J. Walter Thompson Co, 420 Lexington Ave, New York, NY 10170
Spring Grove Cemetery Cincinnati, Hamilton County, Ohio, USA
Helen Bayless Lansdowne Resor (February 20, 1886 – January 2, 1964) was an American advertising executive with J. Walter Thompson Co.. A noted copywriter, she was inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame in 1967. She was named #14 on the list of 100 Advertising people of the 20th Century by Advertising Age.
1916 Ladies' Home Journal ad
She is famous for introducing themes of sexual contact in magazine ads, especially "A skin you love to touch" ad. In 1911, the Woodbury Soap Company became the first to use images of sexual contact to sell a product. Her copy promised the soap would increase the beauty of one's skin; it offered a color print and a week's supply of the soap for 10 cents. The slogan became so popular that Woodbury used it until the 1940s. Albert Lasker said the ad's use of sex appeal made it one of three great landmarks in advertising history. It was ranked 31st on Advertising Age's list of the top 100 campaigns of the 20th century.
The J. Walter Thompson Company is remembered best not for the legacies of its namesake, James Walter Thompson, but for the legacies of Stanley Resor and Helen Lansdowne Resor (they married in 1916), who took over the agency in 1916 and subsequently pushed it past all competition. From 1916 to 1918 they were part of a team of three which administered, in Helen's words, "all policies of the J. Walter Thompson agency, the payroll, and practically all personnel." Stanley became the first president of the J. Walter Thompson agency, and although Helen never became vice president and did not even officially become a director for another eight years, she was clearly influential in the firm's policy making and instrumental in its success from the start. Helen Lansdowne started the Women's Editorial Department, and for this she was praised in an article Harriet Abbott wrote for the Ladies' Home Journal in 1920: "She not only put manufacturers' products and her own agency on the map; she made a place in advertising geography for women, a place no advertiser or agency ever before had granted them. She pioneered the way for women in advertising, marking a trail for which successful women today are grateful to her."
Helen Lansdowne Resor, unlike most of her employees, was not college educated. After graduation as valedictorian of her high school class in Kentucky, Lansdowne secured her first job in advertising. She quickly became, as she herself acknowledged, "the first woman to be successful in writing and planning national, as opposed to retail, advertising." Lansdowne first made her mark in the advertising world in 1910, when she worked for her future husband in the Cincinnati office of J. Walter Thompson. She was given responsibility for a new Thompson client, Woodbury 's facial soap, manufactured by the Jergen's company. Lansdowne essentially invented the use of sex appeal in advertising with her advertisement, which she titled "A Skin You Love to Touch." Using muted sexuality and what may now appear to be tame physical contact between a man and a woman, Lansdowne created a sensation, and sales of Woodbury's facial soap increased 1000 percent in eight years. Resor and the women she employed succeeded in addressing female consumers not only as women with money to spend but also as sensuous and sensitive women. What has turned into one of the major controversies in advertising—women as sex objects—was developed by a woman who most likely saw the recognition of wornen's sexuality as a step forward in an advertising world that had primarily portrayed women as asexual wives and mothers.
In January of 1911, Helen Lansdowne moved to Thompson's New York headquarters. In 1916, at age 31, she married Stanley Resor, but her work did not stop at marriage. She continued to direct the Wormen's Editorial Department, where she left her legacies: decades of encouragement and an example of professional accomplishment for other women to follow. The Ladies' Home Journal article mentioned above described Helen Resor's techniques on the job. When she interviewed women for jobs she looked the woman, or "girl," in the eye, hoping to find a flicker of genius. If she caught that, she hired her. After that, she "coaches her and stands back of her and develops her into part of the company's corporate genius." A serious employe, this woman cautioned prospective candidates that the advertising world was not one of glamour and cleverness but of persistent hard work, based on research and statistics and the indepth study of manufacturing and markets. Many of the women had college degrees, according to the article, but this employer did not believe that a college education alone dictated ability.
The job applications reveal a fairly homogeneous group of women seeking employment in the Women's Editorial Department between 1915 and 1930 They ranged in age from 22 to 41 and were well spread out through these years. A slight majority of the women, 17, were in their twenties, 16 were in their thirties, 2 were in their forties, and the ages of 6 are unknown. Thirty of the 41 women hired by Helen Lansdowne Resor were single, 5 were married, 3 were separated from the husbands, and 3 were divorced. They came from many geographic regions, including the South, West, Midwest, and Northeast regions of the United States as well as Colombia and Cuba. Many of their fathers were professionals and numbered among them a judge, three lawyers, two clergymen, four farmers, several businessmen, a plantation owner, and a retail grocer. Only one woman mentioned her mother, who was an author.
The women's group memberships, which included many feminist and suffragist causes, reveal a great deal about their interests and ambitions. They belonged to the YWCA, Suffrage League, Consumers League, National Woman's Party, and League of Women Voters. They also belonged to various college alumni groups, honorary societies, and sororities. Their associations were not unlike chose of Helen Resor, who served as committee chairwoman for the babies ward at New York Postgraduate Hospital, board member of the Museum of Modem Art, president of the Traveler's Aid Society, and supporter of woman suffrage and Planned Parenthood.
A note written by Helen Resor in Frances Maule's personnel file recommended hiring Maule by highlighting her suffrage activities. She noted that Frances Maule's husband, from whom she was separated, was the Swedish scholar and translator Edwin Bjorman. "I think she has not been living with him for some time, though there is, I believe, no scandal—simply temperamental incompatibility," wrote Resor. Maule's application and Helen Resor's letter indicate the type of woman both welcome at and successful in the Women's Editorial Department: independent, resourceful, confident, and often, feminist. Helen Resor most likely not only understood these women but also fit in well with them. Her secretary later remembered the day that Helen Resor organized women at the office to take part in a large suffrage parade in New York City, "Mrs. Resor got us all big campaign hats to wear of various colors—green, purple, white. Mine was white." She also remembered that Augusta Nicoll, rode a whitehorse. When Frances Maule wrote that her goal was to improve the position of women, she had a clear idea of what she meant by that. Both Maule and her sister, novelist and suffrage lecturer Florence Maule Cooley, were members of Heterodoxy Club, "band of willful women" in New York City that met biweekly to discuss questions of personal life and social relationships. The women of Heterodoxy were among the first to use "feminism" in a self conscious and deliberate way.
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