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Howard Gossage

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Howard Gossage portrait, mid 1960s

Howard Luck Gossage (1917–1969) was an American advertising innovator and iconoclast during the "Mad Men" era,[1] frequently referred to as "The Socrates of San Francisco".[2][3]

Out of a converted firehouse nestled in San Francisco's Barbary Shore neighborhood, Gossage created the headquarters of his advertising agency (Freeman, Mander & Gossage). The building would become a salon where many of the era's influential thinkers congregated,[1] from John Steinbeck to Buckminster Fuller, Tom Wolfe to Stan Freberg.[4][5]

A non-conformist who railed against the norms of so-called scientific advertising in his day, Gossage introduced several innovative techniques to the advertising practice that would only become appreciated decades after his death.[1]

The Firehouse

Gossage is credited with discovering the media theorist Marshall McLuhan, introducing him to media and corporate leaders thereby providing McLuhan his entry into mainstream renown.[6] More widely, Gossage was involved in some of the first environmental campaigning in the USA with the Sierra Club, and in the establishment of Friends of the Earth through his friendship with David Brower.[7]

Co-founder at age 36 of the advertising agency Wiener & Gossage, Howard Gossage is listed by Advertising Age at number 23 of its 100 advertising people of the 20th century.[8] AdAge.com calls Gossage a "copywriter who influenced ad-makers worldwide."[9]

Today when advertising is disliked and avoided by most people, Howard showed that commercial communication worked best when it was fun, irreverent and entertaining, using humour, intrigue and sometimes outrage to win his audience's attention, affection - and custom.


He is known for many outspoken comments on the advertising world:

Advertising accomplishes some things, but it doesn't accomplish all that much. I think it's obvious that you can't have more and more of the stuff.[10]

Repetitive advertising is not indoctrination so much as brain washing. There is ample evidence that when this method works well it is like shooting fish in a barrel. This is ok outside of the petty objection that even if people are fish, it isn't sporting to shoot them in a barrel. Except the fish don't hold still they way they used to, they've developed thicker skins, it takes more ammunition all the time.[11]

I quite like outdoor advertising, I just see no right for it to exist.

To explain morality to an adman is like trying to explain to a child that sex is more interesting than ice cream.

If you're stuck with a lemon, make lemonade.

Ad campaigns[edit]

Fina Petrol - Advertisement
Beethoven Sweatshirt advertisement
Sierra Club - Grand Canyon advertisement
Freedom of the Press - Advertisement/Opinion piece
Scientific American - Paper Airplane campaign

Books, radio, podcasts[edit]

Ist die Werbung noch zu retten a compilation of Howard Gossage's articles and speeches edited by Barrows Mussey was published in West Germany in 1967. Republished by Dominik Imseng, 2017.

In 1986, the above was edited by Prof Kim Rotzoll, Jarleth Graham and Barrows Mussey, and published in the US as Is There Any Hope for Advertising?

Bruce Bendinger compiled The Book of Gossage in 2005, bringing together Howard's work, writing and contributions by Jeff Goodby, Stan Freberg, Barrows Mussey & Alice Lowe.

In 2012 Creative Director Steve Harrison authored a biography about Howard Gossage entitled Changing the world is the only fit work for a grown man.[12]

In 2023 Ashley Pollak & James King were commisioned to produce a radio documentary for BBC Radio 4 called The Socrates of San Francisco.'[10] The programme was broadcast on the 20th May 2023.[10]

The Firehouse Salon is a podcast started in 2023 which looks at the themes of Howard's life in greater detail and explores how that thinking is relevant today in the fields of environmentalism, economics, politics and communication.

David Dye & Steve Harrison published The Howard Gossage Show - And What it Can Teach You About Advertising, Fun, Fame and Manipulating the Media. in 2024 which shares previously unseen advertisements produced by Howard's agency.


  1. ^ a b c Harrison, Steve (2012). Changing the World is the Only Fit Work for a Grown Man. AdWorld Press. ISBN 978-0957151505.
  2. ^ "The Socrates of San Francisco: Howard Luck Gossage website". Retrieved 20 March 2014.
  3. ^ Goodby, Jeff (2006). The Book of Gossage. San Francisco: Copy Workshop; 2nd edition. ISBN 978-1887229289.
  4. ^ "The Howard Gossage 4 Point Program". Retrieved 20 March 2014.
  5. ^ "Marshall McLuhan". The Canadian Advertising Museum. Archived from the original on 4 September 2014. Retrieved 20 March 2014.
  6. ^ Rothenberg, Randall (1994). Where the Suckers Moon: The Life and Death of an Advertising Campaign. NY: Vintage Books, p. 188
  7. ^ "The Ad Man Who Helped Create Earth Day". Retrieved 20 March 2014.
  8. ^ "Advertising Age Person of the Century". Advertising Age.
  9. ^ "Howard Luck Gossage". Ad Age. Retrieved 20 March 2014.
  10. ^ a b c "Archive on 4, The Socrates of San Francisco". BBC Online. 20 May 2023. Retrieved 20 May 2023.
  11. ^ Is There Any Hope for Advertising. University of Illinois Press. 1987. ISBN 0-252-01278-X.
  12. ^ Steve Harrison book on Howard Gossage