Although he was a contemporary of David Ogilvy, Bill Bernbach and Leo Burnett, he is not nearly as famous, which is tragic.
Howard Luck Gossage was an adman who practiced his craft in San Francisco in the Mad Men era, but he was no Don Draper. In fact, he threw rocks at his industry and said things like, “Advertising is a multi-million dollar sledgehammer driving a 49-cent, economy-size thumbtack” and “To explain responsibility to advertising men is like trying to convince an eight-year-old that sexual intercourse is more fun than a chocolate ice cream cone” and “I long for the day when advertising will become a business for a grown man.”
He became known as “The Socrates of San Francisco”.
Gossage was a philosopher king and patron saint of bay area advertising creatives. Jeff Goodby, Rich Silverstein and Andy Berlin were Gossage disciples who paid tribute to their hero when they launched Goodby, Berlin & Silverstein in 1982 with an ad proclaiming, “Introducing a new ad agency founded by a guy who died 14 years ago.” They had Howard’s picture in their lobby for inspiration. Jeff Goodby said, “The best of Gossage is the best advertising ever done.” No argument here.
Although Gossage’s own agency existed for only twelve years and never grew to more than thirteen people, the work it created stands as inspiration for generations. Housed in an old firehouse in North Beach, the place became a salon for artists, freethinkers and gadflies. John Steinbeck, Ken Kesey, Marshall McLuhan, Stan Freberg, Buckminster Fuller, John Huston, Joan Rivers and Tom Wolfe were some of the regulars stopping by for lunch, cocktails and spirited conversations.
Howard Gossage did not create traditional ad campaigns. Rather, he painstakingly wrote an ad and included a way for readers to react to it. Then, he measured the results, the feedback–– and wrote the next ad.
Welcome to early interactive advertising and social media. Gossage created PR-generating campaigns, and foretold radical ideas like media buying specialists agencies and Pay-per-View. He also ignited cause-related marketing and the green movement.
I won’t geek-out more on Gossage. Suffice to say, he was an ad god and if you’re not familiar with him and his work, do yourself a favor and get to know both. Two essential books to read are “The Book of Gossage” and “Changing the World Is the Only Fit Work for a Grown Man”.
So, what was the pearl of wisdom Gossage said that was the smartest marketing quote ever? This:
“Nobody reads advertising. People read what interests them, and sometimes it’s an ad.”
This quote encompasses everything any marketer needs to know. You must start with an understanding and empathy for your audience, and create something that will be interesting to it (with relevance to your product or service). Sounds simple, doesn’t it?
Then why is so much advertising so bad?