Orson Welles with Doe-Anderson's creative team in the late 1970s.
Orson Welles with Doe-Anderson’s creative team in the late 1970s.

The Frazier History Museum will showcase the 100-year history of Louisville advertising and marketing firm Doe-Anderson in an upcoming exhibit titled “The Power of Persuasion: 100 Years of Doe-Anderson.”

The exhibit is the result of two years of planning and thought, according to Doe-Anderson CEO Todd Spencer. Initially the firm considered a party to commemorate this milestone, but then decided it wanted to do something that told a larger story. “We have 100 years of history here,” he said, “let’s find a way to share it.”

Spencer contacted the Frazier and learned the museum was interested in launching a new series with a focus on Louisville titled “Hometown History.” “It was a perfect fit,” Spencer said, adding Doe’s exhibit will kick off the new series.

The Doe showcase will run from Aug. 1 through Feb. 14, 2016.

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 3.16.41 PMDoe-Anderson was founded in 1915 by Elmer H. Doe, and is the third-oldest independent advertising agency in the United States. It has 97 employees and works on accounts that have budgets ranging from $500,000 to $30 million.

The exhibit will be highly interactive and allow visitors to experience the ads in their original cultural contexts. For example, one room in the exhibit will look like a 1970s living room, allowing visitors to view ads from that era on a TV from that time. Radio ads from the 1960s can be heard on the radio of an era-appropriate muscle car parked inside the museum.

Spencer said as Doe combed through its extensive archives to find materials for the exhibit, some surprises were unearthed. One was a contract between firm heads Elmer Doe and Warwick Anderson from 1939 or 1940. In it, the two partners agreed to in essence operate two firms under the single Doe-Anderson umbrella. The reason was that Anderson was bringing in far more business than Doe and wanted to ensure he got fairly compensated.

Billy BeerAnother surprise? Spencer had no idea Doe-Anderson handled the 1977 campaign for “Billy Beer,” the semi-ridiculous lager personally endorsed by Billy Carter, the brother of then President Jimmy Carter. Doe not only designed the can, but also did the packaging and TV spots as well. The launch of the product was successful enough that Billy Beer landed on the cover of “Newsweek,” but it folded soon after, because “the beer tasted horrible,” Spencer said.

Doe-Anderson also handled the advertising for hometown companies like Paramount Pickles that featured the comedians Phyllis Diller and Tim Conway. Spencer, who is from Louisville, remembers seeing the Diller ads on TV as a kid. They left an impression. “She scared me to death,” he said, “she was this crazy lady.” He now appreciates the irony in the ads: The point was the pickles were beautiful, not the comedian.

Another highlight of the exhibit is a series of radio spots Orson Welles did for North American Van Lines in the late 1970s. The best-known spots referenced how North American got the contract to move the famed King Tut exhibit around the U.S. The idea being that if North American can be trusted to move this stuff, your stuff should be no problem at all.

Spencer said it was another spot Welles did for North American that really resonated with him. In it, Welles tells the story of a little girl and her piano, and how important it is to her. It sounds simple, but Spencer said he listened to it five times in a row. “Just his voice on the radio spots, it sucked you in,” he said.

The exhibit also will feature 256 customized Maker’s Mark bottles, tying in with Doe handling the advertising account for Maker’s over the past several decades. The bottles all came from Louisville-area Maker’s Mark collector Brian Gelfo, who let the firm borrow his commemorative bottles for the exhibit.

Susan McNeese Lynch, a spokeswoman for the Frazier, said Doe-Anderson’s story was clearly one that needed to be told. “So few companies reach the ripe old age of 100,” she said. “Especially in advertising.”

David Serchuk is a staff writer at Insider Louisville. He is a former editor at Forbes.com, and an ex-reporter at Forbes magazine. He's written for NPR, CNBC.com, New York, Pittsburgh, Louisville and other publications named for places. He enjoys writing about business, music and other things as well.


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