N. W. Ayer & Son

Last updated
N. W. Ayer & Son
Industry Advertising
Successor MacManus Group, Bcom3, Kaplan Thaler Group, Publicis Groupe
FoundedPhiladelphia, Pennsylvania, USA (1869 (1869))
Founder Francis Wayland Ayer
Defunct2002 (2002)

N. W. Ayer & Son was a Philadelphia advertising agency founded in in 1869. It called itself the oldest advertising agency in the United States. Named after Francis Ayer's father N. W. Ayer, it ventured into advertising in 1884. It created a number of memorable slogans for firms such as De Beers, AT&T and the U.S. Army. The company started to decline in the 1960s and, after a series of mergers, [1] was closed in 2002 with its assets sold to the Publicis Groupe.

Philadelphia Largest city in Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, known colloquially as Philly, is the largest city in the U.S. state and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the sixth-most populous U.S. city, with a 2018 census-estimated population of 1,584,138. Since 1854, the city has had the same geographic boundaries as Philadelphia County, the most populous county in Pennsylvania and the urban core of the eighth-largest U.S. metropolitan statistical area, with over 6 million residents as of 2017. Philadelphia is also the economic and cultural anchor of the greater Delaware Valley, located along the lower Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers, within the Northeast megalopolis. The Delaware Valley's population of 7.2 million ranks it as the eighth-largest combined statistical area in the United States.

An advertising agency, often referred to as a creative agency or an ad agency, is a business dedicated to creating, planning, and handling advertising and sometimes other forms of promotion and marketing for its clients. An ad agency is generally independent from the client; it may be an internal department or agency that provides an outside point of view to the effort of selling the client's products or services, or an outside firm. An agency can also handle overall marketing and branding strategies promotions for its clients, which may include sales as well.


Early history

N. W. Ayer & Son was founded in Philadelphia in 1869 [2] by 21-year-old Francis Wayland Ayer, who named the agency after his father, N. W. Ayer. N. W. Ayer & Son started its business by representing religious weekly newspapers. By 1877, N. W. Ayer & Son had become successful enough to obtain what remained of another agency, the Volney Palmer Agency. In 1884, Ayer expanded into the advertising business. Ayer styled itself the oldest advertising firm in the U.S. In 1892, artists and writers began working in groups known as creative teams. [3] Eventually Ayer became responsible for some of the most recognized slogans in advertising history. Gerold M. Lauck was president of Ayer in the 1930s.

Notable slogans

Salt mineral used as ingredient, composed primarily of sodium chloride (NaCl)

Salt is a mineral composed primarily of sodium chloride (NaCl), a chemical compound belonging to the larger class of salts; salt in its natural form as a crystalline mineral is known as rock salt or halite. Salt is present in vast quantities in seawater, where it is the main mineral constituent. The open ocean has about 35 grams (1.2 oz) of solids per liter of sea water, a salinity of 3.5%.

Morton Salt salt producing company from the USA

Morton Salt is an American food company producing salt for food, water conditioning, industrial, agricultural, and road/highway use. Based in Chicago, the business is North America's leading producer and marketer of salt. It is a subsidiary of the German mining company K+S.

Diamond Allotrope of carbon often used as a gemstone and an abrasive

Diamond is a solid form of the element carbon with its atoms arranged in a crystal structure called diamond cubic. At room temperature and pressure, another solid form of carbon known as graphite is the chemically stable form, but diamond almost never converts to it. Diamond has the highest hardness and thermal conductivity of any natural material, properties that are utilized in major industrial applications such as cutting and polishing tools. They are also the reason that diamond anvil cells can subject materials to pressures found deep in the Earth.

De Beers

N. W. Ayer & Son created one of the most recognized slogans of the 20th century, A diamond is forever.

Harry Oppenheimer of De Beers and Ayer president Gerold M. Lauck discussed a marketing campaign in 1938 that would change the falling price of diamonds at the time. The idea of engagement rings decorated with diamonds wasn't very popular in Europe, but interest in diamonds was high in the U.S. Because of this, Oppenheimer decided to promote the idea in the U.S. and told Lauck that, if Ayer's plan was successful, De Beers would have Ayer become the exclusive agency for its American interests. Ayer was motivated to propose that its campaign should move the American spending demographic towards larger and more expensive diamonds.

Harry Oppenheimer South African businessman

Harry Frederick Oppenheimer was a prominent South African businessman, industrialist and philanthropist. Oppenheimer was often ranked as one of the wealthiest people in the world. In 2004 he was voted 60th in the SABC3's Great South Africans.

De Beers Group is an international corporation that specialises in diamond exploration, diamond mining, diamond retail, diamond trading and industrial diamond manufacturing sectors. The company is currently active in open-pit, large-scale alluvial, coastal and deep sea mining. It operates in 35 countries and mining takes place in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Canada. From its inception in 1888 until the start of the 21st century, De Beers controlled 80% to 85% of rough diamond distribution and was accused of being a monopoly. Competition has since dismantled the complete monopoly, though the De Beers Group still sells approximately 35% of the world's rough diamond production through its global sightholder and auction sales businesses.

To successfully achieve its goal, Ayer suggested a reinforcement of the relationship of diamonds with love and romance. This proved successful, as both men and women were caught in the relationship of diamonds being a gift of love. The slogan created for De Beers remained memorable for many years. [9]


In 1906, Ayer was commissioned by the Mutual Life Insurance Company of New York to create an advertising campaign for AT&T Corp. The goal was to encourage the company's popularity with customers. Ayer's successful campaign began with the AT&T ad Twenty million voices, appearing in June, with four more appearing in the following months. Due to the campaign's success, AT&T made Ayer its main advertising agency. [10] This relationship continued until the 1970s and became one of the oldest advertising relationships in America. [11]

Ayer created the slogan Reach out and touch someone, one of AT&T's most successful ads, coined in 1979 by Tony Galli and Stanley Lomas; music was composed by David Lucas. Galli's original phrasing was: To communicate is the beginning of understanding. Reach out and touch someone.


In the late 1960s, Ayer faced challenges from industry changes as smaller agencies began creating ads appealing to targeted groups of consumers. This method focused agency attention on single demographics and could be performed faster by smaller agencies rather than traditional larger agencies. Ayer's standing dropped to tenth place among major agencies in one report. In 1982, it called itself the 14th largest advertising agency in the U.S.

In 1986, Ayer received positive feedback for its U.S. Army recruiting slogan, Be all that you can be. This campaign benefited the army's recruitment goals greatly, and also faced negative responses toward the Vietnam War and low enlistment. In a well-published scandal, charges were filed against the Ayer employee responsible for the Army collaboration, and Ayer was consequently suspended from making bids with any branches of government. [12]

The top of the N. W. Ayer & Son headquarters building at 210 West Washington Square in Philadelphia, built in 1928 and designed by Ralph Bencker in the Art Deco style N.W. Ayer & Son Building 210 West Washington Square top.jpg
The top of the N. W. Ayer & Son headquarters building at 210 West Washington Square in Philadelphia, built in 1928 and designed by Ralph Bencker in the Art Deco style

The Army account loss struck Ayer hard. Ayer strengthened its business by obtaining an account with the Burger King Corporation but lost the account after 18 months. Ayer also desperately tried to keep the AT&T Corp. account, but AT&T parted ways around the same time despite its long history with Ayer. [13]


Due to the Army scandal, Ayer began to struggle, and its importance gradually faded. In 1996 Ayer became part of MacManus Group after merging with D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles. [13] Three years later, Ayer CEO Mary Lou Quinlan stepped down to form a new unit within MacManus and was replaced by Mary Beth Casey. [14] Under MacManus, Ayer was merged with Leo Group and Dentsu to form Bcom3. In 2002, Bcom3 retired the Ayer name and merged it into the thriving Kaplan Thaler Group, where Ayer's stalwart client, Continental Airlines, took flight again. [15]

Bcom3 Chairman and CEO Roger Haupt said, "Retiring the venerable N. W. Ayer name wasn't easy .... It is more about the Kaplan name .... We're in a situation where we have an excellent agency in Kaplan Thaler and at the end of the day that's the right thing to do." "Ayer" remained one of the most recognized names in advertising; other agencies approximately as old as Ayer are overshadowed by Ayer's legacy. [15]

Ayer's assets were bought by the Publicis Groupe in Paris, which closed down the Ayer offices in 2002. [15] In 2005, the N. W. Ayer Philadelphia building was purchased and has been made into The Ayer, a luxury condominium.

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"Good things come to those who wait" is an advertising slogan used by Diageo in television, cinema, and print advertising campaigns promoting Guinness-brand draught stout in the United Kingdom. The slogan formed the cornerstone of advertising agency Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO's successful pitch to secure the Guinness account in 1996. Their proposal was to turn around the negative consumer opinion of the length of time required to correctly pour a pint of Guinness from the tap, usually quoted as 119.5 seconds, as well as to encourage bartenders to take the time to do so. A similar idea had been incorporated into a number of Guinness campaigns in the past, such as the Irish "Guinness Time" television and cinema spots of the early 1990s.

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William Martin Armistead American publicist

William Martin Armistead was a publicist for N. W. Ayer & Son, the oldest advertising agency in the United States. He is credited with inventing the modern style of advertising, proposing small frequent announcements, shying away from the normal practice of publishing weekly or annual announcements in newspapers. He is buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery (lot 22) in Nashville.

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Mary Frances Gerety was the copywriter responsible for the "A Diamond is Forever" slogan created for De Beers Consolidated Mines, Ltd. This famous slogan is still used today in advertising pertaining to diamonds.



  1. other options considered included a partnership with Dentsu. Kim Foltz (September 17, 1990). "How Ayer Views Talks With Dentsu". The New York Times .
  2. 1 2 "Virtual Historic Tour of Historic Philadelphia: Washington Square" on USHistory.org. Retrieved May 27, 2013
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  9. AT&T Corp. (American Telephone & Telegraph). Advertising Age. 2003.
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  11. The Army suspended N. W. Ayer from any bidding. Los Angeles Times. 1986.
  12. 1 2 N. W. Ayer & Son (N.W. Ayer & Partners). Advertising Age. 2003.
  13. Petrecca, Laura (1999). "Quinlan leaves as Ayer CEO to form new MacManus unit". Advertising Age.
  14. 1 2 3 Sanders, Lisa; MacArthur, Kate (2002). Agency Shutdown: Bcom3 pulls plug on Ayer. Advertising Age.