We were a phenomenon at the time,” Jack Roberts said. “One reason was that we were one of the first advertising agencies on the West Coast where one of the principals came from the creative side.” Jack Roberts was a designer, photographer and cartoonist. And Ralph Carson matched his talents with equally strong management, media and marketing skills.
The Carson/Roberts partnership, formed in the late forties, was the start of not only one of the biggest, best and most innovative agencies on the West Coast, but also had its own colorful character and personality. It conducted its own campaigns at its own expense to express the philosophy of Carson and Roberts on subjects of significance to the community—civil rights, Vietnam, the move of the Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles and the Happy Day campaign.
C/R was one of those rare agencies that helped create new companies and new businesses. One of the hallmarks of the agency was they often worked for founders of companies. Their clients were tough people, usually first generation entrepreneurs. The agency turned several companies into household names (Mattel, Baskin-Robbins, Gates Learjet) and made other well-known clients (Rose Marie Reid, Max Factor, Nalley’s) even more well-known.
Ralph and Jack always did business their way, regardless of how unorthodox it may have seemed at the time. They were willing to explore any possible avenue for client growth. The emergence of television with Mattel was significant. In 1956, Carson/Roberts advised Mattel to buy television space. At that time, toy companies advertised only at Christmas. C/R recommended Mattel go 52 weeks a year on the Mickey Mouse Club and the results were so successful that soon all toy companies began advertising year round.
The man responsible for the ubiquitous “Have a Happy Day” was Ralph Carson. This occurred to him during a particularly grouchy breakfast meeting with his kids in 1951. He suggested that they had a daily choice, to have a Happy Day or an Unhappy Day. Later Ralph suggested to Jack, “That’s the way we can answer the phone, ‘Carson/Roberts…have a Happy Day!’ and you could design a C/R Happy Day symbol.” So that’s the way they answered the phone, began their letters and built a Carson/Roberts personality. “However,” Jack said, “If they’re not having a Happy Day by noon…we can’t help them.”
The Happy Day logo came into play when C/R conducted its campaign to encourage the Brooklyn Dodgers to move to Los Angeles. The agency ran ads in all the national league cities, “Good luck team next year in Los Angeles.” Every day it rained in Brooklyn, C/R ran an ad in the New York Times the next day that said “Dear Mr. O’Malley, we had baseball weather in Los Angeles yesterday.”
“Burt Baskin and Irving Robbins came to us for a newspaper ad (which they’d promised their store managers),” Jack said. They said, “We heard about you guys and we saved $500. Would you run an ad in the Los Angeles Times and tell everybody Baskin-Robbins makes good ice cream?” “If you’re telling us you’ve got a budget of $500, and you want a solution, then we’ll take the problem,” Ralph said. “But to run an ad in the LA Times might not be the solution. If you put that rider on it, I don’t think we can help you.”
After some consideration, Baskin and Robbins left the $500 and the rest is history. Every one of the stores was different, and C/R saw the need for each to look like the same type of store. “Don’t advertise. Paint the stores. We suggested store design,” Jack said. “Packages, interiors, signage, all featuring 31 flavors and the chocolate/cherry dot pattern. A child sees balloons and thinks ‘party.’ It was all based on a common graphic identity program.”
Another unprecedented action came in 1960, when Carson/Roberts moved into its own building which covered a full city block and had its own marketing, accounting, research and media departments. “That was a big step because at that time, there wasn’t an agency in town that had its own building,” Jack said. C/R remained there until 1971 when it merged with Ogilvy & Mather. Jack retired from Ogilvy on June 1, 1982 and died January 6, 1989.
Jack Roberts was born in Portland, Oregon, attended the University of Washington and Art Center College. He met his partner, Ralph Carson, while working at Arts & Architecture magazine in 1946. “He ran their advertising department and, after school, I was the art department,” Jack said. “We formed a symbiotic relationship long before we understood the meaning of the term.”
Roberts served as president of the Los Angeles Art Directors Club, was regional chairman of the International Design Conference at Aspen in 1955, a member of the IDCA and vice chairman of the conference 1960–62. At the Art Directors Club of Los Angeles 41st Annual Awards Banquet in November 1987, Roberts was honored with the club’s first lifetime achievement award. At the dinner, Saul Bass talked about Jack’s accomplishments and their 40-year friendship. “Jack proved that Los Angeles could successfully compete with New York. He demonstrated that innovation and brilliance could just as easily move from west to east. The other great regional agencies that started on the West Coast should all light a candle and bless Jack once a day. He and his partners were the trail blazers who made it easier for them to be taken seriously.” ca
Thanks to Mikio Osaki, Kevin Roberts, Byron Ferris, Tony Haller and Graphic Arts News for providing images and background information. —Jean A. Coyne