From the Old Spice guy to Dos Equis’ ‘most interesting man in the world’, advertising your brand via a fictional male lead is a popular tactic. But not necessarily a new one.
Aside from being brilliant inspiration – for boys and girls – come the next time you feel like channeling a dapper 1920s style look, these campaign images for New York’s Cluett Peabody & Company are a great example of what a successful clothing campaign looked like in the early part of the 20th century. From 1907 to 1931, the brand ran hundreds of adverts featuring the fictional “Arrow Collar Man” – named not for one single character but a generic term given to the male protagonists of the adverts as illustrated by J. C Leyendecker.
How successful was Arrow Collar Man as a campaign? Very, if you count that – in a time long before the advent of the Internet meme – Arrow Collar man became an icon in his own right. It’s reported that by the 1920s he received more fan mail than Rudolph Valentino or any other male film star of the day, with approximately seventeen thousand love letters arriving a week to the brand’s corporate headquarters.
Perhaps his generic nature was his biggest strength: an illustrated man is without the flaws of a real one, after all. Viewers could imagine him as whatever they wanted him to be. If that sense of cool mystery sounds a little like that other iconic fictional male of the ’20s, Jay Gatsby, you’re probably drawing valid connections. Numerous musings about contemporary culture in Fitzgerald’s work draw reference to The Arrow Collar man.
Images via Retronaut.