The Calgary Marketer

Updates, commentary & more about marketing from Art Graddon

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Why Lester Wunderman was a giant

This past January, the legendary Lester Wunderman passed away at incredible ripe age of 98.


If you don’t know who Lester Wunderman was, well, suffice to say he was a giant who had a profound affect upon the world of marketing. You see, it was Wunderman who in 1967 coined the term “Direct Marketing”. In so doing, and through his visionary leadership, what had previously been known as direct mail marketing matured into a leading marketing discipline and changed the way we look at marketing today.


I worked for the Canadian branch (in Montreal at the time) of his namesake agency. It was the largest direct marketing advertising agency in the world. It was there that I learned the strategies and principles that I still apply today in everything I do for my clients, whether it is in the realm of direct marketing or in other media channels.


What was different about Wunderman as compared to some of my other marketing heroes like David Ogilvy and Bill Bernbach is that his ideas extended way past brand positioning and creative campaigns to the creation of business and marketing strategies for his clients.


For example, it was Wunderman who developed the idea of a club and how to market it for people like Book-of-the-Month Club, Columbia Records, and others. He later adapted the thinking to coffee and created the world’s first coffee continuity program for General Foods called Gevalia.


Wunderman was a big thinker. He saw that the work he and his clients were doing had bigger implications that just the immediate sales they were generating. He knew they were building customer relationships. And from this thought he developed the concept of Relationship Marketing, now a commonly used term.


For Ford, he created a concept called “Curriculum Marketing”, a series of educational mailings that progressively moved a car prospect toward purchase. We now call this the marketing or purchase decision funnel and refer to the successive communications involved as “content marketing”.


It was Wunderman’s thinking and work that bridged the divide between building a Brand and building market responsiveness and sales. He saw them not as separate processes with separate goals, but properly done, one seamless process where each were critical.


Here is one of my favourite pieces of wisdom from Lester Wunderman titled “19 Things Successful Direct Marketers Know”. It can be found in his fantastic book about his life and career, “Being Direct: Making Advertising Pay”.