The 130-plus year history of
Delony Sledge, one of my favorite characters who ever worked at The
That self-effacing mockery fit the character of the humble advertising director born in Athens, Georgia, in 1900. And the irony is even more pronounced when you realize how much Sledge avoided and shunned the spotlight.
Before the era of the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO), Edward Delony Sledge had been responsible for the advertising of the company for nearly 20 years as vice president of advertising when he retired in 1965. He joined
Well read, a great speaker, classical scholar and huge fan of Shakespeare and drama, Sledge was extremely quick on his feet but was, at the same time, a deep thinker. After graduating college, he served as a ranger at Yosemite National Park, a salesman for the Adair Realty Company, department head at Atlanta Trust Company and finally a salesman at the sign manufacturer, Flexlume Southern, which brought him into contact with
He was promoted to head of the department in just seven years, but his career was interrupted by military service as he served as a Major in the Coast Artillery Corps after previously serving as a private during WWI. He resumed his career at Coke in 1946, was elected a vice president in 1952 and named director of advertising in 1959.
So why was Sledge important for
Observing his work and his writings, I believe it’s because he thought of both the product and the brand in a different way. He served as a bridge from Robert Woodruff and Archie Lee of D’Arcy Advertising to the change to McCann Erickson in 1956, and did so in a manner that led, rather than dictated, the philosophy of
As background, the two men that were most responsible for
While much of the credit for
The Philosophy of
In 1956, Sledge spelled out his thoughts on advertising in a printed piece called The Philosophy of
I think the best way to discover the genius of Delony Sledge is through his own words and stories. I am fortunate to have a file in the Archives devoted to Sledge and his writings. Here are a few quotes and interview excerpts that speak for themselves.
The Power of Presence
In 1959, J. Paul Austin, then president of The
His reply has been passed down for through generations of
Before I get through, you will be thoroughly bored with my "philosophy," but your question cannot be answered with a simple "Yes" or "No." Even so, I will attempt to be succinct. If, in my brevity, I appear a little elementary, I pray your indulgence.
I think it would be perfectly fair to say that any ordinary person is one who does ordinary thing is an ordinary way, and that an extraordinary person is one who does extraordinary things in and extraordinary way. If we, in presenting
There is no royal road to prestige. It is a narrow, hard and costly one and the results are not quickly apparent. A man develops his personality traits only over a lifetime of living. A product develops its personality traits just about as slowly, but, once they are developed, it takes just about as long to undevlop them and the more or less impregnable position is worth the cost of scaling the heights.
I am not being nearly specific enough. I will try again: I would not, by any far stretch of the imagination, do away with the Piccadilly Circus sign. I am sure that it has added to the extraordinary quality of
Needless to say, J. Paul Austin retained the expensive and prestigious rights to the sign at Piccadilly Circus and it is still there today. These are just a few quotes from a three-page letter, but they begin to underscore Sledge’s philosophy which is that a product is more than a product.
The Taste of
When I conducted an oral history interview with Bill Backer, the longtime McCann Coke account lead who wrote “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke,” he described Sledge as one of the best advertisers who ever lived, an opinion shared by Advertising Age and other publications. Backer said Sledge understood the essence of the brand and was willing to act. Bill also recounted the story of how he tried to describe the taste of
‘Like every writer who had ever worked on the
Sledge did indeed exit, but only on his own terms. As noted, for years, he had had a sign behind his desk that read “Quiet, Genius at work.” Over time, he had become playful with the sign and as he left for his World War II service, changed the sign to read “Quiet, Genius at War.” As his 65th birthday approached, Sledge not only avoided all potential retirement festivities, but even kept the fact he was leaving secret to everyone but his supervisors.
On his 65th birthday, McCann Erickson hired a plane to fly around Atlanta wishing Sledge a happy 65th birthday. Shortly thereafter, Sledge worked a full day, making sure he was the last to leave the office took his sign and modified it to say, “Quiet, Genius out to pasture.”
He never set foot in the office again.
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