Mad Women: Shirley Polykoff and FC&B
Beyond its success in making hair coloring acceptable, the Clairol campaign was all the more revolutionary because it was created primarily by a woman—Shirley Polykoff. Polykoff joined Foote, Cone, & Belding in 1955 as the agency’s only female copywriter and was assigned full responsibility for the Clairol campaign. This reflected a growing tendency among advertising agencies to view women copywriters as the key to selling specifically feminine products to women. Women copywriters possessed what their male bosses viewed as a monopoly on knowledge of how the mysterious feminine mind worked. This led to the increased hire of women copywriters and the publishing of manuals and books written by women outlining how to advertise to their gender. Indeed, the segmentation of the market along gender lines, at least according to women, was much more nuanced than their male counterparts imagined, and advertising to women involved more than just painting a product pink to succeed. This market segmentation illuminated a picture of the 1950s American woman as someone who was in many ways equal to her husband. The 1950s woman was simply someone who used her equal capabilities largely in the home rather than in the workplace, and who spent her money with a critical eye and sharp assessment of each product and how it would best serve her and her family. Women advertisers understood this and exploited this conception of a woman's role to capitalize on this lucrative market with ads targeted towards the empowered housewife.
Polykoff understood and exploited the desires of the typical, middle class, white American woman as she designed the Clairol campaign and fused them to create a campaign that gently challenged her peers to be daring while assuring them that Clairol met their standards of tradition, quality and femininity. It was particularly fitting that Polykoff spearheaded this movement, as she herself embodied the tension of the campaign. She was known to be an ardent believer in a woman’s duty to complement but never overshadow her husband, yet was simultaneously one of the most driven, successful career women in advertising. She kept her maiden name in her work for FC&B, limited her salary so to not out-earn her husband until his death, was named senior vice president of FC&B at a time when women did not hold executive positions in advertising agencies, and was ultimately elected to the Advertising Hall of Fame. Polykoff and the Clairol campaign embodied the 1950s emphasis on the traditional housewife while subtly hinting at a push for a shift in gender expectations and true empowerment of women that would soon become articulated by Second Wave Feminism.