Every year, Black History Month gives everyone the chance to reflect on and appreciate the accomplishments of Black Americans not only in the struggle for justice, but in their professional lives.
At Frontier Marketing, we find it important to recall all that Black Americans have accomplished in the marketing industry. It may not be as immediately important as civil rights, but as marketers ourselves, we can’t help but take interest! Without further ado, here are some pioneers who brought beautiful color to marketing over the last 50 years.
1. Caroline Jones
Today’s marketing agencies have copywriters of all creeds and colors, but in the ‘60s, Caroline Jones became the first Black woman to be a copywriter at J. Walter Thompson.
After receiving a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, she progressed from a job as a secretary through her tenure as copywriter to her ultimate position as an advertisement executive.
Others had suggested to her that a Black marketer should only attempt to appeal to a Black audience, but her portfolio proved them wrong. While other advertisers focused on the practical benefits of products, she taught the marketing industry how to appeal to emotions, creating the KFC campaign, “We Do Chicken Right,” as well as the L’Oreal slogan, “Because You’re Worth It,” both of which enjoyed incredible popularity in the ’80s.
Exercising brilliant leadership, Jones went on to become a vice president of BBDO before founding two other marketing agencies, Mingo-Jones Advertising and Caroline Jones, Inc, the latter of which she led herself until breast cancer cut her life short when she was 59.
2. Carol Williams
In 1986, this Chicago native founded the Carol H. Williams Advertising Agency. The tagline for which she’s known best is Secret’s “Strong Enough for a Man, but Made for a Woman,” which she wrote at the beginning of the ‘70s. Among the most famous lines in the history of advertising, this tagline is older than Star Wars. She also created the Pillsbury Doughboy’s giggle.
Once the first creative director and vice president at Leo Burnett, Carol Williams is the proudly independent owner of the largest nationwide agency under Black leadership. Her other high-profile clients include the U.S. Army, Wells Fargo and Buick.
Her time at Leo Burnett earned her a place in the American Advertising Federation’s Advertising Hall of Fame in 2017. Three years later, she earned the annual Advertising Age Vanguard Award as well as the New York Women in Communications Award. She continues to effectively represent clients through the agency she established decades ago.
3. Thomas Burrell
Another native of Chicago, Thomas Burrell began his career in a place that welcomes many young people at the beginning of their careers: the mailroom. However, he didn’t take long to develop his skills as a ruthlessly productive copywriter.
Working for each of his clients, Burrell was able to create highly visible content while honing his skills as an advertiser. He eventually earned a spot at Leo Burnett, where he worked until he cofounded Burrell-McBain Advertising in 1971. Years later, he took full ownership of this agency, and it became Burrell Communications.
Under Burrell’s leadership, Burrell Communications landed many major clients, including Coca-Cola and McDonald’s. Though he died in 2022, Burrell will always be a member of the Advertising Hall of Fame, and Burrell Communications continues to thrive today.
4. Georg Olden
Coming of age earlier than these other marketing pioneers, Georg Olden is best known for his award-winning art direction in both television and advertising. His career began in 1945 when CBS hired him to supervise on-air promotions as well as the production of popular television shows like I Love Lucy.
By 1961, he had transitioned from his general position at CBS to advertising more exclusively, expanding his portfolio as art director of both BBDO Television and McCann-Erickson.
Among his most singular achievements is his design of the Clio Award, what’s essentially an “Oscar” for advertising. Incidentally, he won seven of them. Whether he won a Clio Award for the Clio Award is anybody’s guess!
He’s been dead for decades, but he has quite a legacy. He blazed a trail for other Black Americans in the marketing industry, and he was an excellent graphic designer besides, earning international acclaim as one of the best in the U.S.
5. Hans Dorsinville
Hans Dorsinville’s career didn’t really take off until 1993 when he became a junior designer at Donna Karan’s in-house agency. He completed great work there for so long that he eventually worked his way up to the office of executive vice president.
Later, he helped found Laird and Partners, where he also led as executive vice president and creative director. In these senior roles, he completed his most famous #ImNoAngel and #ThisBodyIsMadetoShine campaigns for Lane Bryant, both of which earned many awards.
These campaigns were so impactful because they revealed the limits of the fashion industry. Companies didn’t feel the need to cater to plus-size women. By using these campaigns to target the majority of American women who wear size 14 and up, Dorsinville significantly expanded the demographics these companies could reach.
Like Georg Olden, Dorsinville emphasizes the importance of paving the way for other Black people to participate in the marketing, fashion and luxury industries, especially as an openly gay man who’s had to battle adversity on two fronts.
Celebrating Black History Month
Above all, our constitution values the freedom of us citizens, but this country wouldn’t be free without the determination and effort of Black Americans. Across all industries, a lot of “corporate speak” addresses nebulous concepts like inclusion and diversity, but these Black marketing pioneers knew inclusion best. After all, the biggest part of the job is reaching as many people as possible!