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series: Miss Springmaid
air date: 10/08/17 2:30 PM
The quote, "There is no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituary," attributed to Irish playwright Brendan Behan, sums up the advertising philosophy of famed textile executive "Colonel" Elliott White Springs of Springs Mills, Inc. "Colonel" Springs was nothing if not flamboyant and daring. From the late 1940s until his death in 1959, he spearheaded an innovative ad campaign that made Springmaid sheets a household word and changed the approach of the country's advertising industry. The "Colonel" was already a WWI hero and author of War Birds: Diary of an Unknown Aviator, when he inherited his father's South Carolina textile company in the 1930s. Spring Mills had seen better days, but through ingenuity and determination, Springs restored Springs Mills to incredible prosperity during the Depression years and WWII. After the war, Springs determined he would make a name for himself. Advertising the sale of bed sheets-however high the quality-seemed inherently dull, so he sought a new approach in his magazine ads. Calling it a "burlesque of the advertising business," the "Colonel" began acquiring and commissioning artwork depicting attractive young women as "Springmaids," and he copiously employed sexual innuendo in his ad copy. Many were outraged by his approach, but within a year there was convincing proof that "sex sells." Springmaid sheets were being sold as fast as they could make them, and sales increased steadily until his death in 1959. Initially, the advertising industry called his ads "degrading," but today "Colonel" Springs' potpourri of risque images, puns and double-entendres are studied at major universities and hailed as the beginning of Madison Avenue's hold on the nation's sexual consciousness.
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