Sometime during the mid-sixties the American trade paper Printers' Ink asked ad man Howard Luck Gossage for the ad he'd "never forget". He explained that it was a full page he'd seen around 1925, for a haberdashers. It had a massive woodtype headline that read "MONSTER SHIRT SALE", only they'd missed an "R" out.
It wasn't what they were expecting. It was, however, very Gossage.
A few weeks ago I was in Birmingham, having lunch with friend from the internet, copywriter Johnny Cullan. We talked about all sorts of stuff but came around to our shared hero Drayton Bird. A singularly uncool character in the marketing industry he was (is) a man totally focussed on getting results. I've learned a lot from Bird, although he doesn't know it. The line of chat lead Johnny on to introduce me to Howard Luck Gossage and, more specifically, Steve Harrison's book on the man that was published last year.
It's understating it to say that Gossage was an unconventional adman and to get his full measure you'd be much better off getting yourself a copy of Harrison's book than rely on any attempt I might make to talk him up.
I'll say this though: Gossage was also a man that wanted results; direct results. He came to feel that the mechanisms of his business would be much better employed for the greater good and during his life he showed how that should be done. He got some amazing results.
To summarise some of his most significant achievements, Gossage: saved the Grand Canyon from likely destruction; kick-started the Green Movement (i.e. Friends of the Earth); launched Marshall McLuhan onto an international stage; and inspired Tom Wolfe. John Steinbeck worked for him for heaven's sake! He used interactivity and "social media" practically forty years before the internet existed; and he pioneered the cybernetic technique of the information loop decades before the term "iteration" was adopted by the web community.
There I go, talking him up. But really, Gossage was that important.
Steve Harrison's perfectly titled book, Changing the world is the only fit work for a grown man, captures the radical energy of this lesser known pioneer in detail, with the personal memories of those that knew him best. OK, it's not as funny as my opening anecdote might suggest but nevertheless, it is an exciting story; about a man on a personal, world-changing adventure in advertising.