Back to Basics – Wisdom From Carl Ally

By Matt Van Hoven 

Back in 1977, the Wall Street Journal ran a series called the ‘Creative Leaders Advertising Program’ &#151 interviews with advertising leaders like Carly Ally, Hal Riney Norman Berry, Jay Chiat, Mary Moore, Phyllis Robinson and a ton of others.

For the next few weeks, or until we run out of interviews to cull, we’ll post some of their thoughts on the industry &#151 it’ll be like looking back through time, back to when advertising actually meant something. Or did it?


Notice how simple the ideas are &#151 yet today we have gone much further than Ally’s thoughts. Have we gone too far? Might it be time to retrench into the fundamentals of what made Madison Avenue ‘mad’?

From Ally’s Alley, a chat with Carl Ally &#151 who founded Carl Ally Inc.

On ad effectiveness: “You have to satisfy three groups of people if you want an ad to work. the people who make the ad. The people who pay for the ad. And the people who read the ad. If you aren’t smart enough to satisfy all three groups, the whole thing will be a bummer.”

This point is clearly still true &#151 though, we’re not sure people read ads anymore. And, it’s definitely all about the people who pay for the ad. Dontcha love the “if you’re not smart enough to satisfy all three groups” part?

On what makes a great agency: “Great clients make great agencies, not vice-versa. If you have an agency that produces great work, but the clients won’t publish the work, you’re not going to get anywhere.”

OK, old story. But what makes a great client? Their willingness to take risks or their product’s ability to be advertised in a great way?

On greatness: “Good work begets good results. Results beget bigger budgets. Federal Express (ed’s note: they still called it that back in the day. Loves it!) started with us at $300,000. This year, they’ll spend $3 million. Next year, maybe $5 million. Why? Because they know that the money they put into advertising comes back to them multiplied. That’s what the advertising business is all about.”

That last part is our favorite. Dude doesn’t mince words &#151 it’s all about the Benjam…well today, the Washingtons.

We’ll have another from this series tomorrow &#151 as long as the WSJ doesn’t get miffed with us for sharing these articles. But they’re so effing good, and they make you feel like maybe this whole thing just got a bit off track and if we just look to the past it can get back on the road to the moola.


More: “UK Companies Dump Their Ad Budgets