Dear Dr. Ads,
One of the legendary figures in the 1960s creative revolution on Madison Avenue – Judy Protas – died last week. According to the New York Times obituary, she wrote one of the most famous taglines in advertising history.
As Ms. Protas, a retired advertising executive at Doyle Dane Bernbach who died on Tuesday at 91, well knew, a campaign spent selling rye bread to Jews would be a campaign squandered in preaching to the converted.
“We had a local bread, real Jewish bread, that was sold widely in Brooklyn to Jewish people,” she told The New York Times in 1979. “What we wanted to do was enlarge its public acceptance. Since New York is so mixed ethnically, we decided to spread the good word that way.”
And thus, from Ms. Protas’s largely anonymous pen sprang a slogan — “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s Real Jewish Rye” — that has far outlived the actual campaign, which began in 1961 and ran through the 1970s.
Then the Times obit says “[the] evocative tagline is often credited to William Bernbach, a founder of DDB, or to Phyllis Robinson, the agency’s chief copywriter.”
So what gives, Doc?
For starters, one of those crediting the tagline to Phyllis Robinson was the Times itself, which said this in her obituary:
Ms. Robinson was paired with an art director, Bob Gage, and together they produced ads for marketers like Orbach’s department store, Polaroid instant cameras and Levy’s breads. For Levy’s Real Jewish Rye, there were colorful posters. Some showed a slice of rye disappearing, bite by bite. The headline: “New York is eating it up!”
Other posters showed New Yorkers of various ethnicities eating sandwiches. The headline, which entered the vernacular: “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s Real Jewish Rye.”
But in the Protas obit, the Times appears to settle the issue: “[P] eriod newspaper accounts and contemporary archival sources make clear that the actual writing fell to Ms. Protas, who, working quietly and out of the limelight, set down those dozen durable words.”
In addition, Ms. Protas wrote this classic ad for Ohrbach’s (as described by DDB Chairman Emeritus Keith Reinhard):
[T]he creative revolution Bernbach ignited did not start with the moving image. It started in print. “I found out about Joan,” was the headline for an ad for Ohrbach’s, a retail outlet that was Bill’s first client. To me, it is the single most important ad of all time.
Why? Not just because it was the first time a retailer branded its customers instead of itself — it was suddenly chic to be cheap and this was at least fifty years before Target. It was the most important ad of all time not just because of the irresistible juxtaposition of arresting visual (a cat, with a hat and a long cigarette holder) and catty headline, not even because it was one of the first and best examples of Bernbach’s idea that every ad, like every person or product, should have a distinct personality, but because it was Bernbach’s work for Ohrbach’s that several years later attracted the U.S. importers of a pugnacious little car from Germany. Because DDB’s work for Ohrbach’s attracted Volkswagen, whose introduction of the Beetle is universally regarded as the opening volley of the creative revolution I suggest that “I Found Out about Joan” for Ohrbach’s is the ad that truly changed advertising history.
DDB changed advertising history by changing advertising’s tone of voice. As James B. Twitchell wrote in Twenty Ads That Shook the World:
Many of DDB’s clients were Jewish, and they made no attempt to disguise it. They came up from he street, not down from the hill, from NYU, not Princeton. In fact, they flaunted grit. Outré became classé,which was no mean trick in a world still riddled with anti-Semitism.
So for Orbach’s [sic], a Manhattan clothing outlet, they advertised “high fashion at low prices” with copy lifted from the catty patois of the Catskills . . .
And as a final salute to Judy Protas, there’s this from Margalit Fox’s excellent Times obit:
For Cracker Jack, Ms. Protas wrote the lyrics to the company’s long-ubiquitous TV jingle, which in full (“lip-smackin’, whip-crackin’, paddy-whackin’, knickin’-knackin’, silver-rackin’, scoundrel-whackin’, cracker-jackin’ Cracker Jack”) has the trochaic rush of a Gilbert and Sullivan patter song.