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JWT Founder: 1st to Target Housewives Via Magazine Ads

December 22, 1987|BRUCE HOROVITZ

Just who was James Walter Thompson?

Although the public recognizes him as one of the oldest--and best-known--names in modern advertising, he is better known within the ad industry as one of the first businessmen to persuade magazines to accept advertising.

Long before other advertising executives were paying much attention to housewives as a market, Thompson was among the first to attempt to reach them with ads, primarily in magazines. In fact, it was this rhyme that Thompson ran across in his readings that inspired him to target the homemaker:

Good bless our wives, they fill the hives

With little bees and honey,

They smooth life's shocks, they mend our socks,

But don't they spend the money!

Thompson was born in Ohio in 1847, was the son of a builder, and through his mother was a fourth cousin to President Theodore Roosevelt. He was hired as a bookkeeper at a small ad agency called Carlton & Smith in 1875 and two years later bought the ad firm for $500.

Before long, Thompson renamed the agency after himself. The tiny firm bought ad space in newspapers and magazines and then turned around and sold it at a profit to advertisers.

During the next 38 years, Thompson transformed the agency from a media wholesaler to a full-service ad shop. The firm became an international operation when Thompson opened an office in London in 1899. Thompson introduced the Pears soap brand to the U.S. market and also handled advertising for Lifebuoy soap.

Thompson, who sold the business in 1916 for $500,000, published a series of books on advertising. In one, he wrote: "It does not really do in advertising to try to be funny. Practical facts are, as a rule, much better and more lasting."

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