Our first client was/is a Cadillac dealership. On the wall of one of their conference rooms is a framed document with advertising copy in it. Yep, ad copy. A copywriter’s dream come true — that their words would live on, framed inside conference rooms across the nation. But this is not just any pedestrian copy (I can say that as a copywriter myself). “The Penalty of Leadership” was a legendary Cadillac print ad that ran once in 1915 in the Saturday Evening Post. The words were crafted by Theodore MacManus and they never specifically mention Cadillac.
In 1967 Cadillac revived the campaign by sending scrolls of the copy to customers nationwide, including Elvis Presley. The King so identified with these words, he framed them and hung them up on the walls of Graceland where they still reside today.
Maybe I’m just being sentimental as I’m in the midst of reading The King of Madison Avenue, hearkening back to the long, descriptive, and often poetic ads of David Ogilvy, but copy like this is wonderful. It not only sings but it sells. And not just a car but a lifestyle — an ethos. It paints a picture so clear and vivid in a day where there the only tools for doing so were carefully scribed words on the printed page — long before the colored lights of television and all of the new media that has followed.
Here is the ad, in its entirety.
THE PENALTY OF LEADERSHIP
In every field of human endeavor, he that is first must perpetually live in the white light of publicity. Whether the leadership be vested in a man or in a manufactured product, emulation and envy are ever at work. In art, in literature, in music, in industry, the reward and the punishment are always the same. The reward is widespread recognition; the punishment, fierce denial and detraction. When a man’s work becomes a standard for the whole world, it also becomes a target for the shafts of the envious few. If his work be mediocre, he will be left severely alone – if he achieves a masterpiece, it will set a million tongues a-wagging. Jealousy does not protrude its forked tongue at the artist who produces a commonplace painting. Whatsoever you write, or paint, or play, or sing, or build, no one will strive to surpass or to slander you unless your work be stamped with the seal of genius. Long, long after a great work or a good work has been done, those who are disappointed or envious, continue to cry out that it cannot be done. Spiteful little voices in the domain of art were raised against our own Whistler as a mounteback, long after the big would had acclaimed him its greatest artistic genius. Multitudes flocked to Bayreuth to worship at the musical shrine of Wagner, while the little group of those whom he had dethroned and displaced argued angrily that he was no musician at all. The little world continued to protest that Fulton could never build a steamboat, while the big world flocked to the river banks to see his boat steam by. The leader is assailed because he is a leader, and the effort to equal him is merely added proof of that leadership. Failing to equal or to excel, the follower seeks to depreciate and to destroy – but only confirms once more the superiority of that which he strives to supplant. There is nothing new in this. It is as old as the world and as old as human passions – envy, fear, greed, ambition, and the desire to surpass. And it all avails nothing. If the leader truly leads, he remains – the leader. Master-poet, master-painter, master-workman, each in his turn is assailed, and each holds his laurels through the ages. That which is good or great makes itself known, no matter how loud the clamor of denial. That which deserves to live – lives.