Profitable Advertising Interview
( Originally Published 1902 )
Opinions of a Well-known Advertising Man—What Jordan, Marsh & Co.'s., and Bloomingdale Brothers' Former Advertising Manager has to say in Relation to Advertising—Some Pertinent Pointers for Advertisers.
I enjoyed the pleasure and profit of a professional interview with J. Angus MacDonald for the first time yesterday.
While on Boston papers I had met him informally many times, but never under circumstances when I could draw him out on the subject of our profession and study—those ideas and methods which have long individualized him as one of the strong men—and the personality with its cold, cutting, sledge-hammer force and logical acumen, which have in a few short years landed him in the front rank of our great and important profession.
When I told Mr. MacDonald that I would like an interview for Profitable Advertising, he modestly retreated and pleaded pressure of business, but after persistent urging he most courteously invited me to his sanctum in the great Lexington Building, and there in his unique den, piled high with papers and books, the desk scarcely recognizable as such from almost total burial in a white mass of papers, letters, advertising and other accoutrements of a very busy man's business retreat, I elicited the following answers to my brief queries, which I now append minus all verbiage and cigar smoke with which the interview was liberally punctuated:
" What, in your estimation, Mr. MacDonald, is the first requisite of an advertising man?"
"The advertising sense. It is indefinable. Very few possess it. The good reporter possesses the nose for news. He cannot quite lay his hand on that quality, although it is his first necessity. It shows itself in his work. The good advertising man may appear like every other man—usually he appears very ordinary—but his peculiar ability and adaptability shows itself in his work. You can tell a good ad when you see it, yet when most people start to prepare an ad they fail to give it that incisiveness, character and virility which it should possess. The advertising man who knows his business knows how to do this. It is an inborn talent, and he scarcely knows how to explain the methods and style which he puts to his work."
" It is not literary work?
"Not by a long shot. It is beyond literary work, because it is more valuable from a commercial point of view. The literary man would need a column in which to tell his story. The advertising writer can compress it into one-half that space."
" What beyond this advertising sense should the advertising man possess?
" The commercial instinct which enables him to rightly determine the value of mediums and his employer's money. A knowledge of printing—the use of types. He should also have the artistic sense highly developed, so as to get the best work from artists by appreciating and being in sympathy with their work. He ought to be something of an architect, so as to plan and arrange systematical and striking ads; he ought to have a well-trained mind in this respect. He must be a thinker and a student of people and affairs. He must have a head teeming with original ideas, and of course be able to express his ideas in the most fitting language."
" What are the most important features of an ad?"
"Ideas, words and arrangement. Ideas come first; they should be rightly expressed, the whole should be properly arranged with type and illustration."
"What city does the best general advertising, in your estimation?"
" There are several reasons. The first is, the writer has a more free, unconventional scope to his pen. He is not limited by tradition as he is in most Eastern cities. Then, again, the presswork and printing of the Chicago papers are beautiful, and the illustrations very artistic."
"How is New York general advertising?"
"It has improved very much within the last two or three years. The advent of John Wanamaker, and Siegel, Cooper Co. has helped on this. There is one branch of New York advertising that is exceptionally good, which is clothing advertising."
"And Boston advertising? "
" Being an old Boston advertising man myself and knowing all the advertising boys down there so well, I do not feel like posing as a judge on their work. In the main it is very good. Jordan, Marsh & Co., Shepard, Norwell & Co., Houston & Henderson, and Filene's represent good advertising in general retail lines."
" And in specific retail lines? ",
"In furniture we all consider that the ads of the Paine Furniture Co. are the best anywhere."
" How is general advertising throughout the country?"
" I have never known it at a higher plane of excellence than it is to-day. Of course this is due in a very great measure to the teachings of Profitable Advertising, Brains, Printers' Ink, Fame, and the other advertising journals, as well as to the writings of leading advertising men."
"Will this advertising knowledge continue?
"Most assuredly. It is a good thing all around—for the merchants, the advertising writers, the papers, the artists and the whole army who deal in publicity in any form. It indicates an appreciation of public taste. The public now keenly discriminates in advertising. Years ago the ordinary slip-shod, conventional ad was enough. Today only the carefully prepared ad, which represents thought, character, point and intelligence is read."
" Is the advertising expert in demand?"
"I should say so. He is today considered more than ever in the commercial world. That is only logical. If he knows his business he is of great assistance to every advertiser—big and little—who wishes to make his advertising dollars go farthest. It is a simple business proposition. The lawyer helps his clients on some knotty law point; the doctor helps his patients through their illness; the advertising `expert' helps his clients—but I don't like the word ` expert ' though—helps them through their advertising."
" Don't you like the word ` expert'? I notice you avoid it on your stationery and advertising."
" The word is all right, but it has been misused. It has been prostituted like the word `bargain.' I call myself the `Practical Advertising Man' because I consider a practical knowledge of a subject essential to a mastery of it, and I flatter myself I have been so steeped in advertising knowledge that I have a practical knowledge of all its phases. Speaking about `experts,' to return to the subject of a moment ago, here is a practical demonstration of their demand."
Mr. MacDonald pointed to a mail of about twenty-five letters which were just then brought in by the carrier, and then to another stack of opened letters a foot high on his desk. On a rack back of his chair were files of various publications from all parts of the country.
Mr. MacDonald started in opening his mail, and kept up a running fire of comment all the time.
"Advertising should be thoroughly studied. It is a hard, serious, exhausting study. Each case should receive individual attention. The conditions surrounding each case should be carefully considered. Cold, hard sense, facts and logic should be brought into play. An advertising man should be a good business man. He should be more than the average business man, because he should have some literary talent and a bold, original mind. He must be fertile in ideas. He must be a deviser, an organizer, a writer. He must be a close student of humanity. He must be able to analyze the motives of people who buy so as to play upon these motives. Clearness in expressing ideas should be studied. Typographical effects should be mastered. The knowledge of words, of types, of illustrations, and of mediums should be at his control. Economy in space should be understood. It is a comparatively new field of endeavor-this advertising business is—but it is a very complex field to enter. It is easy when you know how. Till then it is brain racking. The acquirement of details is a matter of patience and persistence. Both patience and persistence are cardinal virtues in this business."
ROBERT FREEMAN HUNTER,
In Profitable Advertising, June, 1897.