Benton & Bowles


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Benton & Bowles merged with D'Arcy MacManus Masius in 1985 in what was then the ad industry's biggest ever corporate merger. It was eclipsed only a year later by Saatchi & Saatchi's purchase of Bates and then the creation of Omnicom. The new company took the name D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, abbreviated to DMB&B, and later to just D'Arcy. The agency was eventually absorbed into Publicis, Leo Burnett and other agencies in 2002.

Benton & Bowles was first established in New York at the close of the 1920s. College friends William Benton and Chester Bowles had fallen into advertising by chance. Fresh from Yale, Benton secured a job at the George Batten Agency in the mid-1920s, and hired Bowles as his assistant. Subsequently Benton was fired and went to study under Albert Lasker at Lord & Thomas. (According to legend, Benton was sacked for the impudence of suggesting that Batten should merge with another agency in the same building. Impudent it may have been, but that merger took place anyway a year later, creating BBDO). Benton and Bowles set up their own business in 1929. Intrigued by the opportunities offered by radio, they set out to specialise in this new medium and were able to secure the business of two or three brands owned by General Foods. By the early 1930s, the business was modestly successful, but it underwent a complete transformation in 1932 as a result of the arrival of Atherton Hobler as the third partner and company president. 

Hobler had already made a name for himself at another agency, Erwin Wasey, where he had handled several of General Foods' larger brands. He brought these with him to his new home, increasing the agency's billings sixfold to more than $6m. In 1935, Benton & Bowles' resources were enhanced further by the recruitment of another executive from Batten, Ted Bates (who was subsequently to experience considerable success with his own agency). Benton & Bowles became one of the pioneers in radio during the 1930s, producing several of the first nationally broadcast shows. By 1936, the agency was responsible for three of the four most popular programmes on air: The Maxwell House Show Boat, Town Hall Tonight with Fred Allen (initially sponsored by Bristol-Myers, latterly by Colgate) and the Palmolive Hour. Benton & Bowles joined the Procter & Gamble roster in 1941 when it secured the Ivory Snow account, and later added Tide and Crest.

Although their names remained above the door, Benton & Bowles' two founders left the business not long after Hobler's arrival. William Benton departed in 1936, becoming the publisher of the Encyclopedia Britannica from 1943 until his death in 1973. He launched the Voice of America radio broadcast in 1945, and was later a US senator and a champion of free speech and civil liberties. Chester Bowles sold his shares in the agency in 1942 and moved into public affairs. He served as an administrator under several US Presidents, as well as governor of Connecticut, and later became ambassador to India. In later life, both men tended to distance themselves from their early days in advertising. Ted Bates left Benton & Bowles in 1940 to form the Ted Bates agency. He took with him copywriter extraordinaire Rosser Reeves as well as several accounts.

From the late 1940s, Benton & Bowles was to become an equally significant force in the new medium of television, especially on behalf of Procter & Gamble. It coined the "Tide's In, Dirt's Out" catchphrase for P&G's Tide in 1949, Crest's "Look Ma, no cavities" campaign in 1957, and Charmin's Mr Whipple in 1964. Inspired by the methodical approach adopted by P&G in its marketing, Atherton Hobler developed the doctrine of a so-called Triangle of Marketing Success, which detailed three attributes necessary for the acceptance of any product by consumers, and by which all the agency's clients were measured. First, the product has to make a contribution to consumers. Secondly, it must be of good value. Third, any promotion of that product must be truthful, informative and rewarding in order to gain the attention of consumers. 

The agency began to spread its wings during the 1960s, establishing an office in London. It was here that Charles Saatchi first teamed up with creative director Ross Cramer, before jumping ship to CDP. Benton & Bowles also built up a small portfolio of marketing services subsidiaries, including the healthcare agency Medicus Intercon and PR firm Manning Selvage & Lee. The combination in 1985 with D'Arcy MacManus Masius was conceived as a merger of equals, with the stock of the enlarged business being split evenly between D'Arcy's and Benton & Bowles's shareholders. B&B's chief executive John Bowen was appointed as group chairman & CEO of the enlarged business. Now see D'Arcy MacManus Masius.

Last full revision 22nd December 2013


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