Converse's Reviews > The Man Who Sold America: The Amazing (but True!) Story of Albert D. Lasker and the Creation of the Advertising Century

The Man Who Sold America by Jeffrey L. Cruikshank
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Feb 06, 2011

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bookshelves: biography, business, history, media, non-fiction
Read in February, 2011

Who would think there was a time when orange juice and raisins were not mass commodities? Well they weren't, until Albert Lasker figured out how to sell them before the First World War. The Chicago-based advertising agency he eventually owned, Lord and Thomas, was one of the first to move beyond the traditional role of advertising agencies as a sort of broker of newspaper space to firms wishing to advertise to a role in developing the message - copy writing. Lord & Thomas developed such still recognizable trade marks as Sun-Main and Sunkist. Lasker also worked on the 1920 Harding presidential election campaign and the mid-1930s campaign to prevent Upton Sinclair from becoming governor of California, a success that involved a good deal of unscrupulous quoting out of context passages from Sinclair's many novels. Yes, even then it was best not to have a paper trail. More creditably, in the second decade of the twentieth century he orchestrated a press campaign to free, or at least prevent the execution of, Leo Frank, a Jewish factory manager accused of murdering a 13 year old female employee. This attempt failed, Lasker wondering after the fact if a less public effort would have been more successful.

Albert Lasker, a Jew of German descent who grew up in Galveston, Texas, managed to achieve success and wealth despite suffering from what appears to have been a border-line case of bipolar disorder, which frequently left him unable to work. One could not ask for better friend: he was willing to loan you lots of money, no questions asked. Unfortunately several people took advantage of his generosity. Proded by his third wife Mary, he funded several foundations to research medical cures, in particular cancer and mental health issues, and successfully used the skills learned in life time of advertising to get Congress to appropriate more money for research on these matters. The author argues that by allowing economies of scale in product production to develop by creating a mass market, advertising has some beneficial effects in lowering prices.

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