Albert Davis Lasker (May 1, 1880 - May 30, 1952) was an ambitious American journalist, advertising executive, and philanthropist. He introduced the concept of “salesmanship” into print advertising and pioneered the shift in advertising from news to persuasion. Lasker's innovative ideas included the establishment of copy writing departments, the creation of soap operas to market products, and the application of advertising principles to Presidential campaigns. Lasker's leadership transformed the Chicago-based Lord and Thomas into the largest advertising agency in the United States. His amazing successes earned him a reputation as the “Founder of Modern American Advertising.”
Lasker was also an active philanthropist, raising money for cancer research and promoting the federal government’s role in funding medical research. He established the Lasker Awards for Public Health and his efforts eventually resulted in the creation of the National Institutes of Health and an overall increase in medical research funding in the United States.
Albert Davis Lasker was born on May 1, 1880 in Freiburg, Germany, where his parents, Morris and Nettie Heidenheimer Davis Lasker where visiting. When Albert was old enough to travel, the Lasker family returned to their home in the United States. Lakser was the third child of eight and spent his childhood in Galveston, Texas where his father, Morris Lasker, was a successful business man who worked as the president of several banks.
In school, Lasker was an average student, but was an ambitious young entrepreneur. He actually started his own newspaper, the Galveston Free Press at the age of 12. He wrote, edited, and published the paper, which included local advertising. A year later, Lasker closed down the Galveston Free Press to take a job at the Galveston Morning News. There he earned recognition for managing to secure an interview with socialist leader Eugene Debs. In high school, Lasker served as editor of his school's newspaper, and worked for the Galveston Morning News.
After graduating from high school, Lasker worked for the Dallas News and the New Orleans Times-Democrat and set his sights on pursuing a newspaper job in New York City. However, his father Morris was against it. Albert compromised and agreed to try a position in Chicago with the Lord and Thomas advertising firm, a company his father had done business with. Lasker started as an office clerk at Lord and Thomas in 1898, and ended up working there for 44 years, making it the largest advertising firm in the United States.
Lasker's first marriage was to Flora Warner in 1902. They had three children, Mary, Edward, and Frances. Flora died in 1936 following years of illness with arthritis and typhoid fever. Her death saddened Lasker greatly, but he eventually married again in 1938 this time to actress Doris Kenyon, but their brief marriage ended after less than a year. In 1940, Lasker married a New York City industrial designer named Mary Reinhart.
After his retirement, Lasker focused his energies on philanthropy. He aggressively promoted and the expansion of medical research in the United States.
Albert Lasker died in New York City on December 30, 1952 at the age of 73.
Albert Lasker is often considered to be the founder of modern advertising. As a teenager, he started out as a newspaper reporter, and in 1898, after graduating from high school moved to Chicago and started working at Lord and Thomas advertising agency as an office clerk. By the age of 20, he owned the agency and remained its chief executive for more than 40 years. Just a year after joining Lord and Thomas, one of the agency's salesmen left and Lasker acquired his territory. It was during this time that Lasker created his first campaign. He hired a friend, Eugene Katz, to write the copy for a series of Wilson Ear Drum Company ads. They featured a photograph of a man cupping his ear. George Wilson, president of the Wilson Ear Drum Company, adopted the ads and sales dramatically increased.
Lasker had an inquiring mind about what advertising was and how it worked. In 1904, he met John E. Kennedy who had been a Canadian mounted policemen and who now promised him to tell him what advertising was. Lasker believed that advertising was news, but Kennedy said to him that, "news is a technique of presentation, but advertising is a very simple thing. I can give it to you in three words, it is "salesmanship in print."" Lasker was intrigued by Kennedy's ideas about the principles of advertising, especially the idea that effective advertising should explain why a product is superior to competing products. Lasker hired Kennedy to lead his growing copy writing department. The first client they put this principle to work on was The 1900 Washer Co. Such was the success of this, that within four months of running the first ad their advertising spend went from $15,000 a year to $30,000 a month and within six months were one of the three or four largest advertisers in the United States.
In 1908, he recruited Claude C. Hopkins, one of the most talented copy writers ever to the firm specifically to work on The Van Camp Packaging Company (Van Camp's) account. Lasker's relationship with Hopkins lasted for 17 years.
Albert Lasker took a break from his leadership of Lord and Thomas between 1918 and 1923 to pursue his interests in politics and baseball. He purchased a substantial share of stock in the Chicago Cubs baseball team and fought hard to save baseball from all of the gambling and corruption which had plagued it. His efforts resulted in the establishment of an independent baseball commissioner. In 1920, he applied his advertising genius to politics, resulting in the election of President Warren G. Harding. After taking the oath of office, Harding appointed Lasker to the position of chairman of the United States Shipping Board, a post he held for two years.
One of Lasker's mote notably successful advertising campaigns occurred between 1923 and 1942, with Lasker aggressively promoting Lucky Strike cigarettes for his client, the American Tobacco Company. The ad campaign was so successful, that it led to America's acceptance to allow women to smoke cigarettes wherever they wanted to.
Lasker is also largely responsible for America's infatuation with orange juice. Lord and Thomas acquired the Sunkist Growers account in 1910, when Lasker was 30. The citrus industry was in a slump, and California growers were producing so many oranges that they were cutting down trees in order to limit supply. Lasker created campaigns that not only encouraged consumers to eat oranges, but also to drink orange juice. He was able to increase consumption enough that the growers stopped chopping down their groves.
In 1926, Lasker applied the principles of print advertising to the burgeoning field of radio, ushering a new era of radio commercials. Lord and Thomas went so far as to create the Amos and Andy and Bob Hope radio shows in order to market Pepsodent toothpaste.
Among Lasker's pioneering contributions were the introduction into schools of classes that would explain to young girls about menstruation (done to promote Kotex tampons). He is also credited as being the inventor of the soap opera, with being responsible for the fact that radio (and television after it) is an advertising-driven medium, and with having masterminded Warren Harding's election campaign.
In 1938, after his son Edward failed to show interest in advertising, Lasker stepped down from managing Lord and Thomas and eventually closed it down four years later in 1942, selling out to three staff members who started serviced former [[Lord and Thomas]] clients through their new agency named Foote, Cone & Belding.
After he retired, Lasker pursued his passion for philanthropy. He aggressively promoted the expansion of medical research in the United States. He and his wife Mary established the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation in order to support medical research, and created the Lasker Awards for Public Health. The culmination of these efforts resulted in the federal government's creation of the National Institutes of Health.
Albert Lasker was an innovative copywriter and advertising entrepreneur who transformed the advertising industry in the early twentieth century. He started working at the Lord and Thomas agency in Chicago as an office clerk, but ended up owning the company and making it the largest advertising agency in the United States. He took advertising from information to persuasion, resulting in increased business for his famous clients such as Sunkist Growers, Kimberly Clark, the American Tobacco Company. Lasker's genius in creating effective ad copy led to the development of copy writer departments, which revolutionized the advertising industry. Lasker's trained copy writing staff was the first of its kind in the United States.
Lasker's accomplishments earned him the reputation as the “Founder of Modern American Advertising.” He is credited for applying advertising principles to radio and political campaigns, and is credited for creation of soap operas.
After retirement, Lasker focused his attention to philanthropic causes, especially in the area of funding for medical research. For example, he raised money for cancer research and created the Lasker Awards for Public Health. Having a passion for encouraging the government’s role in funding medical research, Lasker’s efforts eventually resulted in the creation of the National Institutes of Health and a dramatic increase in medical research funding in the United States.
Lasker also had a passion for community service, and after the Black Sox baseball scandal in 1919, Lasker's efforts led to the establishment of an independent commissioner of baseball.
ReferencesISBN links support NWE through referral fees
- Applegate, Edd. 1998. Personalities and Products: A Historical Perspective on Advertising in America. Greenwood Press. ISBN 9780313303647
- Fox, Stephen. 1984. The Mirror Makers: A History of American Advertising and Its Creators. William Morrow and Co. ISBN 0688022561
- Gunther, John. 1960. Taken at the Flood: the Story of Albert D. Lasker. Harper and Bros.
- Morello, John A. 2001. Selling the President, 1920: Albert D. Lasker, Advertising, and the Election of Warren G. Harding. Westport, CT:Praeger Publishers. ISBN 9780275970307.
- Thomas, Lewis. 1986. The Lasker Awards: Four Decades of Scientific Medical Progress. Raven Press. ISBN 9780881672244.
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