THE FIRST 100 YEARS OF JWT & UNILEVER 1902-2002: Private View 1920s

It is perhaps symbolic of the period that, during the 1920s, AA Milne published Winnie the Pooh and A Hitler published Mein Kampf.

By the end of the decade, this age of innocence had begun to be shaken by the eruptions that were to throw the world into appalling upheaval for generations to come.

Meanwhile, the world followed its paths of innocence and, in this country, curly headed boys went down to the Palace, while countless sticks were raced from one side of a bridge to the other.

Nowhere was this innocence more in evidence than in the world of advertising.

Just as every piece of classical music was once a "new release", so every advertising idea was once a new idea. Looking back, these may seem somewhat obvious - not just simple but simplistic, perhaps - but, in their innocent times, they were as fresh as the day they were born.

Typical of these ideas was that contained in Lux Flakes' "A sweater for every frock", in which Betty's friend is convinced she is wearing yet another new sweater, although it's simply been washed in Lux.You'll recognize this idea because it's still used in various guises today. (In fact, it's not so long ago that I tried to use it myself.)

Other advertisements talk of coming to the rescue of Mary Pickford's irreplaceable costume; of Lux Flakes being used by the Queen of the Belgians, the King of England's daughter and the Queen of Sweden (all in one ad, too); looking after the stockings of Gracie Fields and Bea Lilly (a much sought-after role, I imagine); and that if you used Lux Flakes to do the washing-up (an early New Consumption Opportunity) you would avoid "dishpan hands".

These compelling stories, accompanied by fascinating photographs or beautiful illustrations, would have been tough competition for the surrounding editorial; a prerequisite still for any successful campaign, in any medium.

In 1925, a brand extension was launched in a test market in New England; toilet soap. The shape of the bar, and the packaging, were designed by the agency (further proof that there never was anything new about "total branding"). We also recommended that it was called Lux Toilet Form, a somewhat eccentric notion, possibly the result of an early form of account planning.

The launch campaign compared the brand to French soaps (not the TV variety, obviously), another strikingly original idea at the time. One of the early press ads ("eagerly welcomed") is particularly well art-directed.

In 1929, came The Big One - "Nine out of ten film stars use Lux Toilet Soap" - undoubtedly one of the most potent brand ideas of all time. The launch advertisement featured 26 of the biggest stars of the day. Imagine the effect of this on the movie-loving target audience. It has still the same effect in many parts of the world today.

Pond's positioned itself at the posh end of the famous-women spectrum by using Viscountess Curzon, Mrs Reginald Vanderbilt and Lady Louis Mountbatten.The latter is shown "mounted on her spirited Arabian", which no doubt stood her in good stead for the burdens she was to bear in other parts of the Empire.

What a marvelous time to have been in our business; when money was a by-product, not the product; when the only currency which counted was that of ideas; when ideas laid the very foundations of future mega-brands, of both product and agency.

I wish I'd been there and, looking at this collection of advertisements, I wish I'd done that.

- Allen Thomas was the executive creative director of JWT London during the 1980s, and was then the agency's joint worldwide creative director. He has worked on most of the agency's Unilever brands and he won a Cannes gold for a Persil commercial with the art director Annie Carlton.

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