Alka-Seltzer, Ford and New York: Mary Wells-Lawrence

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Mary Wells Lawrence is the subject of the 5th episode of AW360’s animated series Craftsmen of Creativity. You can view Mary Wells and the End of the Plain Plane here.


Mary Wells Lawrence created iconic ads. Her hallmark? Breaking rules. Whether at Jack Tinker & Partners, or her own – Wells, Rich, Greene – she brought colour to bland and took enormous risk in pushing the boundaries to usher in advertising that transformed companies.

Lawrence became, in the 1960s, the first really powerful female player on Madison Avenue. It was a time filled with change, when TV’s ability to sell products seemed inexhaustible. But her approach was different. She didn’t sell products, but dreams.

Indeed, she was much more interested in what a product could say than did.

Theatrical, entertaining and ground-breaking, here are some of Mary Wells Lawrence’s most iconic advertising campaigns.

Alka-Seltzer – Plop-Plop, Fizz-Fizz (1976)

Wells-Lawrence directed a campaign of whimsical commercials for Alka-Seltzer. The first ad featured a man telling you how he was saved because of the product. Another featured a man sat on the side of the bed moaning in pain. Others were far simpler. “Two geniuses” wrote Wells Lawrence, put together an incredibly simple ad with a crystal glass, and two Alka-Seltzer’s being plopped in to create sparkling bubbles. For Wells Lawrence “bubbles have always said great things, subliminally, about the effectiveness of Alka-Seltzer to people who got stomach upsets…everybody was Plop Plop, Fizz-Fizzing.”

Though that wasn’t the genius. The campaigns educated the public by showing them use cases for Alka-Seltzer. “Plop-Plop, Fizz-Fizz” promoted taking two Alka-Seltzers at once rather than one for faster, and better relief. Its sales doubled rapidly.

Ford – Quality is Job One (1981)

In her book, ‘A Big Life in Advertising’ Mary Wells-Lawrence recalls the moment the Ford campaign came together. Charlie Moss, her creative partner (featured in episode 5) called her in the middle of the night and said, “I’ve got it.” And when Charlie got it right, not only did he get it right, but supposedly he had a habit of putting his “lips together and making a cat’s purr.” The tagline would be “quality is job one,” which was automotive slang for it being at the very top of the list in importance. “I’m a genius, you know,” he said. “This will be iconic. One of those automotive themes that are recalled by television viewers for years to come.” He was right.

I Love NY (1976)

That was her? Is what you probably just thought to yourself. Yes, indeed. Mary Well-Lawrence came up with the ‘I Love NY’ slogan that can still be found at knock-off gift shops all across New York. The four words were claimed to have first come from the mouths of many, including the son of an aide of Harry Truman – who said Truman first said it on a state visit. Wells Lawrence explained that yes, many had said it, because it was New York and that was how people felt. But it wasn’t until she and Charlie Moss put it on paper that it was contextualised. The State Department of New York never licensed the finished logo, believing the wider it was used the better. That heart replacing the word ‘love’ can be seen around the world in the strangest of places. They accompanied the campaign with a TV ad shot to promote Broadway shows. The stars of each show would be presented to you whilst they sung the “I Love New York” anthem. The shows would be promoted, as would New York and the campaign too.

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