When Wells, Rich, Greene opened its doors in 1966, Mary Wells Lawrence cemented herself as the first woman in history to found, own and run a major agency that was listed and traded on the New York stock exchange. Indeed, in her heyday, Wells Lawrence was seemingly a conveyor belt of historic campaigns.
Alka-Seltzer’s “Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz,” Ford’s “Quality is Job One” and the ubiquitously known “I Love New York” are just a few making up a rather impressive collection of work. And whilst Wells, Rich, Greene has long since folded (it was sold for $160 million in 1990), her legacy lives on.
Indeed, that history, her nuanced career, heavyweight influence and game-changing ideas compelled us to produce an episode about one of the best-known ads of her career: “The End of the Plain Plane”.
Created for at-the-time little-known airline Braniff International, Mary Wells Lawrence positioned herself as the conductor in an audacious attempt to inject a sprinkling of luxury to the somewhat drab, beige aviation industry. It all started at a Chicago airport. Waiting at a check-in line Wells Lawrence began looking around. The more she looked, the more she noticed how sterile everything was.
From the food served on board to the outfits worn by the hostesses, all the way to the tiles on the floor beneath her as she waited – Wells Lawrence felt there was ‘nothing to look at’. As that beige plane took off she got out her notepad and started writing down her thoughts and ideas on how to improve it for a client she had begun working with.
She barely lifted her head for the entirety of that journey. And upon returning back to New York, she called Charlie Moss and Miles Parker into her office to tell them her findings. And so began the end of the plain plane.
Melissa Keiser and David Romanowski in their book The Legacy of Flight wrote: “Its (Braniff International) new corporate owners made it their mission to remake the successful but stodgy airline into a vibrant, top-tier carrier by overhauling everything from where it flew to the food it fed its passengers.” And this extended to the naming of its sandwiches, which were affectionately called BRANwiches.
“To reinvent the company’s image,” Keiser, and Romanowski continues, “Braniff hired a New York ad agency, which tackled the task with relish. They brought on board internationally acclaimed design talents Alexander Girard and Emilio Pucci to reimagine aircraft paint schemes, airport lounges, uniforms, logos. Out went the traditional red, white, and blue aeroplane colours; in came a jelly bean bag’s worth of pastel hues. Pucci introduced space age-inspired stewardess uniforms that the cartoon family members of Hanna-Barbera’s Jetsons would have envied. The outfits included bubble helmets to ensure that a gal’s hairdo wouldn’t get mussed while crossing a windy tarmac.”