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Celebrating Mary Wells Lawrence: The Campaigns That Changed Advertising

This month the advertising world lost of its most iconic figures, Mary Wells Lawrence. Born in 1928 in Youngstown, Ohio, Mary Wells Lawrence shattered glass ceilings and redefined the advertising landscape with her creativity, leadership, and indomitable spirit.

Mary Wells Lawrence died in London on May 11, 2024, at the age of 95, two weeks shy of what would have been her 96th birthday. As we honor her legacy, let's delve into the groundbreaking campaigns that cemented her status as a trailblazer in the industry.

Early Career and Breakthroughs

Mary Wells Lawrence's journey in advertising began with humble roots. After studying at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University - Tepper School of Business), she moved to New York City and started her career as a copywriter. Her early work at McCann Erickson and later at Lennen & Newell showcased her flair for creativity and innovation. However, it was her tenure at Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB) that truly set the stage for her future success. At DDB, she worked alongside industry legends and absorbed the agency's revolutionary approach to advertising, which emphasized creativity, simplicity, and emotional appeal.

Founding Wells Rich Greene

In 1966, Mary Wells Lawrence took a bold step by founding her own advertising agency, Wells Rich Greene (WRG), along with colleagues Richard Rich and Stewart Greene. At a time when it was rare for a woman to start her own agency, Mary not only founded WRG but also became the first female CEO of a company listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Her leadership and vision quickly propelled WRG to the forefront of the advertising industry.

Iconic Campaigns

1. "I ♥ NY" Campaign

One of the most iconic campaigns created under Mary's leadership was the "I ♥ NY" campaign. In the late 1970s, New York City was struggling with a negative image and declining tourism. The state of New York hired WRG to revitalize its image and attract visitors.

The result was the simple yet powerful "I ♥ NY" logo, designed by graphic artist Milton Glaser, and a series of commercials that highlighted the city's attractions. The campaign's simplicity and emotional appeal resonated with audiences worldwide, transforming New York City's image and significantly boosting tourism.

The "I ♥ NY" logo became an iconic symbol of the city and remains one of the most recognizable logos in the world.

2. Alka-Seltzer Campaigns

Mary Wells Lawrence's work for Alka-Seltzer is another testament to her creative genius. WRG produced several memorable campaigns for the brand, including "Plop plop, fizz fizz" and "I can't believe I ate the whole thing." These campaigns used catchy jingles and humorous scenarios to highlight the product's benefits, making Alka-Seltzer a household name.

The "I can't believe I ate the whole thing" campaign, in particular, became a cultural touchstone. The phrase entered the American lexicon, and the campaign's success significantly boosted Alka-Seltzer's sales.

3. Braniff Airways "The End of the Plain Plane"

In the mid-1960s, Braniff Airways was struggling to differentiate itself in a competitive market. Mary Wells Lawrence and her team at WRG were tasked with rebranding the airline. The result was the "The End of the Plain Plane" campaign, which introduced vibrant colors and stylish designs to Braniff's aircraft and uniforms.

The campaign's bold and innovative approach captured the public's imagination and positioned Braniff as a modern, fashionable airline. The use of color and design in the campaign was revolutionary and set new standards for airline branding.

4. Procter & Gamble Campaigns

WRG also created successful campaigns for several Procter & Gamble brands, including Crest toothpaste and Pampers diapers. The campaigns emphasized the products' benefits and used emotional appeal to connect with consumers.

For Crest, the campaign focused on the toothpaste's ability to fight cavities, using the tagline "Look, Ma, no cavities!" The campaign's effectiveness helped Crest become the leading toothpaste brand in the United States.

5. Ford Motor Company

Mary Wells Lawrence's work for Ford Motor Company included the "Quality is Job 1" campaign. This campaign emphasized Ford's commitment to quality and reliability, helping to improve the brand's image and boost sales. The campaign's success demonstrated Mary's ability to create impactful advertising that resonated with consumers and reinforced brand values.

6. Sure Deodorant Campaign

One of the lesser-known but equally impactful campaigns was for Sure deodorant. The campaign featured the memorable tagline "Raise your hand if you're Sure," encouraging consumers to feel confident in the product's effectiveness. The ads often showed people raising their hands confidently, reinforcing the message of reliability and trust in the product.

7. Bic Pens

Mary Wells Lawrence also worked on campaigns for Bic pens, emphasizing the product's reliability and affordability. The campaign's tagline, "Writes first time, every time," highlighted the pen's consistent performance, making it a staple in households and offices.

8. Midas Muffler

The Midas Muffler campaign, with the tagline "Trust the Midas touch," was another example of Mary's ability to create memorable and effective advertising. The campaign emphasized the quality and reliability of Midas services, helping to establish the brand as a leader in the automotive repair industry.

Lifetime Achievements & Honors

Mary Wells Lawrence's contributions to the advertising industry have been recognized with numerous awards and honors. She was named one of the top ten newsmakers of the 1960s by Advertising Age and was the youngest member to be inducted into the Copywriters Hall of Fame.

In 1971, she was named Advertising Woman of the Year by the American Advertising Federation, and in 1999, she was inducted into the American Advertising Federation Hall of Fame.

In 2020, Mary was awarded the Lion of St. Mark for her lifetime achievements at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, further cementing her legacy as one of the most influential figures in advertising history.

A Lasting Impact

Mary Wells Lawrence's impact on the advertising industry is immeasurable. She revolutionized the way brands communicate with consumers, introduced cinematic techniques to television commercials, and demonstrated that women could lead and excel in a male-dominated industry. Her legacy serves as an inspiration to countless women in advertising and beyond, proving that creativity, determination, and a willingness to take risks can lead to extraordinary success.

Her story is a testament to the power of innovation and the importance of breaking barriers, and it continues to inspire new generations of advertising professionals to dream big and achieve greatness.

Mary Wells Lawrence's legacy lives on, and the advertising world is forever grateful for her brilliance and trailblazing spirit.

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