THE FIRST 100 YEARS OF JWT & UNILEVER 1902-2002: Private View 1910s

If you care about advertising, you have to love these ads. And not just because they have the charm of a bygone age. They are, in fact, as well made as any advertising you will find anywhere.

They also bring a bit of history to life. You see the imprint of J. Walter Thompson's legendary triumvirate - Resor, Landsdowne and Young - all over them. You see the idealized, fairytale art of advertising illustration (soon to be subordinate to photography) at the peak of its beguiling power. You see how JWT and Lever perceived and tried to answer the needs and hopes of the 1910s American woman. And you feel the enormous difference between the sensibilities of that America and the one we live in now.

Consider the typical American pop song of the 1910s: Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life, versus the typical American pop song of the 2000s: It's a Mystery Why I Don't Kick Your Ass.

These ads are unselfconsciously enthusiastic, respectful and sincere, completely innocent of irony and absent of edge. They come from a kinder, gentler era than our own.

In 1916, after working at JWT for eight years, Stanley Resor bought the company from Commodore Thompson. Resor believed the advertising was first and foremost educational - "mass education for the mass market," as he described it. In the case of the market for Pond's and Lux Flaxes - women - this was the liberal truth. First, because the market needed to be educated, because it was so young. Today it is hard to comprehend how young. The average woman left school before she was 16, married before she was 18, had all her children before she was 30 and died at 51. Second, because the market wanted to be educated. Millions were leaving the farms, where they knew everything they needed to know, and moving to the cities, where they knew very little. Millions more were recent immigrants, the greatest number in the country's history. Some 14 million between 1900 and 1914.

In a real sense, both emigrants and immigrants were newcomers. Greenhorns.

Hungry, hard-working strivers who didn't know how. How to look. How to dress. How to love and be accepted in a new world. And they wanted to learn.

Lever Brothers and Resor's JWT helped educate them, sometimes very overtly.

A woman's work was in the home. So Lux provided vocational training, teaching her how to wash everything from woollens to delicate silks and chiffons by "Luxing" them instead of rubbing them with harsh laundry soap.

A woman's hope was to be attractive. So Pond's taught her the difference between cold cream and vanishing cream, because "Every normal skin needs two creams".

The lessons are taught in dense blocks of copy made up of carefully crafted sentences, some quite long by today's standards. In some ads you have to read all the way through to get the real selling message. But if you do - and if you put yourself in the shoes of the 1910s audience - you find it warm, disarming and persuasive.

The best of these ads create an instant impression of confidence and authority: "We have something to say that is important and valuable to you. We know you will take the time to read and understand what we're saying. We know that will be very good for you." And that's before you've actually read a word of copy.

These ads really do expect time and attention. The women of the 1910s apparently didn't have a problem with that. They read, they learned and they went out and bought. And Lux and Pond's grew into big American brands.

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