Caroline Robinson Jones shot to fame as an ad genius despite racial barriers

Theodora Aidoo Jul 3, 2020 at 04:00pm

July 03, 2020 at 04:00 pm | Success Story, Women

Theodora Aidoo

Theodora Aidoo | Staff Writer

July 03, 2020 at 04:00 pm | Success Story, Women

Portrait of Caroline Jones at the start of her career as an advertising executive - Pic Credit: americanhistory.si.edu

Caroline Robinson Jones became a marketing genius and one of the most prominent black women in advertising after breaking racial and gender barriers. She became the first black senior copywriter at J. Walter Thompson, one of the nation’s leading advertising firms during the Mad Men era.

In the early 1960s, still fresh out of college, Jones began her advertising career in New York as a secretary and copywriter trainee at J. Walter Thompson. She rose to a creative director.

In 1968, she left the firm to join Zebra Associates, one of the nation’s first African American-owned advertising agencies. She would rise to become the first black female vice president of a major agency, BBDO by 1977. She worked for large Madison Avenue shops and help found several agencies that focused on advertising aimed at blacks and other minorities.

Jones launched a series of black ad agencies throughout her career, including trailblazers like Mingo-Jones Advertising and her own firm. She was successful at brand-building and created slogans such as Kentucky Fried Chicken’s “We Do Chicken Right.”

She had a brilliant writing talent that won her clients who wanted to market to black consumers through her agency. Her clients included American Express, Anheuser-Busch, McDonald’s, Prudential, Toys ”R” Us and the Postal Service. She had a unique insight into consumer preferences.

Cartoon illustration of Caroline Jones
Cartoon illustration of Caroline Jones in her Mingo-Jones office – Pic Credit: americanhistory.si.edu

According to the national museum of American history, Jones spearheaded advertising that changed how Americans thought about some of the world’s most popular brands. In many cases, her regional or demographic-specific ad campaigns were so successful that companies used them for national work.

“For example, while working for the Campbell Soup Company in the mid-1970s, Jones insisted that the company’s advertising should focus on peoples’ emotions, instead of just spotlighting the products themselves”.

Campbell Soup Company advertisement designed by Caroline Jones.
A Campbell Soup Company advertisement designed by Caroline Jones – Pic Credit: americanhistory.si.edu

She pushed for African American representation in advertising content and was able to convert advertising targeted at black consumers to general market campaigns.  In 1986, she opened her own agency, Creative Resources Management.

She operated shops under the names Caroline Jones Advertising and Caroline Jones Inc. She was a member of the New York State Banking Board and the advisory committee of the Women’s Bank of New York.

She moderated and hosted radio and television programs for many years under the titles ”Focus on the Black Woman” and ”In the Black: Keys to Success.”

Born Caroline Robinson, in Benton Harbor, Michigan, Jones graduated from the University of Michigan with a bachelor’s degree in English and science. On June 28, 2001, Jones, a pioneering black woman in advertising died aged 59.

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