The Good Life: A message from the Ghost of Advertising Past

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Diamonds may be forever, but ad agencies aren't.

N.W. Ayer was a storied creative shop that coined some of the most enduring slogans of the 20th century: "Reach out and touch someone." "Be all you can be." "A diamond is forever."

In 1934, it also created this incredible Halloween-themed ad—for itself. "Advertising is a legitimate and vital adjunct to large-scale production and distribution," the copy reads, somewhat defensively. "But not infrequently, its true function has been obscured by a smoke-screen of meaningless words, hocus-pocus, and ritual." Sound familiar?

Founded in Philadelphia in 1869 by Francis Wayland Ayer (who at 19 sought credibility by naming the shop for his father, Nathan Wheeler Ayer), the agency would jockey with WPP Group's J. Walter Thompson Co., for billing as the oldest U.S. agency until it was absorbed into sibling Kaplan Thaler Group in 2002.

It had a good run along the way: "The agency established the 15 percent commission; added a new-business department before 1910; centralized print media research within the planning department; and developed the first color print ad," Ad Age wrote when it shuttered.

But life is a cyclical thing. And for this brief moment, we're resurrecting the dead. Because the only thing worse than fading away is being forgotten.

"The antics of the witch-doctors of advertising are amusing if you don't have to pay for them," this ad cautions. "But they are a luxury which no business that wants to remain in business can afford."
Words of wisdom from an apparition at a time when there is no shortage of sorcery.

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