Wednesday, July 6, 2016

My Grandfather's book on advertising

Me and Grandpa's book 
This book has been sitting on my bookcase for 20-plus years. I don't think I've even opened it up. But the other day, out of respect for Grandpa Burt and this hard-covered book, I decided to read the opening.  What a delight.

As an associate professor of advertising at Boston University and an account executive with Albert Frank-Guenther Law, Grandpa Burt had a solid background to pen Successful Advertisements... and How to Write Them by F. Allen Burt (Harper & Brothers, 1940). His self-effacing approach to the opening sections made me smile. He wrote,
Advertising is still, and probably always will be, an inexact science. There are not inflexible rules. The best we can do is to follow ideas and methods that are proving successful today. Styles in advertising change as do styles in ladies' hats and dresses. What was resultful five years ago may be a dud today. (ix)
He also shared the following imperative for merchandising: "Buy the right goods, at the right cost, for the right store, and advertise them in the right way, at the right time, for the right price, to the right people, through the right media, and your books will show a profit" (ix).

In the preface, my grandfather chronicles his own experience as an ad man and writer over 20 years. He does this in three and a half pages. At points, he relies on other writers to unpack his thinking. One quotation I've heard before:
Flaubert, the great French story writer, gave this sound advice to Guy de Maupassant: "Look at an object till you see in it everything everybody else sees in it, and then continue to look at it till you see what no one else sees." (x - xi)
He explained his path to the advertising business beginning with his work as a newspaper reporter. From there, he moved on to publicity work for a number of charities and "business houses, covering the gamut from financial news to advance build-ups for an opera star." In the latter portion of the preface, he shared the specifics of his journey:
I learned to write letters that would sell goods. This opened to me the mail-order and direct-mail fields. I became the apprentice of "cost per inquiry" and "cost per order," and found them apt teachers. My letters, folders, and catalogues have sold, among a variety of products, work shoes to farmers, golf pencils by the hundreds of thousands to clubs, and $4000 motorboats to selected prospects. 
Then followed seven years of retail store advertising which taught me to make sales over the counter, and advertising for a factory, which introduced me to sales promotion, trade magazine and national consumer advertising, and to research.
Finally, adding this experience together, I became vice-president in charge of research of a 4A advertising agency, and have now served an assortment of clients over a dozen years of agency experience. 
This work would have been from c. 1906 through the 1920s. To give a bit of personal background, in the 1920s, Allen and Leila Burt drove up from Boston to visit Weld, Maine. Family lore has it that they stayed at the Kawanhee Inn. Back then, their friends summered on The Cape. But my grandparents decided to purchase property on a lake in rural Maine, an 8-hour drive north on rocky roads. I wondered while writing this whether my grandfather pulled a grand sales job on my grandmother to get her to agree to rural Maine.  However they ended up here, we're glad they did.

For as long as I knew him, my grandfather always wore a bow tie. But at camp, on especially hot days, he'd take off the tie and roll up the sleeves on his bleached-white shirt. A proper Bostonian, to be sure–yet, he summered in Weld, Maine, and over the years had camps built for his three daughters.

A Weld Sunset from Burt's Point c. 2015
Just off the one-mile-long gravel road that leads to Burt's Point and our camp, my grandparents placed a clay tennis court. I'm not sure whether they built the court or whether they hired out the work. No matter.  I wrote this poem about the courts and my grandparents back in the late 1970s. "The Clay Court" appeared in the Maine Sunday Telegram and then in my chapbook, Entering Weld (1981) 


You can almost see them
While driving the dirt road,
Though trees have grown
and wildflowers row the baseline.
A flowing skirt, ankle length,
And a wide-brimmed bonnet--
And he in the proper
White pants.
True Bostonians, they were,
(Though they ignored the Cape)
Gingerly wielding their
Snowshoe rackets in the fields
Near Webb.
Backcourt lob, crosscourt winner...
"Five–love, my dear, five–love." 

What a great find this advertising book has been. Maybe I'll pass it along to my nephew, Denny, who is in business at Cisco Systems. He doesn't work in advertising, per se, but he sure knows its importance.

Thanks, Grandpa. 

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