.

It becomes the fastest growing agency of the seventies.
(Who’d have thought an agency with three creative partners would ever succeed?)

They develop a concept for a cosmetics brand; ‘LOVE Cosmetics’.
They name it, choose the fragrances, design the packaging then advertise it.
(They got Donovan to do the music for the commercial; ‘Wear Your Love Like Heaven’.)

Their issue was their range, it was so wide that people didn’t know what their cars were for.
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.

Rebel3 51qgUZiybAL 6606aRebel
It sounds obvious, but it’s very brave for a company to show the more famous competitive car in the ad where you are trying to sell yours.
But of course it worked.
People got their head around American Motors range.
They also made some great Commercials:

She asks Alka Seltzer: “Would taking two tablets would increase their effectiveness?”
Alka-Seltzer change their packaging, two tablets are now the recommended rather than one.
This leads to 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 declared bankrupt and its citizens were knee deep in rubbish due to strikes.
But, it was a world-beater in one area – murders.
They had thousands of them; more than any other city.
Wells Rich Greene were asked to improve its image in order to bring in some bankruptcy-reducing cash.
They found that deep down, really deep down, that wherever people were from, they loved New York.
Not necessarily the reality of New York, but the spirit of it, the idea of it.
First, Mary calls up Milton Glaser, she briefs him in a taxi to design a logo/bumper sticker thingy, for people to get behind.
He draws this before they get out of the cab:

It becomes this:
Then starts to appear everywhere as people declare their love of NY.
I-love-NY-t-shirtProduct_CNA10394_Image_1I Luv NY 1983 (2)
On TV, they didn’t apologise, they just celebrated NY. Who doesn’t remember this?

From then on Wells Rich Greene seems to have won more and more business and fewer and fewer awards.
I don’t know if the two are related, but it’s really tricky finding their work in awards annuals or on the net after this point.

I guess like rock stars, if you die when you’re hot, your name lives on.
If you become fantastically rich but your output becomes very middle of the road, people forget your early groundbreaking stuff.
Which is a shame, because for about a decade, Mary Wells rocked.
It’s the kind of integrated, 360°, media-neutral communications that all agencies dream of producing today, yet rarely do.
She was doing it 46 years ago.

9 thoughts on “Mary Wells

  1. 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…

  2. Dave, this is fantastic…thanks so much, just incredible to have this resource so well put across here. ed x

    • Cheers Ed.
      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.

  3. Pingback: Another gem from Dave Dye’s blog: there was definitely something about Mary (Wells) | MAA

  4. Hi Dave, great stuff, really enjoyed reading this. I wonder if she was the inspiration for ‘Peggy’ in ‘MadMen’?

  5. 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.

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