At age seventeen, Arnold Varga (1926–1994) began his career in his hometown of McKeesport, Pennsylvania, when he walked into Cox’s, a woman’s clothing store, and offered to do some drawings for them. His first ad was for fur coats and sparked a sellout.
A staff job followed for Joseph Horne Company in Pittsburgh where his ads and illustrations brought them national recognition. As advertising emerged as his tour de force, Varga became an agency art director at Cleveland’s Sterling, Linder, Davis and Pittsburgh’s Ketchum, MacLeod & Grove, and later executive art director at BBDO. He found that no matter who you are working for, retail or corporate, “There is one factor that exists, and that is that creative people must always be critical of themselves, before being critical of the client.”
He didn’t do things the so-called normal way—his ads were based on hunches. A writer who worked frequently with Arnold was Alan Van dine. “For a writer, to work with Arnold Varga was to turn the corpus of marketing on its head. You didn’t begin with objectives. It was all spectacularly backwards. It started somewhere in the viscera, but so does that emotional pursuit called ‘shopping.’ That, aside from audacity and pure genius, is what Arnold knew better in 1967 than modern marketing has yet to fathom.”
Varga’s unorthodox ads did not always meet with instant success. “At first,” he said, “The store buyers hated the ads because they lacked merchandise and the usual hard sell approach. One day I was in the elevator with a buyer who turned to me and said, ‘Fireboxes, whiskbrooms, bleah! What’s this place coming to?’”
In the world of communications there are men who handle media as if they owned it. In the world of newspaper advertising, that man was Arnold Varga. He brought to the bland pages of department store advertising a style and color that was simply unique. ca