For the 37th episode of the Journalism History podcast host Nick Hirshon spoke with Daniel Haygood about the many sides of controversial advertising executive Rosser Reeves.
Daniel Haygood is an associate professor of strategic communication at Elon University. He has 20 years of experience in advertising, many of them spent working for D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles in New York, Beijing, and Tokyo. His research emphasizes the intersections among advertising, media history, and sports broadcasting.
This episode is sponsored by Elon University’s School of Communications.
Nick Hirshon: 00:10 Welcome to Journalism History, a podcast that rips out the pages of your history books to re-examine the stories you thought you knew and the ones you were never told. I’m your host, Nick Hirshon, guiding you through our own drafts of history.
Nick Hirshon: 00:26 This episode is sponsored by Elon University’s School of Communications, which delivers a student-centered academic experience and access to high-impact experiential learning opportunities, educating students to become data-driven storytellers. A private university in North Carolina, Elon leads the nation in the U.S. News ranking of eight programs that promote student success.
Nick Hirshon: 00:49 Rosser Reeves is perhaps the most controversial person in advertising history. His success as an ad executive is indisputable. His clients included some of the most ubiquitous brands in your local supermarket: Anacin, Colgate, Minute Maid, M&M’s. His book on the industry sold over 35,000 copies in the United States, and he was eventually inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame. But Reeves was not universally revered. Critics labeled him a huckster and a brainwasher. They said his ads had no creativity and endlessly repeated the same slogans year after year. According to one historian, some of Reeves’s contemporaries considered him the anti-Christ. For decades Reeves has been reduced to a one-dimensional figure, almost a caricature.
Nick Hirshon: 01:39 In this episode, we speak with Daniel M. Haygood, an associate professor of strategic communications at Elon University in North Carolina, who has reviewed Reeves’s papers to reveal the mind of a more interesting and empathetic individual with hobbies that took him well beyond Madison Avenue.
Dan, welcome to the Journalism History podcast.
Daniel Haygood: 01:59 Nick, thank you very much. I appreciate it, and I appreciate the invitation.
Nick Hirshon: 02:03 Of course. We appreciate you being here, and we’re going to get a lot into the life of Rosser Reeves today. I’m wondering if you could just start us out, not giving too much away, but a little bit of an introduction, who was Rosser Reeves and why haven’t more historians written about him?
Daniel Haygood: 02:19 So Rosser Reeves was one of the most – has been one of the most interesting characters in advertising. And he’s, he’s a native of Virginia and he began his career – his working life, actually, as a journalist, but then quickly got into advertising, eventually making his way to New York City. And he worked for a few firms before finally starting his own agency with a gentleman named Ted Bates. Both of these men and others were working at an agency called Benton and Bowles at the time. They noticed that the leaders, the principals of that agency, were not particularly paying a whole lot of attention to the business and their clients, and decided to break off and start their own agency. Ted Bates and Company was the name, and Rosser Reeves was the head of copy, in other words, head of writing the ads, sort of the creative director. And he had a very specific approach to writing advertising.
Daniel Haygood: 03:22 And I’m talking – now we’re talking about 1940 here, when the agency was started. So we’re talking a year or so before World War II and certainly, you know, a six to seven, eight years before television became a fixture in Americans’ homes. But after World War II, when television advertising started to become sort of the medium of choice for advertisers, led by Rosser Reeves, the agency created its own approach to television advertising. And the – the approach was called the USP way, or Unique Selling Proposition. That was their creative philosophy. “Their” meaning the agency and particularly Rosser Reeves. And what it meant was, is that they would find something unique about a product or service, present it in television advertising oftentimes with a visual demonstration, and hammer home that characteristic or benefit to the consumer provided by that product or service. And I mean, hammered it home by repeating it over and over in a 60-second commercial.
Daniel Haygood: 04:41 Now this started to become a prominent presence on television in the late forties and then, of course, exploded in the 1950s as the agency got stronger. But it was this approach that frankly irritated so many people in the advertising industry and so many consumers at home. Imagine watching a commercial – watching a show and there’s a commercial break, and then you watch a 60-second ad repeating generally the same sort of phrase or lines over and over. Of course within the context of a problem-solution format in a 60-second ad. That’s really who he was. You know, he was the sort of advocate for that style of advertising. And that’s what generated all the disdain and rancor against him within the industry, within the trades, and even among consumers.
Nick Hirshon: 05:36 So obviously that’s one of the reasons why maybe historians haven’t written about him so much. Your study also, though, includes some colorful criticisms of Reeves. He was called the prince of the hard sell, a master blacksmith. An editor at one trade publication called him “probably the greatest single enemy of modern advertising creativity.” And I referenced in the introduction that one author wrote, “If for generations of creative people, Bill Bernbach is their redeemer, no one more than Rosser Reeves best personifies the anti-Christ.” And that’s really striking. So you got into it a little bit, but what was it about his ads that riled up these industry executives so much?
Daniel Haygood: 06:16 Well, you know, he was – I think if I had to pinpoint one thing, it was really the repetition that irritated most people. You know, the fact is, is the approach of selecting one item about a product or service and promoting that item and the benefit for consumer and advertising. That’s just good marketing. And it had really been started – that approach has really been taken several decades earlier by advertising pioneers. There’s no doubt about that. But what really – what separated Rosser Reeves and the Ted Bates advertising was the repetition and the fact that frankly, Nick, you know, Reeves had the foresight to develop the phrase, to coin the term USP, Unique Selling Proposition. And that’s what gave people the handle to hold on to this concept, to understand this concept. That’s what really got people, was the repetition. You know, there’s a famous Anacin campaign for the headache reliever, Anacin. And those ads, which you can access, actually, some of them on YouTube, were really sort of the – exemplified the approach.
Daniel Haygood: 07:29 The line in the ads, most of those ads, was “fast, fast, fast relief.” The visual demonstration was sort of a silhouette of a cartoon head with sledgehammers beating on the head, the grinding of gears, rocks falling, to demonstrate the idea that, you know, people were in pain and you take Anacin and you get this fast, fast relief. So it was those sorts of things that, you know, that really irritated people. And I think, you know, you referenced this in the first part of your question, but why haven’t other people written extensively about him? And I think it’s, you know, my speculation is, is that people maybe didn’t want to associate with that kind of advertising, his agency, and him, actually, Rosser Reeves. That’s my guess. I mean, advertising leaders of that era, there are books written about them, there are books by these advertising leaders about themselves.
Daniel Haygood: 08:27 There are articles about some of those leaders. And this was all occurring in the context of the creative revolution, which I assume you’re going to, we’re going to talk about in a bit. But that’s part of the reason why the, the Bates advertising was so disdained, and I’ll explain that just a little bit. The creative revolution was like a creative renaissance in advertising. And it was led by the gentleman you referenced, Bill Bernbach. In 1949, he started his own agency, Doyle Dane Bernbach, and it was the agency that is recognized as leading the creative revolution and Mr. Bernbach as being the person who did lead that revolution. And it was a revolution that broke the old, tried, staid models of advertising that people like Ted Bates and Rosser Reeves exemplified. Tou know, the pedantic didactic sort of story, problem-solution structure and advertising.
Daniel Haygood: 09:30 Bill Bernbach said, “Yeah, let’s find something unique about the product, but let’s present it in a creative and fun way to get people – to get people’s attention, to get them to remember what we’re saying about a product.” So the, the campaign that sort of captures the creative revolution is the print campaign for Volkswagen. It actually was a television campaign as well. And it approached selling this German-made car that was tiny to Americans in a fun and exciting and interesting sort of way. So when, when Bates and Reeves were creating this very staid style of advertising, they were doing it in the context of the creative revolution. And that helped, I think, people see that these ads created by Ted basically: “Oh, these are just awful. Yeah, let’s turn away.” And I think that’s part of the reason, too, why scholars haven’t written about it.
Nick Hirshon: 10:35 So it seems that most treatments of him that do exist are very one dimensional and almost like a caricature of this evil guy who created these repetitive ads that everyone dreads. You wanted to kind of take a different look at this multidimensional person. And one of the ways you do that was looking into his hobbies. So I’m going to kind of go one by one here at different aspects of your paper. One thing you mentioned, he had a lot of disposable income. Obviously he was a very successful ad executive, so he had some money to spend. It makes sense that he became a collector. What sorts of things did he collect?
Daniel Haygood: 11:10 Yeah, you know, I, yeah, he collected a number of things. And I should probably say that, you know, advertising leaders of that time made an enormous amount of money because of the way agencies were paid by clients. In those days, agencies were paid, and I’ll keep this very simple, a full 15% for all the advertising space they purchased on behalf of a client. So regardless of how many ads were produced, you know, if an agency bought time on television for a client, they received 15% of that buy, if you will. That’s why so many leaders back then in those days made this enormous amount of money. So the famous David Ogilvy made so much money, he bought a small chateau in southern France, for example. If you are familiar with the television show Mad Men, those gentlemen, and they largely were gentlemen, or men, I should say, made an enormous amount of money from, from being in advertising.
Daniel Haygood: 12:20 Now that changed dramatically over time. To this day, that system isn’t really recognized anymore. But that’s why Rosser Reeves collected this enormous amount of money and was able to retire so beautifully and smoothly when he was in his early, mid-fifties and he retired in 1966, so he used this money throughout his career as he was collecting, buy things. And one of the main things he bought was a star ruby that came to be known as the Rosser Reeves Ruby. So he purchased it from a broker in England and was, I guess, proud of this ruby. And he used to carry it around in his pants pocket. It was a 138.7 carat ruby, which is an enormous size for one of these star rubies. He was at what was at that time called Club 21, we call it now the 21 Club. But the, he was there talking with a client and the owner of Club 21 came by and picked his pocket, because they all knew Rosser Reeves had that ruby in his pocket and used to, well, pull as pocket and toss it in the air and talk about it.
Daniel Haygood: 13:33 The owner came by and picked his pocket with the sole purpose of telling Rosser Reeves, “Hey, why are you walking around with a ruby in your pocket for crying out loud?” And at that point Reeves thought, Well, you know, okay, let me donate it. And he donated it to the Smithsonian and it’s still there to this day. It’s referred to as the Rosser Reeves Ruby. It’s still there near the Hope Diamond and some of these other priceless jewels that, that the Smithsonian displays. But that was, that was the most visible piece of his collection of things. You know, it was really, it was well known at the time, I think I wrote in the, in the research that there’s a jewelry shop in Ontario that named its shop Rosser Reeves Jewelry. The, you know, it’s, there’s such a disconnect there, but evidently the woman who founded it admired Rosser Reeves and wanted her jewelry shop to stand out.
Daniel Haygood: 14:34 So that’s how she named her jewelry shop, and it’s there to this day, it’s run by the founder’s two daughters. So that was like one of his key pieces that he purchased. He also purchased real estate. I mean, he had an apartment in New York, he had a home in Larchmont, he had a home and other property in Montego Bay. And I didn’t really write a whole lot about his other properties, but, you know, that that’s just the way, I guess, you know, famously wealthy kind of people spent some of their time. So that was one thing. He was also a collector of books. It was clear from when he was a very young man that he loved reading and he loved writing. This was largely from the influence of his minister father, who also was a book collector. In fact, his, his father had a personal library of 15,000 books which, which is enormous.
Daniel Haygood: 15:33 And they claimed that it was the second largest library actually in Virginia. It had so many books. Reeves has his own collection. He had 8,000 books. And he, you know, he loved to read. He loved the classics, he loved current novels, he just loved to own books, I guess. He also owned artwork. He bought, I think, at the peak, he had about 26 pieces of art. You know, these artists were not names that roll off your tongue, right? But they were more modern artists that eventually became quite successful, you know, in their own, in their own right, in the modern art sort of world so – and he purchased other things I’m sure we’ll get to when we sort of talk about some of his activities, but it’s what he did. He bought things.
Nick Hirshon: 16:23 And since you mentioned all the books that he bought, you also mentioned in your paper, a common trope that copywriters work at advertising agencies only to write the great American novel at night. And you say Reeves did take pride in his copywriting, for sure. So going against that trope a little, but you found that he also wrote poetry and short stories. I think you mentioned his proud typewriter that he owned. So what sorts of things did he like to write?
Daniel Haygood: 16:53 So, you know, yeah, it was fascinating. I mean he said in his – he was – he said that he took the most pride in the fact that he was a writer, you know, regardless of the money he had, his many activities in which he participated. You know, he always liked to define himself as a writer. So did David Ogilvy, you know, another advertising icon from that era and, but, his, you know, his writing, he took pride in the advertising part of it.
Daniel Haygood: 17:24 He also took part in the non-advertising part. And I should say that other well-known writers have taken this path. I mean, F. Scott – F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote for an ad agency at the start of his career. Salman Rushdie did some terrific work at Y&R for Coca-Cola and other big brands. Helen Gurley Brown was a writer. There’ve been others who got their careers starting in advertising. And yes, even when I was in the business, you know, it was common to hear copywriters talk about what they were working on at home. You know, and, and usually it was a non-advertising related book. It was fic – it was typically nonfiction, either short stories or novels. So yeah. So Rosser wrote these– he claims he wrote, he claims he wrote over 900 poems. That’s what he claims. He also says only 30 of which a publisher would even want to look at.
Daniel Haygood: 18:25 So he wrote these – so some of the ones he wrote, a few were published at the time and in little-known publications, but they were published and, and they were all – the common themes seem to be a very, seem to be the futility of mankind, the smallness of man in the context of the larger universe. And, you know, it sort of conveyed a sadness or melancholy in his attitude that doesn’t come across at all in his professional life or in his professional documents. And I don’t really, I don’t really understand that, but you know, he sort of got his publishing start with these poems before he evolved to writing short stories and even a novel or two. But they all had that same sort of common theme of sort of melancholy or regret or whatever. And again, I’m not going to get into the psychology of him because I don’t know, but it does reveal a contrast with his professional life.
Nick Hirshon: 19:36 And you just mentioned something there, I want to take a detour from going through some of his hobbies to ask you about this, because you mentioned your own time in the advertising industry. How is that affecting your research? You know, I’m a former journalist and so when I’m maybe writing about newspaper reporters and editors, maybe I’m a little less harsh, or at least I understand things that would go on on the average day at a newsroom, if there is any average day. And a lot of the people who do journalism history research come from that sort of a background, have been a reporter, at least an intern at a paper years ago. So is that part of the reason why you’re interested in learning more about this man beyond his work, ‘cause you realize that you yourself or the people that you worked with have lives beyond their professional work?
Daniel Haygood: 20:20 Yeah, I think that was part of it. I think, you know, I generally have two strands of media history that I write about. One’s sports or college sports broadcasting, and the other is advertising history of this era. And of course I didn’t work in that era. I started working in the business in the mid-80’s, and it was – what really intrigued me about him was, again, was this one-dimensional way in which he was presented. But when I went up to Madison, Wisconsin, to look at his personal papers at the Wisconsin Historical Society, that’s when I saw – I was actually researching a different paper. I was researching the relationship between Rosser Reeves and David Ogilvy, the two advertising icons of the moment. That’s when I saw all of these other papers, Nick, that were about his other lives. You know, his work on the Eisenhower campaign, the creation of the Eisenhower advertising for Eisenhower’s run for the presidency in, in ‘52 and ‘56.
Daniel Haygood: 21:25 The memos he would send his secretary with lists of ten books to purchase and have sent to his home library. I would see all of these different activities, and I’m thinking, You know, we don’t really know who this man is. I certainly had no idea who this man is beyond the way he was portrayed and talked about, talked about in the city, you know, amongst advertising professionals. That’s really what – you know, I was so intrigued with it. I remember – I was up there for a week and I just made loads and loads of copies of some of these documents. Not because I ever planned on doing this research but just ’cause I was so intrigued with it. You know, the other side, the other dimensions of this gentleman. You know, there, there are lots of files written about his work with Eisenhower.
Daniel Haygood: 22:24 There’s some research about that as well. But these other things just weren’t covered. The other part that’s really not in the paper, in the research, is he was such an articulate and sophisticated writer. He could express his feelings in the most intimate and emotional ways. His letters to his children really sort of affected me. For example, one of his sons, Scott Reeves, was attending UVA as an undergrad and came home one weekend and evidently was despondent and had sort of spoken something to the effect of, you know, questioning the value of life and living and on and on. When Reeves, Scott Reeves returned to UVA and Rosser followed up that week with this heartfelt three or four-page letter about, you know, that Rosser and his wife were so concerned over Scott’s despondency and they went on to talk about when Scott was a child and how much they loved him and how much they still love him.
Daniel Haygood: 23:35 They want the best for him. It was powerful. And so you could see, you know, you could really see his skill as a writer. To be able to express oneself in so many different ways, in novels and poetry and personal letters and business communications, I think, is a sign of a terrific writer. To be able to go in different, different venues, if you will, writing venues, and to write masterfully in them I think shows an incredible skill. But that was, that was – this research was really an accident, you know, going to research another topic of course, having to do with Reeves, but then seeing all these other things and realizing, you know, no one really knows this man. That was the impetus.
Nick Hirshon: 24:24 Another thing that you found that I thought was really interesting was about Reeves’s intense interest in chess. And I’m wondering how did he work to promote the game? It was a really fascinating part of your research to see that he was so involved in chess associations and with chess players.
Daniel Haygood: 24:40 Yeah, that was so curious to me. But, you know, there is a tie between chess and advertising and that is, you know, advertising requires great strategic thinking. Before we come up with an idea, before we shoot a commercial, we have to think what is, what are we going to say about this product and is what we say beneficial to consumers, and is it different from competitors? I mean that’s really USP thinking, actually. And he seemed to make the case at times that the strategic thinking required in advertising translated seamlessly with the strategic thinking required in chess. And of course he started playing chess before he went into advertising.
Daniel Haygood: 25:27 He started as a young man and he was evidently really skilled at it. And I note that twice in his thirties, and I believe he would have been – young thirties – he would have been living in Greenwich Village at this time, just starting his advertising career, that he had the opportunity to play against Frank Marshall, who was a U.S. champion at that time. Chess players at this point in their career would go around the nation and put on exhibitions and they would play, you know, twenty to thirty players at a time making a move at each, at each board and moving around the room as they go. Well, Reeves competed twice against Frank Marshall in two of these exhibitions. And of course, Marshall won the majority of the games in which he played in this exhibition. But he drew a few of those matches. And both times, both exhibitions, he drew against Rosser Reeves.
Daniel Haygood: 26:21 So Reeves didn’t lose, he didn’t win, but he didn’t lose. And so that showed you how – that shows us how skilled he must have been and how intelligent he must’ve been in this arena. So that was the start of his love of chess. But he got together with some other businessmen in the 50’s, in the early to mid-50’s, who had some money and they put together their funds and started a chess association, American Chess Association, to promote chess throughout the country. And one of the very first things that they did was put together a U.S. team to go to Russia, to go to Moscow, and play the Russian team, who had beaten the U.S. handily for several years now. You know, it was not – unfortunately, the contests weren’t all that close, but the goal was to go back and gain the chess crown from the Soviets.
Daniel Haygood: 27:19 So they went to Moscow in 1955, and Rosser Reeves led them there. He was sort of the, wasn’t the captain, but he was more of, say, the leader or the host of the trip, spoke to the press a good deal, and was the point person for the, for the chess team. The American chess team lost, but our U.S. champion, Samuel Reshevsky, did beat the Soviet champion. So that was a significant event and one in which they took great pride. I think it’s worth noting that while he was there, he made a – Reeves made a speech at a luncheon that was sort of in honor of the match between the U.S. and Soviets. And like any good advertising person, Reeves, Reeves could schmooze. He could schmooze with the best of people and he really show up, showed out at this speech and complimented the Russians on their city, on their hospitality,
Daniel Haygood: 28:14 on their individual connections with the U.S. players and the U.S. group there, praised their architecture and said – at the end of his, his speech, he said, “I hope the Soviet Union and the U.S. never meet on a field more fierce than the chessboard.” And of course the Russians stood up and gave him a standing ovation. So it was a, it was a huge success for Rosser Reeves, the American Chess Association, and for U.S. chess in all, because awareness and engagement in chess began to pick up during the fifties in the U.S., particularly among young people. So Reeves and the American Chess Association would regularly schedule events around the world. Reeves actually proposed a tournament among NATO countries. So members of the armed forces of each NATO country would come together and compete for what would be called the Seagram’s Cup, sponsored, of course, by the Seagram’s company. That never came through, but it was an idea that the American Chess Association put together.
Daniel Haygood: 29:23 They competed again in the future with Soviet teams. He took the American team to the chess Olympiad in Israel to compete. And one of the most interesting parts of this, I thought, was in one of the, one of the American-Soviet Union matches. I think this was in the early, very early seventies. A new player for the U.S. was clearly standing out by the late sixties, and that was Bobby Fischer, and he became a U.S. champion. Well, in the Soviet Union, the new champion was Boris Spassky, right? So Reeves proposed that the two of them play in four different cities, and Reeves and the chess association were going to put up the championship money. Unfortunately Fischer and Spassky turned down the offer, but a few years later, Spassky and Fischer met in early to mid-seventies for that famous match that they played for so many days that became sort of the impetus for the extreme popularity in chess in the 1970s.
Daniel Haygood: 30:36 So I think, you know, I just make the point in the paper that I think that Reeves can take some credit – I think he can take a large amount of credit – for driving the popularity of chess in the U.S. Just a personal note, I was a young man in 1973. I was thirteen years old, in middle school, and just, and this is just anecdotal, but in home rooms at the beginning of school, kids would bring these tiny little chess sets that would fold out and the little chess pieces were magnetized and would stay on the board because the board was also magnetized. But that was a popular scene in those days in middle schools and high schools, of kids playing chess. I’ve never seen that since, since the ’70s. And I think Rosser Reeves and the American Chess Association can take some credit for that.
Nick Hirson: 31:29 That’s just astounding to me. I think it’s so great that you were able to find that unexpectedly in your research on somebody who has been portrayed as just this one-dimensional figure. And, you know, that, seems like, itself could have been a whole paper, just his involvement in chess. You found also in your research that he played pool and backgammon, I understand? What was his involvement with those sorts of hobbies, or sports?
Daniel Haygood: 31:57 He evidently – by all accounts, he was an excellent pool player, which you know, who would have guessed? And he evidently was so good at it he made a connection with the U.S. champion at that time, who was named Ray Martin. And together they wrote a book called the 99 Critical Pool Shots, and it was published in 1977, was, you know, a modest success so much so that in 2007, all those years later, Rosser Reeves has been dead and gone for a long time at this point.
Daniel Haygood: 32:31 The book was re-issued, republished, and sold again in a newer, obviously, version. So yeah, I mean, he, and there were references to that and backgammon. I didn’t find much on backgammon. But yeah, he seemed to – you know, the question becomes, how in the world did this man have the time to engage in all of these activities? So like journalism, advertising is an absorbing career, an absorbing business. It takes most all out of a person. And the thing that struck me when I put all this together was how in the world did he possibly do all this? I don’t know that I have a good answer except to say that, you know, he, in the 50’s, he was elevated to copy chief and then he was elevated to chairman of the board. Well, those are very different jobs than the day-to-day writing of ads.
Daniel Haygood: 33:32 So I think he had probably more flexibility and more time than the typical advertising person running up and down the avenues and streets of New York City. Certainly as chairman of the board, he would not have had direct work, you know, writing copy. I will say that he did ask to be – to step down as chairman and continue writing. He did want to continue writing advertising even late in his career. But that’s the only explanation I can have, is that he just must have – his model for living really doesn’t exist in the advertising world even to this day, to have so much free time to pursue all these activities. It’s quite extraordinary.
Nick Hirshon: 34:19 And when you talk about all those hobbies, it also strikes me back in that time, even if the American public might have been fascinated with celebrities and what they were doing beyond just what we saw on screen or on TV, in the movies, you really didn’t have many ways to learn about that. Today we have social media, and it seems like we 24/7 know what Kanye West is up to on Snapchat or Instagram and, oh, he’s making breakfast this morning, whatever. It seems like what you were able to find with Rosser Reeves and granted, he wasn’t maybe the biggest celebrity of his time, but someone who was known, who had written a book that was selling many, many copies and translated into, I think you said, twenty-eight languages. So he was somewhat of a well-known guy. But maybe until your research, we really don’t know what was his life away from the office, away from Madison Avenue, and there’s a certain fascination in that because, you know, that tells us what makes the guy tick.
Daniel Haygood: 35:13 I think that’s a great point. I mean you, you know, I should mention a little more about that book. I mean the book he wrote in 1961 and published was called Reality in Advertising, and it was an advertising book, and it’s the one that sold thirty-five thousand copies in the U.S. and one hundred thousand overseas because it was translated into twenty-eight languages. It was the advertising book at the time and helped, you know, accelerate the trend of advertising professionals actually writing books. But his book, of course, was about the USP and his approach. And in the book it lays out exactly what the approach is and how to do it. He also drops numerous references to classical literature as his – in history, as is his want. And it sort of put him on the map. So you’re right to sort of say he was a bit of a professional, a bit of a professional, or celebrity professional, I guess.
Daniel Haygood: 36:19 And no, you know, we don’t hear about these things. I will say this, though, Nick, the part of his hobbies that did get a lot of publicity, locally, was his yachting and his yacht racing. And the reason he – ’cause, of course, what’d he do, right? He bought a yacht to race it. I mean, what else does a wealthy person in that part of the country do, right? And the New York Times had a section in their paper that covered yacht racing religiously, as hard as that is to believe. So I found some of these articles in Wisconsin, at the historical society, but then I was able to go, of course, online and see the old New York Times and see all the articles that were written about the results of these different yacht races. And it was every week during the yachting season. There’d be a summary of which, what regata these folks were racing in and how well Reeves and his rival, Cornelius Shields, did in a yacht race.
Daniel Haygood: 37:25 It was every week during the 1950s at the heart of his career. He was doing that on most free weekends, on a Saturday or, I guess, a Sunday as well. And you know, he was pretty good at it. He clearly wasn’t great. I think I mentioned in the paper that toward the end of his career he seemed to win more than he lost. And he seemed to excel in races when there was, the wind was weak, for some reason, but his career evidently ended – yacht-racing career – evidently ended when he was participating in a race in 1960, and the wind was fierce. The mast on his yacht Spellbound broke, and there is a photograph captured of this yacht with its mast broke and Reeves sitting at the end of his boat. And it’s unmistakably Reeves, ’cause you can see his profile. And that seemed to signal the end of his career because there were no reports of his yacht-racing following that. You know, he went on to – I guess he went on to other hobbies, but he kept his boat and then he bought another one. So I mean, you know, it’s just on and on, right. So.
Nick Hirshon: 38:43 He just seems like he was a fascinating man both in the work that he did and outside, which you finally brought to light. So we certainly thank you for your contribution with that. And as we wrap up our conversation here, just one question that we always ask guests, the final question of the podcast, why does journalism history matter?
Daniel Haygood: 39:04 I think studying history of any kind, particularly journalism, particularly media history, particularly advertising history, because it shows us patterns for the future. So I sell my advertising students on learning advertising history because in this business, the patterns repeat themselves over and over and over again. Yes, they’re nuanced. The trend – the movements are nuanced and they’re certainly repackaged and retitled.
Daniel Haygood: 39:39 But they’re the same, and you can literally start your career with a leg up on anyone else if you know some of these trends or some of these movements in advertising history that – to me the best – there’s several advertising historians that are outstanding, and one of them is Andrew Cracknel. He actually used to work in the business. And he makes the argument that the evolution of advertising is nothing more than the ebb and flow of two schools of thought, or two approaches in advertising: the claim school and the image school. The claim school is in products you make, advertisers make claims about their products, or the USP way, if you will. The image school is more of the school of thought brought to life in the creative revolution, selling a product in sort of an emotional way or in a storytelling way. So it is without a doubt that things that have happened in the past are now reoccurring currently in advertising.
Daniel Haygood: 40:47 And I’ll give you one example, and that is the Google ad words program, which is the program that allows anyone to place ads throughout the digital sphere, on all different websites or mobile devices or whatever. They have a tutorial, which students or anybody can take to learn how to use this tool. And in the description of that tutorial, they cite none other than approaching writing your ad with a unique selling proposition. I couldn’t believe it when I saw it. I thought, All these years later, all the disdain and hatred this man and his approach generated at the time and for decades afterwards is still around, is still used. Even the term is still used – isn’t that something?
Nick Hirshon: 41:34 I think that’s a perfect way to kind of summarize the importance of your research because what we see in trends in history, right, it’s repeating itself, of course, we say that all the time. But also that it lingers the impact of these individuals. We may not think about Rosser Reeves every time we watch a TV commercial or pass a billboard, but something that he was, you know, it was in part of his philosophy, it’s still playing out in our culture. So you know, whether we’ve heard that name or not, he’s certainly made a long lasting impact on us.
Daniel Haygood: 42:12 Without a doubt. He’s a character.
Nick Hirshon: 42:16 For sure. Well, thank you again for bringing him to light in your research, and thank you so much for coming on the Journalism History podcast.
Daniel Haygood: 42:23 Nick, thank you for having me. I really appreciate it, and I really enjoyed it.
Nick Hirshon: 42:27 Thanks for tuning into this episode of the Journalism History podcast, and additional thanks to our sponsors, Elon University’s School of Communications, and Taylor and Francis, the publisher of our academic journal, Journalism History. Until next time, I’m your host, Nick Hirshon, signing off with the words of Edward R. Murrow, “Good night, and good luck.”