In 1951, C.F. Hathaway was a small shirt company in Waterville, Maine that had never advertised and was not widely known. However, Hathaway’s status in the market was about to change forever. That same year, the obscure shirt company proposed a relatively small campaign in order to compete against those of other well-known shirt companies.
Hathaway’s president, Ellerton Jette, even confessed to advertising research director, David Ogilvy of Ogilvy & Mather, that the account would never be a large one, but promised he would never fire the agency or change a word of copy. The first ad insertion ran in The New Yorker and cost only $3,176. By the end of the week, every Hathaway shirt in stock was sold out and the ad was quickly reprinted alongside articles in Life, Time, and Fortune (Roman, 89).
The ad and its message proved so successful, that C.F. Hathaway was instantly on its way to becoming one of the leading shirt manufacturers in the nation and would use various versions of the ad over the next several decades. The ad has since been recognized by AdAge.com as ranking 22nd on its list of the ‘Top 100 Advertising Campaigns’ of the twentieth century (Ad Age Advertising Century).
The Hathaway Man Creates Story Appeal
In his book, Ogilvy On Advertising, David Ogilvy discusses his keys to producing successful advertising, one of these keys being the pursuit of knowledge. Ogilvy shares with the reader one of his typical, witty responses to a copywriter who confessed that he chose to rely on his intuition when writing ads as opposed to reading books about the field.
Suppose… your gall-bladder has to be removed this evening. Will you choose a surgeon who has read some books on anatomy and knows where to find your gall-bladder, or a surgeon who relies on his intuition? (Ogilvy, 21)
It was Ogilvy’s respect for knowledge about the rudiments of his craft that lead him to the idea of story appeal, which he discovered in a book by another advertiser, Harold Rudolph. Rudolph’s research concluded that photographs with an element of story appeal received greater success in attracting attention (Ogilvy, 22-23).
Although David Ogilvy’s 1951 advertisement, The Man in the Hathaway Shirt, is a combination of text and photographs, it is the brilliant photo of the man in the Hathaway shirt that is credited by Ogilvy and other advertisers as the source of story appeal. I would argue that Ogilvy’s discovery of story appeal not only provided the ad with a surplus of attention, but also a surplus of meaning due to a very specific element of his photo; a black eye patch.
The Hathaway Ad
The photograph features model George Wrangel, a middle-aged mustached man. In reality, there was nothing wrong with his eye, but the addition of the eye-patched caused consumers to wonder how the arrogant aristocrat lost his eye. After selling out every shirt in stock during the ad’s first week of appearing in The New Yorker, it was reprinted in Life, Time, and Fortune.
The ad was imitated around the globe. During this time, one could easily find ads featuring eye patches on dogs, cows, and babies. Men and women even showed up at fancy balls wearing eye patches. The eye patch became so iconic that it found its way into comical gags on TV and on Broadway. A year after the ad’s first appearance, The New Yorker ran a cartoon showing men walking into a store featuring Hathaway shirts, and exiting wearing eye-patches (Roman, 90). It was the eye patch and its ability to create story appeal that helped lift the Hathaway ad to a higher level of discourse. learn more about content marketing at https://cliquedmedia.com
Why the Hathaway Ad Works
By creating an appeal that encouraged the consumer to inquire into the story behind the aristocrat’s mysterious injury, Ogilvy shifted the focus from the Hathaway shirts to the subject of the ad, the man in the Hathaway shirt. In the photograph, the consumer sees a gentleman standing in the midst of a clothing store.
The store itself appears clean and features tall shelves of high-end trousers, suggesting a sophisticated clothing store. The subject is being fitted by one man, while another stands aside, apparently jotting down measurements. The man taking the measurements is off-camera, while the other is seen wearing a suit.
The attention is squarely on the subject, who stands in a very noble pose wearing a clean and well-fitted shirt. The synthesis of these elements created meaning about the subject. Ogilvy’s ad suggested ideas of success, prominence, nobility, pride, and other similar ideas. Learn more about advertising at https://sonuos.digital/
The consumer understood and recognized these elements as well as their combined meaning because of the concept of reference. In addition to the synthesis of these ideas, a surplus of meaning was provided in the unknown story behind the aristocrat’s injury, symbolized by the eye patch and answered only by the consumer’s imagination.
This imaginative investment made by the consumer testifies to the eye-patches resemblance to a literary device known as metaphor.
In his work, The Rule of Metaphor, Paul Ricoeur offers a simple explanation for the discovery made by Harold Rudolph in his research. “People like what strikes them, and are struck by what is out of the way” (Ricouer, Rule of Metaphor, 38).
The metaphorical resemblance of the eye-patch is a literary device that suggests a possible poetic nature about the imagery conjured by the consumer. Spirited by Aristotle’s Poetics, Barbara B. Stern, author of, Beauty and Joy in Metaphorical Advertising: The Poetic Dimension (1990), points to literary critics who suggest that metaphorical transference facilitates understanding in an unconscious process referred to in a variety of ways: a burst of insight, sudden perception, vivid dramatic experience, etc. Stern adds that these concepts descend from Aristotle’s comments:
Humans experience a moment of truth when they perceive that one thing resembles another in a poetically created likeliness. In advertisements, the transference seems designed to encourage readers to infer that the subject possessed the attributes of the object. (Stern, 75)
While I am not suggesting that Ogilvy’s advertisement is poetry, I believe there are certainly poetic qualities in both the photograph and the copy that resulted in the joyous purchasing of Hathaway shirts.
Identity Building Blog Takeaway on the Man In The Hathaway Shirt
- Ogilvy, David. Ogilvy On Advertising. New York: Vintage Books, 1985.
- Ricoeur, Paul. The Rule of Metaphor Multi-disciplinary Studies of the Creation of Meaning in Language (University of Toronto Romance Series). New York: University of Toronto P, 1981.
- Roman, Kenneth. The King of Madison Avenue: David Ogilvy and the Making of Modern Advertising. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2009.
- Stern, Barbara B. “Beauty and Joy in Metaphorical Advertising: The Poetic Dimension.” Advances in Consumer Research 17.1 (Jan. 1990): 71-77. Business Source Elite. EBSCO. [Latimer Family Library at Saint Vincent College, Latrobe, PA. 17 Feb. 2009
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