by Jack El-Hai, Wonders & Marvels contributor
A few weeks ago, while cleaning my office at my wife’s insistence, I came upon an old collection that my uncle, Ben Sussman, had gathered. Ben, who died in 2003 at the age of 82, was the founder of an advertising agency and a columnist for Motor Trend magazine, recreational vehicle trade magazines, and many other publications. Warm, funny, and a maestro of sly teasing, he was endlessly curious and knowledgeable about the history of advertising. His professional papers are now available for all to see in the archives of Duke University.
Ben had saved a folder full of print advertising ledes, or headlines, that he found especially memorable. He scavenged them from magazines, newspapers, and trade journals, mostly during the 1970s and ‘80s. Many reflect his own distinctive taste and sense of humor, but some are undeniable classics of their kind.
Paging through them carried me back to a time when print advertising was king. A copywriter who could consistently invent clever ad headlines could count on a rewarding career. Today, of course, print advertising is in decline, and the art of lede writing has undergone many changes to adjust for the importance of ads in other media.
What Ben collected amounts to a museum of a lost craft of writing. Perhaps some of you recall the appeal and satisfaction of an advertising headline that demanded attention because of its wit and succinctness. I’ve assembled here a sampling of Ben’s favorites for your enjoyment.
“An Oasis in the Desert of Mediocrity.” — The Union Crackerjack bicycle. [Confederate Veteran, 1895]
“He Stopped a Whiskering Campaign.” — Gillette Blades. [Fortune, 1937]
“What’s the difference between an American bath and a French bath? What’s the difference between an American lover and a French lover?” — Parfums Marcel Rochas. [Vogue, 1971]
“It feels soft. It works hard.” — Ultra Ban deodorant. 
“If Gas Pains Persist, Try Volkswagen.” 
“Dumb Looking Sponge Has Something Inside It That Oozes Out and Washes Your Car.” — Suds-O-Matic sponges 
“If You Steal $300,000 From the Mob, It’s Not Robbery. It’s Suicide.” Across 110th Street (motion picture). 
“If Your Hair Isn’t Beautiful, the Rest Hardly Matters.” — Pantene shampoo. 
“You are what you wheat.” — Kretschmer wheat germ. [Business Week, 1981]
“Our new typewriter system has more memory than what’s their name’s.” — Xerox. [Business Week, 1982]
“Where the Successful Stay Calm, Cool and Connected.” — The IBM Smart Desk personal computer. [Business Week, 1983]
“Not a Crowd in the Sky.” — TWA. [Fortune, 1983]
“Title Wave.” — RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video. [American Film, 1984]
“We’ve Helped Five Million Americans Buy Homes. Yet Some People Think We Sell Candy.” — Fannie Mae. [Business Week, 1984]
“Here Today, Gone to Mali.” — Promoting NBC-TV foreign correspondent Steve Handelsman. [Advertising Age, 1986]
“If you believe business travelers should live a Spartan existence, remember, the Spartans were defeated.” — Hyatt Hotels and Resorts. [Fortune, 1987]
“Try our immortal sole.” — The Manhattan Ocean Club. [Advertising Age, 1987]
“Will your friends be seeing more of you this summer?” — Women Only private health club/spa. [Los Angeles Times, 1987]
“He Sells She Shells and He Shells.” — Advertising a bathroom furnishings designer who carries shell-shaped his-and-hers bathroom sinks. [Architectural Digest, 1989]