Iconic Ads: American Express – Don’t Leave Home Without Them

Amex wanted a synergy tag line which would work across the business lines. David Ogilvy is credited of thinking of this one

Howard Clark was the first president of American Express to place a high value on advertising. American Express’s yearly advertising budget was barely $1 million before he assumed office in 1960.

Clark raised it every year following that, and in 1962, he replaced the advertising firm, Benton & Bowles, with Ogilvy & Mather. With the slogan “The Company for People Who Travel,” the new firm created American Express’ first contemporary marketing campaign. This tag line advertised the company’s travel and card goods in one campaign, emphasizing the company’s one-stop travel expertise.

Howard Clark was accused of breaking regulations and laws in order to show growth. Despite the issue, there was genuine growth, which was aided by very prominent advertising. The campaign was first released under Clark’s reign.

In the late 60s/ early 70s Amex was unhappy with Ogilvy. VP George Waters went to James Robinson of TRS and suggested that the account be put up for a pitch. But Robinson ted to give Ogilvy another opportunity.

He and Waters called the Ogilvy chairman Andrew Kershaw and demanded a new campaign. What they wanted was a ‘synergy tagline’.

Waters considered the taglines “the company for individuals who travel” effectively integrated the marketing efforts of travel, traveller’s cheques, and the card in Ogilvy’s debut campaign for Amex. When Kershaw proposed that Amex establish its own line, Waters said, “You will either come up with a line or you will have no account.”

New Lines and Campaign

When faced with the prospect of losing an account, David Ogilvy is credited with coining the phrase “Don’t leave home without them” for traveller’s cheques, “Don’t leave home without us’ for travel services and so on.

As a part of using this line, posters were created. The poster appeared to be harmless. They did not have many words and were not particularly creative, but they got the idea across.

It was extended to television. The face was recognizable – Karl Malden, an everyman actor who seemed to have a supporting role in every major American film of the 1950s and 1960s; here, he’s in a TV role as a tough cop, Lt Mike Stone, from the 1970s crime thriller The Streets of San Francisco. You didn’t carry cash when Mike Stone stated, “Don’t carry cash.” The slogan was spoken by actor Karl Malden in ads for Travelers Cheques, which ran for 21 years.

The campaign’s focus later changed to the Amex charge card, prompting Malden to tell viewers, “Don’t leave home without it.” Later on, Malden was replaced by Ella Fitzgerald, Peter Ustinov, and Roger Daltrey, all of whom were well-known but not immediately recognized. All a part of the “Do you Know Me?” campaign.

The famous ‘Don’t Leave Home Without Them’ tagline became synonymous with American Express traveller’s cheques from the mid-seventies through to the late 90s – making it one of the most successful campaigns of all time.

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