Caroline R. Jones: Trailblazing adwoman

By Jordan Grant
Portrait of Caroline Jones at the start of her career as an advertising executive

A fedora, Lucky Strike cigarettes, and a set of cocktail-ready tumblers: all the hallmarks of a 1960s ad agency were on display Thursday morning, March 26, 2015, when the museum collected more than fifty iconic objects from the Mad Men television series. More than a few staff members donned their best gray suits for the donation ceremony, which included the show's creator, Matthew Weiner, AMC's president, Charlie Collier, as well as the show's actors Jon Hamm, Christina Hendricks, and John Slattery.

Photograph of Caroline R. Jones
Portrait of Caroline Jones at the start of her career as an advertising executive.
Photograph of donated objects from "Mad Men" TV series.
The museum collected more than fifty objects from the "Mad Men" TV show in March 2015. Click on the photo to visit our Flickr stream to see more photos from the donation ceremony.

In her remarks at the donation ceremony, curator Kathleen Franz reminded attendees that, while the Mad Men objects won't be on public display immediately, visitors will still be able to explore the richness of advertising history at the museum—including some stories that Mad Men overlooked. One of those stories is that of Caroline R. Jones

Photograph of Kathleen Franz
Curator Kathleen Franz at the "Mad Men" donation ceremony.

Born in 1942 in Benton Harbor, Michigan, Jones built a trailblazing career as an advertising executive. In the early 1960s, still fresh out of college, she became the first African American to earn a coveted position as a copywriter at J. Walter Thompson, one of the nation’s leading advertising firms. In 1968, Jones left the firm to join Zebra Associates, one of the nation’s first African American owned advertising agencies. In the decades that followed, Jones helped found a series of new advertising firms, including Mingo-Jones and her own Caroline Jones Advertising. Her client list included dozens of national brands and advocacy organizations, from American Express to the National Urban League.

Cartoon illustration of Caroline Jones
Cartoon illustration of Caroline Jones in her Mingo-Jones office.

Jones spearheaded advertising that changed how Americans thought about some of the world's most popular brands. However, throughout her career, she struggled against the assumption that her ads should only address African American consumers. In many cases, her regional or demographic-specific ad campaigns were so successful that companies used them for national work. For example, while working for the Campbell Soup Company in the mid-1970s, Jones insisted that the company's advertising should focus on peoples' emotions, instead of just spotlighting the products themselves. Fittingly, her firm's ads used African American models to show how the soup fit into the lives of everyday families. The campaign was so popular among Black consumers that Campbell's decided to adapt it for its national campaigns (in the process replacing the Black figures in the ads with white models). Similarly, in 1979, Jones's agency developed the slogan "We Do Chicken Right!" for Kentucky Fried Chicken (now KFC), which wanted to increase its brand's visibility among African Americans in the New York region. The slogan performed so well that, by the 1980s, the fast-food chain was using it in all of its national ad campaigns.

Campbell Soup Company advertisement designed by Caroline Jones.
A Campbell Soup Company advertisement designed by Caroline Jones.

While Jones's life was tragically cut short (she died of breast cancer at the age of 59 in 2001), her story lives on at the museum. A collection of Jones's personal papers and business records is open for researchers at the museum's newly-renovated Archives Center, and visitors to the American Enterprise exhibition, opening July 1, 2015 in the Mars Hall of American Business, will be able to learn more about Jones and watch the television advertisements she created for Goodyear, KFC, and Anheuser-Busch.

Jordan Grant is a New Media Assistant working with the American Enterprise exhibition.
For further reading: Davis, Judy Foster. "Caroline Robinson Jones: Advertising Trailblazer, Entrepreneur and Tragic Heroine." Paper presented at the biennial Conference on Historical Analysis and Research in Marketing (CHARM), Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, May 15 - 18, 2003.3.
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