Don’t leave home without it

In 1975, a certain copywriter named David Ogilvy developed the Don’t Leave Home Without Them campaign for American Express Traveller’s Cheques. Ads initially starred Karl Malden, who was the face of American Express for 25 years. In the UK the frontman was Alan Whicker.

Karl, being very intense:

After Karl Malden’s departure and as the card was promoted over the traveller’s cheques, American Express continued to use celebrities, such as Mel Blanc and ballerina Cynthia Gregory. A typical ad for the American Express Card began with a celebrity asking viewers: “Do you know me?” Although he/she gave hints to his/her identity, the star’s name was never mentioned except as imprinted on an American Express Card, after which announcer Peter Thomas told viewers how to apply for it. Each ad concluded with the celebrity reminding viewers: “Don’t Leave Home Without It.” The “Don’t Leave Home Without It” slogan was revived in 2005 for the prepaid American Express Travelers Cheque Card. (via wikipedia)

Roger Daltrey:

Jim Henson:
Seve Ballesteros
When David Ogilvy was asked about his work habits as a copywriter, he replied with this letter:
April 19, 1955
 
Dear Mr. Calt:On March 22nd you wrote to me asking for some notes on my work habits as a copywriter. They are appalling, as you are about to see:

1. I have never written an advertisement in the office. Too many interruptions. I do all my writing at home.

2. I spend a long time studying the precedents. I look at every advertisement which has appeared for competing products during the past 20 years.

3. I am helpless without research material—and the more “motivational” the better.

4. I write out a definition of the problem and a statement of the purpose which I wish the campaign to achieve. Then I go no further until the statement and its principles have been accepted by the client.

5. Before actually writing the copy, I write down every concievable fact and selling idea. Then I get them organized and relate them to research and the copy platform.

6. Then I write the headline. As a matter of fact I try to write 20 alternative headlines for every advertisement. And I never select the final headline without asking the opinion of other people in the agency. In some cases I seek the help of the research department and get them to do a split-run on a battery of headlines.

7. At this point I can no longer postpone the actual copy. So I go home and sit down at my desk. I find myself entirely without ideas. I get bad-tempered. If my wife comes into the room I growl at her. (This has gotten worse since I gave up smoking.)

8. I am terrified of producing a lousy advertisement. This causes me to throw away the first 20 attempts.

9. If all else fails, I drink half a bottle of rum and play a Handel oratorio on the gramophone. This generally produces an uncontrollable gush of copy.

10. The next morning I get up early and edit the gush.

11. Then I take the train to New York and my secretary types a draft. (I cannot type, which is very inconvenient.)

12. I am a lousy copywriter, but I am a good editor. So I go to work editing my own draft. After four or five editings, it looks good enough to show to the client. If the client changes the copy, I get angry—because I took a lot of trouble writing it, and what I wrote I wrote on purpose.

Altogether it is a slow and laborious business. I understand that some copywriters have much greater facility.

Yours sincerely,

D.O.

‘Don’t leave home without it’ has become one of the most memorable lines in advertising history. Few recall that the original was ‘Don’t leave home without them’, and in fact it likely loses all resonance when you say it with the original ending.
Like many great endlines, ‘Don’t leave home without it’ has been used and parodied in popular culture from the day it aired and for decades since:

An episode of Disney series The Proud Family was named after the line.

(via wikipedia):
  • In The Sopranos episode, “Mr. & Mrs. John Sacrimoni Request…”, Christopher Moltisanti concludes his sale of stolen credit card numbers to Middle Easterners with a quip: “Don’t leave home without them!” This statement confuses the Middle Easterners, who are unfamiliar with the ad campaign.
  • The long-running PBS children’s TV series Sesame Street parodied the “Do you know me?/Don’t Leave Home Without It” ad campaigns with three skits involving a Muppet character holding a Grown-Up Friend’s hand while crossing the street. One skit featured Forgetful Jones (performed by Richard Hunt) with Olivia (Alaina Reed Hall) as his Grown-Up Friend, a second featured Bert and Ernie (Frank Oz and Jim Henson respectively) with Gordon (Roscoe Orman) as their Grown-Up Friend, and the third featured Big Bird (Caroll Spinney) with Bob (Bob McGrath) as his Grown-Up Friend. All three skits ended with their names being embossed at the bottom of a card looking like an American Express card that had a big human left hand in the middle with the words “Grown-Up Friend’s Hand” above it, and a voiceover saying “A Grown-Up Friend’s Hand. Don’t cross the street without it.”
  • Another parody was seen on an episode of the CBS game show Press Your Luck, when the animated “Whammy Character” would give the “Do you know me?” tag line, followed by the display of an AmEx card-parody, which then had “WHAMMY” typed in on the bottom line of the card.
  • In the pilot episode of “Masquerade (TV series)”, a KGB general says the line “I suppose you never leave home without it”, to a KGB agent when he sees that agent’s ‘National American’ card.
  • In a campaign speech during the 1984 Election, President Ronald Reagan said “If the big spenders get their way, they’ll charge everything to your taxpayer’s express card, and believe me, they never leave home without it.”
  • In the final episode of The Dukes of Hazzard, Boss Hogg is shot at by a former associate, the bullet striking a wallet he had kept in his pocket and being lodged in several credit cards. Narrator Waylon Jennings takes note of the situation and says, “I bet he’s glad he didn’t leave home without them” (referring to his credit cards).
  • On the 1997 film Hercules during the song “Zero to Hero”, the credit card is “Grecian Express”.
  • The 1989 movie Major League also parodied the campaign. In one scene, in which every player is dressed in a tuxedo, the Cleveland Indians tell viewers of the film why every player carries the American Express Card with much of the explanation done one line at a time by players Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger), Eddie Harris (Chelcie Ross), Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn (Charlie Sheen), Pedro Cerrano (Dennis Haysbert), and Roger Dorn (Corbin Bernsen), and Manager Lou Brown (James Gammon). The scene ends with Willie “Mays” Hayes (a tuxedo-clad Wesley Snipes) sliding into home plate in front of the rest of the team, holding up his card and saying to the viewers: “The American Express Card. Don’t steal home without it.”
  • In Batman & Robin Batman pulls out a Bat-Credit card and says he never leaves the cave without it.
  • Yakov Smirnoff’s book cover, America on Six Rubles a Day depicts a Russian card with the slogan “Don’t leave home.”

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