Reluctant advertiser has reached the top of her profession


Laurel Cutler, a philosophy student at Wellesley College, briefly attempted to launch out as a novelist in the 1940s. As she later said, Ms. Cutler was determined never to “prostitute my art for money.”

However, when the need to earn a living arose, she turned to advertising and discovered a talent for writing advertising copy. Later, she flourished in designing advertising campaigns, introducing new products and forecasting consumer trends as a “futurist”.

Searching an Italian-English dictionary, she spotted “prego” and declared it the perfect name for a pasta sauce created by Campbell Soup Co. The president of Chrysler Corp. Lee Iacocca was so impressed with her branding ideas that he appointed her Vice President for Consumers. business at the automaker in 1988, although she did not have a driver’s license. That job at Chrysler briefly made her almost as important as her older brother, Lloyd Cutler, a lawyer who advised the Democratic and Republican administrations.

From the late 1970s, she predicted that bland, mid-priced, mass-market brands were doomed to fail. People would no longer be exclusively high-end, mid-range or low-end in their buying decisions, she said in an interview with the magazine Inc.: “The same people would buy from Neiman-Marcus in the morning and Kmart. afternoon, depending on whether they care about the category or not.

His advice to product developers was succinct: “Enchant a few, attract the most”.

Ms Cutler, who died Nov. 28 at the age of 94, was quoted frequently in the Wall Street Journal, in part because she could be relied on for a strong, concise opinion. In 1990, she told the Journal that auto advertising aimed only at women was “condescending and condescending.”

A car tire maker once showed her a pink tire designed to appeal to women. She informed the customer that women want the safety and reliability of their tires, not bright colors.

Ms. Cutler believed in her hunches and observations and didn’t care about those who relied too much on data to predict trends. “There is no data on the future,” she said.

Laurel Eve Cutler was born on December 8, 1926 in New York City. His father, Aaron Smith Cutler, was a litigator and partner of Fiorello La Guardia (who served as mayor in the 1930s and 1940s). Her mother, Dorothy Glaser Cutler, had a math degree from Hunter College. It was, Ms. Cutler later wrote, a “high performing family.”

As a child, Laurel was a radio performer, singing at children’s times and taking a quiz. At 15, she enrolled at Wellesley, where she was later voted “second most spiritual” in her class. His teachers included Vladimir Nabokov.

Ms. Cutler has written an unreleased novel and, after graduation, briefly worked as a reporter for the Washington Post. “There were no jobs for the philosophy majors,” she found, “and very few for the English majors.” So she took a job at the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency, which put her in charge of writing press materials for radio and television shows.

When a personnel manager asked Ms. Cutler what her life’s ambition was, she replied, “I want to be a good wife and a good mother. Despite this, the director encouraged her to enter a competition for aspiring publicity copywriters. “Because I didn’t stress it too much,” she wrote, “I won the copy contest.”

This put her on the right path to increasing her creative responsibilities in advertising agencies. She worked at McCann-Erickson before being recruited by a smaller rival, Leber Katz Partners, where she became vice president and became known for her forecasting work.

Foote, Cone & Belding Communications Inc. acquired Leber Katz in 1986. She remained employed by Foote Cone’s Leber Katz unit while working for Chrysler from late 1988 to 1990, commuting between the Detroit offices and from New York.

She advised Chrysler to focus on customer satisfaction rather than car dealerships. Lunches in executive dining rooms could be taxing: “They were all car guys,” she wrote, “and I wasn’t at all. “

On several occasions, she served on the board of directors of True North Communications Inc., the parent company of Foote Cone; Fallon McElligott advertising agency; Quaker State Corp., an engine oil manufacturer; and Hannaford Bros. Co., a grocery chain.

Her marriage to Stanley Bernstein, a lawyer, ended in divorce. She then married Theodore Israel, who died in 2015.

Her three children have followed the high level tradition. Amy Bernstein is editor-in-chief of Harvard Business Review. Seth P. Bernstein is Managing Director of AllianceBernstein, a fund manager. Jonathan Bernstein owns Body Back Co., a supplier of massage tools. Ms. Cutler is also survived by six grandchildren and a great granddaughter.

In an interview with Inc. in 1987, she gave this advice to brand managers: “We need to help our customers find something to hold onto, something to take root in. One hundred percent quality, real service, unique design, style – these are the values ​​of the product that deliver the human values ​​that never change: love, pride, joy, family, esteem self.

Write to James R. Hagerty at [email protected]

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