Legendary Mary Wells Contemplates Comeback

28 May 2002

An advertising agency megastar for over two decades before that term was coined, Mary Wells Lawrence, co-founder and inspirational frontwoman of Wells Rich Greene, is contemplating a return to the business that made her a legend – driven, she claims, by an urge to redress the “terrible damage” wrought by today’s agency conglomerates on the advertising business.

Wells, now 73, scorns the notion that age could be a barrier: “I have fabulous health, I have tremendous energy, I’m possibly better than I was 10, fifteen, maybe 20, years ago,” she asserts. She has been absent from the Madison Avenue scene for twelve years, having sold her company in 1990 to French group BDDP Worldwide – itself now absorbed into Omnicom which shuttered WRG in 1998.

In an interview with the New York Times, Wells slammed the “cheap, easy advertising of today,” attributable, she says, to agencies’ lack of interest in advertising. Instead, they are “obsessed with offering clients one-world marketing, one-stop shopping,” rather than addressing the challenges of “really well-thought-out, well-crafted ads.”

She referred fondly to the ‘creative revolution’ of the sixties and seventies when “the top [client] people would take a big idea and create a miracle.”

As notably did such WRG clients as Alka-Seltzer, Benson & Hedges, Hertz, IBM and Procter & Gamble , producing ads more akin to showbiz: backed by hummable tunes, Hollywood-style production values, actors cast for commercials as if they were appearing in films – all based on hard-selling strategies arising out of and reinforcing a brand’s benefits.

The first woman to own and run a major national agency, and the first female chief executive of a NYSE-listed company, Wells could succeed in her comeback. Or so opines former WRG chief creative executive Charlie Moss, now chairman of Omnicom’s Moss/Dragoti in New York.

“Today's world is totally, totally different but she’s so smart, she could make a difference,” believes Moss. “Mary always kept it exciting and a lot of fun and when things got too routine, she found a way to throw it all up in the air and make it exciting again.”

Data sourced from: New York Times; additional content by WARC staff