Stanley Resor, Advertising’s Educator
Stanley Burnet Resor, who built J. Walter Thompson company into an advertising powerhouse across the world was as little like the stereotyped adman of Madison Avenue as a man could be. James Webb Young the legendary copywriter and adman who worked with him said once that Stanley Resor was never a hail fellow, never appeared at an advertising men’s gathering except to deliver a serious paper, and was never photographed for an advertising journal with a highball in hand.
Stanley Resor approached his profession and his work as an educator. As a consumer educator. He was profoundly influenced by Henry Thomas Buckle’s History of Civilization in England and made it a required reading for every key person who joined J. Walter Thompson staff. In Buckle’s concepts of regularities in the mass behavior of people and the probability of statistically predicting such behavior, Resor thought he saw the basis of science in advertising.
Resor had come to advertising early in the Twentieth Century, when most of it was still mere publicity for a name or trademark. He saw it as education plus persuasion and made many contributions in revolutionizing advertising content. He firmly believed in the importance of advertising as education in a fine society, and in its potential user. His pioneering efforts resulted in a huge success.
It was his advertising that first taught American women to use a vegetable cooking fat; to use a soap for the skin you love to touch; to turn foods previously shown only in packages into appetizing dishes on the table; to wash woolens without shrinkage, and delicate lingerie without damage; to find a fifty-cent jar of face cream the same satisfaction as one in several times more expensive. His advertising taught the American consumers many similar practical means to better living.
How did he achieve what he achieved? He employed the first domestic science woman and set up the first experimental kitchen in any agency. He had on his staff a specially trained reader of medical literature. What is more, under the brilliant leadership of his illustrious wife, Helen Lansdowne Resor he trained able woman writers to talk to women in their own language. Advertising, thus became more informative, helpful and persuasive – and profitable.
Resor had the vision and courage for he foresaw the future of international trade and advertising when America was in its isolationist mood, and made heavy investment in his foreign offices. He had courage to stand up to his principles and integrity. Some products he would not advertise – hard liquors, cures or those for feminine hygiene. He considered his agency the trustee for its clients’ advertising appropriations and thus responsible for their proper expenditure.
Resor began working as a salesman at Proctor & Collin, the in-house advertising agency for Proctor&Gamble company in 1901 with an undergraduate degree in classics from Yale University. He joined J. Walter Thompson Co. along with his brother to open a Cincinnati branch of the agency in 1908.
In 1916, Resor led a group of associates who bought J Walter Thompson Co and became its president, a position he retained for 39 years, after which he became the Chairman of the agency. Under his leadership, JWT became the largest advertising agency in the world, a position the company retained for nearly fifty years. Resor’s influence extended far beyond the boundaries of his own advertising agency to the profession as a whole. His legacy is best captured in his achievements. Consider some of his more important achievements for example:
- Began commissioning research studies as early as 1912, and by the 1920s his agency was publishing a census of retail trade that reportedly was used by more than 2,300 companies. That census heralded the beginning in the field of market research.
- Published extensively on advertising, and his articles reflected his belief that human behavior was governed by laws that advertisers should seek to understand.
- CO-founded the American Association of Advertising Agencies in 1917.
- Drafted Code of Conduct for the American Association of Advertising Agencies in 1918.
- Revived the form of advertising known as testimonial advertising.
- Refused to present speculative creative work when the agency was involved in a new-business presentation as he believed that speculative pitches were highly unethical and would only harm the reputation of the agencies that participate in them.
Resor died in 1962 and was inducted into Advertising Hall of Fame in 1967 posthumously.
Resor’s belief that advertising’s most important role is in consumer education is best captured in anecdote shared by James Webb Young:
When James Webb Young became the chairman of the Advertising Council, early in the development of its program for public sector advertising, Resor told him, “Now you are the head of what is potentially the greatest educational institution in America!”