The Origins of Pfizer Cards

by Tom Fortunato, June 18, 2005

The Great Barrier Reef
Queensland, Australia
(front and reverse)

Sphinx and Pyramids
at Gizeh, Egypt
(front and reverse)

Hillside Pasture
(front and reverse)

Bitter Root,
Montana, USA
(front and reverse)

An interesting exchange of emails between John Kallir, a retired ad executive and myself in the past few weeks has shed light on the series of drug cards produced by the giant Pfizer company during the "golden era" of this form of advertising. Here are excerpts, mostly in John's own words.

In the early 1950s, Charles Pfizer & Company had begun to change from a manufacturer of fine chemicals to a pharmaceutical company. They supported their broad-spectrum antibiotic Terramycin with an advertising budget of hitherto unknown proportions. Direct mail was an important component of their campaign, and one element in that campaign was a series of postcards from exotic places, where Terramycin was being used.

I was a copywriter on the Pfizer account in 1952 at the William D. McAdams agency at that time and wrote all those cards. I remember one of them in particular, picturing the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. I saved some of my work but, unfortunately, none of the postcards.

McAdams was the largest advertising agency specializing in promotion to the medical profession. Founded in Chicago by Mr. McAdams, it had been acquired by the legendary Dr. Arthur M. Sackler-"Legendary" because he became very rich, eventually owned medical publications and a drug company, and supported many cultural and scientific institutions.

Pfizer had been founded as a chemical company in Brooklyn in 1849, but during its first 100 years, no physician had ever heard of it. Because of their expertise in fermentation chemistry, Pfizer was invited to join the consortium of American drug companies who succeeded in changing penicillin from a laboratory curiosity to a mass-produced medicine in the last years of WWII.

Pfizer scientists then discovered Terramycin. That (and Sackler) changed everything! Sackler persuaded Tom Wynn, Pfizer's sales manager, to back Terramycin with a huge advertising budget.

When I came to McAdams, most of their staff was already working on the Pfizer account. I wrote ads and direct mail (postcards, folders, file cards, technical brochures, letters) directed specifically at general practitioners, pediatricians, surgeons, ophthalmologists, etc.

High-prescribing physicians might receive two or three Pfizer mailings every day year-round. I stayed at McAdams for ten years, advancing to vice president and creative director, before opening my own agency, Kallir, Philips, Ross in 1962. It is now known as KPR and belongs to the Omnicom group of agencies. I retired 30 years later in 1992.

I've saved a lot of pharmaceutical advertising involving Pfizer, Merck, Upjohn, McNeil, Ortho, Janssen, Wyeth, etc. for whom I worked. But, unfortunately, there's nothing relating to those postcards.

John Kallir
New York, NY

PS - I'm amazed at the things some people like to collect!

Editor's note: Thanks to Josh King whose cards are displayed above.