Jane Maas, a Pioneer for Women in Advertising, Dies at 86
Posted November 21, 2018 8:22 p.m. EST
Jane Maas, who, though neither mad nor a man, became a trailblazer in the testosterone-driven advertising industry of the 1960s and ′70s, died Friday in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. She was 86.
The cause was complications of lung cancer, her daughter Jennifer Maas Jones said.
As a senior vice president at Wells Rich Greene, Maas was widely credited with shepherding one of the most successful tourism campaigns ever — “I Love New York” — which the agency devised for the New York Department of Commerce to help resuscitate the city and state in the late 1970s.
She has also been described as the first woman to head a pre-existing major New York City advertising agency, Muller Jordan Weiss.
In an obituary that she had prepared for herself, Maas wrote that she had headed the “I Love New York” campaign, which incorporated the immortal heart-shaped logo designed by Milton Glaser and music and film direction by, among others, Charlie Moss, Stan Dragoti and Steve Karmen.
“Yes, all of these men are the fathers,” she noted in a 2012 memoir, “Mad Women: The Other Side of Life on Madison Avenue in the ‘60s and Beyond.” “But I can look you straight in the eye and tell you that I am its only mother.
“Mary Wells Lawrence was the godmother, of course,” Maas wrote, referring to her agency’s founding president, “but I was the one who hugged it, fed it, and changed its diapers.”
In what started in 1976 as a modest account to advertise upstate New York ski resorts, Maas, a creative director and account executive, became the agency’s liaison with the state. It commissioned the broader tourism campaign to counter bad publicity about crime and decay in New York City, accelerated by a municipal fiscal crisis.
An advertising blitz featuring an original song, coffee mugs, bumper stickers and celebrity-studded television commercials promoted New York’s outdoor recreational resources and its unrivaled constellation of Broadway theaters.
Maas began her Madison Avenue career in 1964 at Ogilvy & Mather, where she rose from junior copywriter to become only its second woman to be promoted to vice president. Even so, she was usually confined to handling household brands — Dove soap, Drano, Johnson Wax, Maxwell House coffee — pitched mainly to women.
“In those days,” she wrote, “female copywriters were kept in a product ghetto, allowed to work only on accounts like food or floor cleaners, considered appropriate to our sex. We weren’t allowed to write ads for banks, or liquor or, God forbid, cars.”
Interviewed by Advertising Age in 2014, Maas recalled creating one commercial in which an actress rhapsodizes about how much her husband enjoyed the coffee she had lovingly brewed for him. “I can’t believe I wrote that drivel,” she said.
She worked at Wells Rich Greene from 1976 to 1981, when she broke ground for women in advertising as the first president of Muller Jordan Weiss, whose clients included Aamco transmissions, Hearst magazines and Stroehmann bakeries. She became president of Earle Palmer Brown in 1987 and was later its chairwoman, until 1992.
Advertising Age, which named Maas one of the “100 Most Influential Women in Advertising,” once referred to her as “the real Peggy Olson, right out of ‘Mad Men,'” evoking the ambitious character played by Elisabeth Moss on the AMC television series.
But Maas, in contrast to those fictional mad men and women, was “relentlessly cheerful,” she wrote in an earlier memoir, “Adventures of an Advertising Woman” (1986).
“I’ve never recovered from being a cheerleader,” she added.
Jane Ann Brown was born on March 14, 1932, in Jersey City to Margaret (Beck) Brown, a homemaker, and Charles Brown, an elementary school principal. She attended Ridgefield Park High School.
After graduating in 1953 from Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, where she majored in English, she attended the University of Dijon in France on a Fulbright Scholarship and then received a master’s degree in English literature from Cornell.
She married Michael Maas, an architect, who died at 70 in 2002, less than a year after the death of his brother, Peter Maas, the best-selling author. In addition to her daughter Jennifer, she is survived by another daughter, Katherine Maas; a sister, Susan Weston; and a granddaughter. She had been living near her daughters in South Carolina since 2015 and died in a senior living facility.
Maas had wanted to be an actress and gravitated to television after winning $150 as a contestant on “Name That Tune,” a quiz show. Hired to interview potential contestants, she went on to write for TV. But with two children to raise, she wrote, she decided to look for a job more “gentlemanly” than the one she had working nights.
At Ogilvy & Mather, Maas and Kenneth Roman, a former chief executive of the agency, wrote the 1976 book “How to Advertise” (with Martin Nisenholtz), which became an industry classic.
In addition to her two memoirs, she also wrote two books with her husband, “Christmas in Wales: A Homecoming” (1994) and “The Christmas Angel” (2013). For all the challenges of the “I Love New York” campaign, it brought Maas clients whose reputations proved nearly as tough to sugarcoat as municipal bankruptcy and urban blight.
It was Hugh L. Carey, New York’s governor at the time, who introduced her to Evangeline Gouletas, a Chicago developer whom Carey, a widower, was planning to marry. He was asked Maas to organize the wedding.
Gouletas had been presented as a widow, but it turned out that she had been married and divorced three times and that she had lied on her marriage license about her first former husband.
“My biggest contribution to the whole wedding, really,” Maas wrote, “was listening patiently to moans.”
Carey also referred the imperious hotelier Leona Helmsley to Maas as a client. Helmsley, a symbol of 1980s greed and arrogance to many, was later convicted of tax evasion and roundly criticized for cutting two of her grandchildren out of her will and leaving their share to her dog.
“Don’t believe everything you’ve read about Leona,” Maas wrote. “She was worse than that.”
As a young woman blazing a trail in a male-dominated field, . Maas had been clear on her priorities: career, husband and children, in that order, she told The New York Times in 2012.
In her second, and saltier, memoir, she described the workplace ethos of her era. “The best way to get promoted from secretary to copywriter was for your boss to make it happen,” Mass wrote. “And the fastest way to make that happen was to make it with your boss.”
An ardent but skeptical feminist, she was no less opinionated in 2016, when, in a letter to The Times, she noted that only 11 percent of advertising agency creative directors were women. That was so, she said, not because of a male plot, but because women “don’t want to be the one where the buck stops, the one who has to work all weekend and fire half the agency when you lose the big account.”
“They would rather be a highly paid second in command,” she wrote, “and have more time with their families.”
She added: “Feminism today has simply run out of steam. The (now defunct) women’s cigarette Virginia Slims had an advertising slogan: ‘You’ve come a long way, baby.’ I have to ask: ‘Baby, have you really come such a long way after all?'”