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


We're living in the Age of Persuasion. Leaders and organizations of all kinds--public and private, large and small--fulfill their missions only by competing in the marketplace of images and messages. To win in that marketplace, they need advertising. This has been true since the advent of mass media, from mass-circulation magazines and radio through the age of television and the Internet.

Yet even as they use advertising to capture consumers' imaginations and build their ...

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

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We're living in the Age of Persuasion. Leaders and organizations of all kinds--public and private, large and small--fulfill their missions only by competing in the marketplace of images and messages. To win in that marketplace, they need advertising. This has been true since the advent of mass media, from mass-circulation magazines and radio through the age of television and the Internet.

Yet even as they use advertising to capture consumers' imaginations and build their brands, few people know of the ingenious and tormented man who built the modern advertising industry and shaped a new consumer sensibility as the twentieth century unfolded: Albert D. Lasker.

Drawing on a recently uncovered trove of Lasker's papers, Jeffrey Cruikshank and Arthur Schultz have written a fascinating biography of one of the past century's most influential, intriguing, troubled, and instructive figures. Lasker's creative and powerful use of "reason-why" advertising to inject ideas and arguments into ad campaigns had a profound impact on modern advertising, foreshadowing the consumer-centered "unique selling proposition" approach that dominates the industry today. His tactics helped launch or revitalize companies and brands that remain household names--including Palmolive, Goodyear, and Quaker Oats.

As Lasker rose in prominence, he went beyond consumer products to apply his brilliance to presidential politics, government service, and professional sports, changing the game wherever he went, and building a vast fortune along the way. But his intensity had a price--he was felled by mental breakdowns throughout his life. This book also tells the story of how he fought back with determination and with support from family and friends in an age when lack of effective treatment doomed most mentally ill people.

The Man Who Sold America is a riveting account of a man larger than life, who shaped not only an industry but also a century.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
When Albert Lasker dove head first into the ad game in 1898, it was a field of circus buskers and snake oil salesmen. A consummate perfectionist, Lasker changed the game and established dozens of new concepts, including copywriting, keyed ads, market research, soap operas, boxtop premiums, establishing a "reason why" the consumer should buy, and "truth in advertising" (in order to sell a product as the "best," it truly has to be the best). Much like Mad Men's Donald Draper, Lasker was a genius at selling products, and Cruikshank and Schultz present him, warts and all, but don't limit their focus to Lasker's time in the game. Advertising was but the first of his many conquests. He used the skills he honed at Lord & Thomas in politics, shipping, baseball, social services, and even art collecting. Despite its title, The Man Who Sold America isn't about advertising; it's about how Albert Lasker created and applied industry methods to all facets of society, revealing the industry's amazingly insidious reach into the every day. (Aug.)
From the Publisher

“a must-read for anyone in advertising” - Advertising Age

“excellent biography” - Advertising Age

“rich and compelling” Seattle Post-Intelligencer

“The Man Who Sold America pulls back the curtain and shows us a remarkable life spent shaping much of the world we know today.” - The Wall Street Journal, July 30, 2010

"Writer Cruikshank…and former advertising agency head Schultz help ensure, through copious research and easy-to-read prose, that Lasker will remain a critical linchpin in the U.S. that advertising helped build." - Booklist, August 16, 2010

“The Man Who Sold America is an intimate and unforgettable portrait of one of the most colorful, influential, and enigmatic Americans of the last hundred years: a human dynamo who left signature marks on the worlds of advertising, political campaigning, professional sports, and philanthropy. This book is indispensable to understanding how the world we live in came to be.” - Thomas K. McCraw, Pulitzer Prize–winning historian and author, Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction

“Cruikshank and Schultz provide vivid details of Albert Lasker’s revolutionary advertising and public relations career, launching and revitalizing beloved American brands. The Man Who Sold America tells a fascinating story, and reveals valuable lessons and insights for anyone interested in communications and the media.” - Carol Cone, Founder, Cone Inc., and Managing Director, Edelman

“How did one man boost the success of orange juice, toothpaste, Bob Hope, the American Cancer Society, Warren G. Harding, Kotex, Kleenex, and Planned Parenthood? How did he do it in the face of anti-Semitism and a lifelong struggle with mental illness? Read this remarkable book about the astounding Albert Lasker and find out." - William H. Draper III, venture capitalist and philanthropist

“A man ‘driven by a thousand devils,’ the hyperactive Albert Lasker achieved both exceptional success and enduring significance—success in redefining the field of advertising and significance in his innovative and leveraged philanthropy. This engaging book brilliantly captures his dramatic story in a manner that simultaneously entertains and educates.” - Thomas J. Tierney, Chairman, The Bridgespan Group

“Imagine a man who combines the advertising gifts of a David Ogilvy, the political instincts of a Rahm Emanuel, and the lifestyle of a Jay Gatsby. Albert Lasker was just such a figure, though you’ve probably never heard of him. Cruikshank and Schultz bring to life this unduly neglected character and show how he helped shape the media-besotted world we live in today.” - Walter Kiechel, author, The Lords of Strategy: The Secret Intellectual History of the New Corporate World

“A brilliant businessman and brand builder, political gadfly, art enthusiast, Chicago Cubs co-owner, generous philanthropist, and friend and confidante to some of the early twentieth century’s sharpest and most creative minds, Albert Lasker was a charismatic, complex, sometimes tortured soul. Cruikshank and Schultz have skillfully chronicled his life with color and energy. A fascinating read.” - Howard Draft, executive chairman, Draftfcb

“…goes a long way to reintroducing Lasker as an industry trailblazer.” - HBS Bulletin

“…they have pulled back the drapes to reveal a rich life that profoundly shaped the American way of life in the 20th century.” - HBS Bulletin

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781591393085
  • Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press
  • Publication date: 8/12/2010
  • Pages: 480
  • Sales rank: 681,414
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Jeffrey L. Cruikshank is an author or coauthor of many books, including Shaping the Waves: A History of Entrepreneurship at Harvard Business School. Arthur W. Schultz is a veteran ad agency executive who once headed Foote Cone & Belding, the successor agency to Albert Lasker's Lord & Thomas.
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Read an Excerpt

The Collier’s reporter who interviewed Albert Lasker in Washington in February 1923 was struck by his subject’s rapid-fire delivery and his elusive logic.
Lasker’s brain was a “furious express train,” which seemed to run along six or seven tracks simultaneously. The train raced ahead at a breakneck pace, “with every chance that when it reaches the terminal station it will go straight through the back wall.”

For Lasker—a 43-year-old advertising executive from Chicago who had temporarily transformed himself into a Washington bureaucrat—this was nothing new; he had always lived his complicated life at a breakneck pace. But the second month of 1923 was proving unusually challenging even for the hyperactive Lasker. Now, as the back wall of the terminal station approached, he wondered how he might get off some of the tracks he found himself on.

For example:
He was engaged in a bitter and bruising battle on behalf of the President of the United States, trying to implement a coherent national maritime policy. Two years of hard work were on the line. He was losing.
Meanwhile, his advertising agency, Lord & Thomas—which over the previous quarter-century Lasker had built into one of the largest and most influential agencies in the U.S.—was in financial peril.
At the same time, Lasker was suffering from a nasty case of the flu, which was causing him much discomfort. His only trips outside his Washington townhouse in the first week of February were to the White House, where he spent three successive evenings with President Harding and his wife Florence. The First Couple, too, had been felled by the flu. They seemed to find the presence of a friend and fellow flu sufferer—one who was a little farther down the road to recovery—comforting.

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Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: The Orator and the Entrepreneur
Chapter 2: The Galveston Hothouse
Chapter 3: Success in Chicago
Chapter 4: Salesmanship in Print
Chapter 5: Growing Up, Breaking Down
Chapter 6: The Greatest Copywriter
Chapter 7: Orange Juice and Raisin Bread
Chapter 8: Fighting for Leo Frank
Chapter 9: Into the Tomato Business
Chapter 10: Saving Baseball from Itself
Chapter 11: Venturing into Politics
Chapter 12: Electing a President
Chapter 13: The Damnedest Job in the World
Chapter 14: A Family Interlude
Chapter 15: A Defeat and Two Victories
Chapter 16: Selling the Unmentionable, and More
Chapter 17: Retrenching and Reshaping
Chapter 18: Selling and Unselling California
Chapter 19: The Downward Spiral
Chapter 20: Changing a Life
Chapter 21: Finding Peace
Chapter 22: The Lasker Legacy
A Note on Primary Sources
About the Author

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