Designed to Sell

Selections from the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library
June 1, 2005

 


Meek's scrapbook

If advertising is to fulfill its purpose by selling, and selling economically, it must be ... scientifically prepared." So begins Sam Meek's blue book, a scrapbook that documents the development of modern advertising and gives an insider's perspective into the early years of the J. Walter Thompson Company, one of the oldest and largest advertising companies in the world.

J. Walter Thompson, founded in 1864, was on the cutting edge of research and sales during the 1920s. In 1925, a young salesman named Samuel W. Meek joined the company as manager of its London office. In 1927, he put together a scrapbook to illustrate the advertising philosophy of the agency and to give examples of its work. In it, Meek eschews the catchy yet purposeless advertisements so common to the era, arguing instead that the only effective advertisements are those designed on "scientifically exact knowledge": familiarity with the product from both the manufacturer's and the consumer's perspectives; identification of the market for the product; and an understanding of how best to promote the product.

Meek designed his blue book as both a promotional tool for potential clients and a teaching reference for new hires. Similar blue books were produced in J. Walter Thompson's San Francisco office in 1932 and later in the New York office.

The first few pages of Meek's blue book include essays typed and pasted in columns beneath such headings as, "Where should the product be advertised?" and "When should the product be advertised?" The remaining pages of the scrapbook display the company's current promotions, including advertisements for Kraft, Lever Brothers, the Andrew Jergens Company, and the Aunt Jemima Mills Company.

The Sam Meek blue book was donated to Duke in 1987 with the archives of the J. Walter Thompson Company. This extensive collection provided the foundation for the John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising, and Marketing History, one of the specialized research centers within the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library.