Buy Used
FREE Shipping on orders over $35.
Used: Good | Details
Sold by hippo_books
Condition: Used: Good
Comment: Item qualifies for FREE shipping and Prime! This item is used.
Have one to sell? Sell on Amazon
Flip to back Flip to front
Listen Playing... Paused   You're listening to a sample of the Audible audio edition.
Learn more
See this image

A Big Life in Advertising Hardcover – May 7, 2002

See all 6 formats and editions Hide other formats and editions
Amazon Price New from Used from
"Please retry"
$5.45 $0.01

Best Books of the Year
Best Books of 2014
Looking for something great to read? Browse our editors' picks for 2014's Best Books of the Year in fiction, nonfiction, mysteries, children's books, and much more.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 307 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (May 7, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375409122
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375409127
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #403,004 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

A colorful mix of historical narrative, revealing personal memoir, and sassy industry tell-all, A Big Life in Advertising offers up Mary Wells Lawrence's bubbling take on life, love, and plugging products. Well, spills it into your lap, actually. Spanning four decades in the world of advertising and the life of one of its star players, A Big Life oozes with juicy details and insider revelations.

After an inspiring stint as one of the infamous Bill Bernbach's protégés, Lawrence really began her career at Jack Tinker & Partners, revolutionizing the images of such brands as Alka-Seltzer and Braniff Airways. But when denied the title of president, Lawrence "let loose the bear," as she puts it, and with the creative team of Stewart Greene and Dick Rich, set up shop as Wells Rich Greene. Over the course of the next quarter century, Lawrence and her cast of characters "made theatre out of the advertising business," giving brands like Benson & Hedges, American Motors, TWA, Midas, and Procter & Gamble's Gleem toothpaste their turn on the stage of stardom. While Lawrence's story is less about her agency's creative work and more about her impressions of and interactions with virtually everyone who was anyone in the advertising world of the '70s and '80s, she does include glimpses into her own childhood, life as a mother, and battles with cancer, adding a touch of reality to an otherwise glittering world. Some readers may feel Lawrence's opinion of her own beauty and charm plays too prominent a role in her reminiscing, but she was, after all, an adventurous queen bee in a glamorous world. Her chatty style of writing, and her ebullient enthusiasm for all she has experienced and accomplished, make this book read more like a novel than a memoir. It's an entertaining, fast-paced tale of a big star's big life. --S. Ketchum

From Publishers Weekly

When an autobiography's first sentence pays tribute to a memory of little black dance dresses that showed off the author's Norwegian legs, you know you're in for something grand. Lawrence doesn't disappoint, with this memoir about her rise in the advertising world of the 1960s, when a Volkswagen ad that cried "Think Small" was considered revolutionary. She writes first about working with the legendary Bill Bernbach at his agency, where she crafted well-regarded, theatrical Betty Crocker ads to sell the first instant casserole mixes, then describes starting her own agency with her mother as receptionist. One of the visionaries of 20th-century advertising, Lawrence was also a woman in a man's business world, and a youngster pitching bold ideas to fusty older corporate types. But her robust approach got noticed, and taglines like "I can't believe I ate the whole thing," "Plop, plop, fizz, fizz: oh, what a relief it is!" and especially "I love New York" still loom large in the public's memory. Her candor in describing her agency's failures and her own problems during the heady, mostly successful run of the company give the book weight and humanity, imparting some cautionary tales for those in the biz. However, it's Lawrence's generally upbeat tone that lingers past the last page. She delivers a beguiling look inside 30 years of the zippy, fast-moving ad culture and does so with the kind of witty, charming self-deprecation often seen in the ads she created. Photos.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

Discover books, learn about writers, read author blogs, and more.

Customer Reviews

If you're in advertising, this is a must read.
Jill Ross
This book does a good job of providing insight into the world of advertising, as well as, providing an interesting personal journey into and out of it.
C. Duesman
It seems not to have had an editor's hand at all.
Dr. Judith Frith

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By frumiousb VINE VOICE on October 22, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was not expecting a lot from this book. It was recommended to me, and I picked it up in a half-hearted way. I thought it was something that I would breeze through and forget about. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised. I found it a book that I both enjoyed reading and would recommend. At least, I would recommend it with some reservations.

The good sides of the book appear in her instructive stories about the advertising business. Lawrence brings the message across very clearly that advertising is relationship driven. A successful agency must focus on relationships both with the client and with the intended audience. Lawrence gives an example of success achieved by taking that focus to its limits.

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect (and one that should appeal to students of business history) is advertising reception at a time that was much less marketing saturated than we are today. She had an opportunity to be a giant with emerging technology and in an emerging field. It makes for terrific reading.

My reservation about the book has to do with the writing quality. Her tone is extremely chatty. At the beginning, I tripped over the awkwardness of the prose. The organisational principle of the book was vague. Timeframes shift without warning or explanation. Finally, while the mix of personal and business anecdotes was entertaining, there were times that it moved far too swiftly from one to another. Still, she gets points for writing this book on her own and not with a ghost writer. I have the feeling that the reader was better off with its flaws than with a more inauthentic voice.

I am not in the advertising field, and I really enjoyed the book. People interested in one of the following areas should find something here: media, advertising, entrepeneurship, women in industry, business history, or pop culture. It also has a great can-do view of the world, inspiring to anyone who needs a push towards success.
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By middlemoo on May 22, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is a worthwhile book for anyone interested in business in general, and advertising specifically. Mary Wells Lawrence relates the "facts" of her professional life story well, and even delves a little bit into her personal life. The keys/reminders of how the best business relationships are forged are peppered among tales of how she WON the business, almost LOST clients and then miraculously redeemed the situation, and this adds drama and sometimes makes for compelling reading. She never goes beneath the surface, however, and ultimately this wasn't as satisfying a read as I'd hoped for. She might have revealed some of her worst FLUBS, as well - disasters tend to be even more revealing than successes, and we certainly learn more from failure! She also rarely tells her own emotional "take" on the events of her life - After reading this, I have no doubt that she's had A BIG LIFE - but she's holding back so much, the reader is never "clued in" as to what REALLY matters in this BIG LIFE of hers!?
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 26, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Narcissism never had it so good. The personal pronoun is overdone even though this is an autobiography. This book lacks context in almost every instance. Years from now, many readers will remember that Mary Wells and Harding Lawrence had a grand time living on the French Riviera and the Caribbean. They won't have more than a clue how the couple worked together on Braniff (which went bankrupt), or how Mary came to claim and reclaim the Continental Airlines account (bankrupt a couple of times) or felt about a client with little chances for long-term success, American Motors (bought-out before it could go bankrupt). (See the pattern here?) The writing is sometimes a twisted jumble -- one can almost envision the author speaking into a tape recorder as she "wrote" this book. If you're inclined to get this volume, a used paperback will suffice.
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Judith Frith on September 25, 2007
Format: Paperback
I love 1960s and 1970s advertising, so I enjoyed Mary Wells Lawrence's account of some of the best TV ads were created. YouTube proved great way to see some of the classics I had missed or wanted to see again.

Nevertheless, this book is so messy it's hard to believe it came from a major publisher. It seems not to have had an editor's hand at all. Wells starts the book with her first major job in advertising, which is fine, but then suddenly jumps back to her childhood on page 166. We then get her early life until page 193, when we leap back into the advertising world we left on page 165. What?

And, as another reviewer mentioned, the book is an absolute torrent of names: at some points, it feels like Wells has dumped the Manhattan phone book into her text. Most of these people you never get to know and they are never referred to again. Others just disappear: Wells' famous agency is called Wells Rich Greene, but I'm unable to find any mention of Rich or Greene after page 124 (the book is 300 pages long) and I'm not sure what happened to either one of them. Did they die? quit? change their names? In fact, after slogging through all those other people I met just once in this book, I had to check the index to remind myself what Rich and Greene's first names were. (Dick and Stew, for the record.)

Finally, one of the other reviewers mentioned Gloria Steinem's assertion that Wells "tommed her way to the top." You could argue about that, since Wells seems to have done excellent work in a male-dominated profession. But some of Wells' work featuring women stinks. She still thinks the "Braniff Strip" commercial, in which flight attendants were shown to take off various items of clothing as they served you drinks, was a jewel of an idea.
Read more ›
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again

Most Recent Customer Reviews

What Other Items Do Customers Buy After Viewing This Item?