With the backdrop of its 100th anniversary, the 4A's (American Association of Advertising Agencies) has opened its files of history to provide a series of informational nuggets that, in part, articulate the history of not just the venerated trade organization but the industry it represents as well.
Over the next several months - running up to the 4A's Transformation Conference in April and beyond - we'll take a look at some of the defining (and often surprising) moments in U.S. advertising agency history through the 4A's window.
Sometimes the key to unlock the long-ago past comes with recent cues. In fact, when the producers of HBO's "Mad Men" wanted to discover the details of how companies connected with agencies, they reached out to the 4A's. The request landed on the desk of Marsha Appel, SVP/Research who did a little digging, with surprising results.
Reports Marsha, "In the course of doing research for the accuracy-obsessed show, I ran into the origins of the agency-selection questionnaire, which dates back only to the early 1960s."
In this case, the most powerful piece of evidence was a February 12, 1962 Advertising Age story that marveled an airline had used a questionnaire to select an agency. "Quiz Helps Mohawk Airlines Pare list of Contenders to Two" detailed not just the introduction of a new means of agency selection but even enumerated the list of all 18 questions that had been part of the review.
The RFP (request for proposal) trickle that would become a standard-practice flood had begun. A month later, in "Quiz helped Ocean Spray Cut Agency Field to 12", Ad Age spelled out the 20 questions that had been used in that case.
As Marsha observed, "It is interesting to note that adoption of the practice was not immediate, as evidenced by a similar article six years later, when Advertising Age published the 22 questions from a two-page questionnaire sent to agencies by Simplicity Pattern Co. Also in 1968, Industrial Marketing offered marketers tips on how to design a questionnaire to get ‘useful qualitative data… if you're going to use the questionnaire approach.'"
How did advertisers choose agencies before 1960? The 4A's has no formal records, but its SVP/Research offers, "It happened through recommendations, and by networking over golf and drinks at country clubs, of course."