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‘We Try Harder’ and Other Famous Ad Campaigns by Paula Green

Post contributed by Cameron Byerly, a rising junior at St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland.  He helped process the Paula Green papers through St. John’s Hodson Internship Program during Summer 2017.

Photograph of Paula Green from the Paula Green papers at the Rubenstein Library.

It’s not the size of the budget
It’s the ferocity of the idea
–Paula GRRRRReen

Paula Green’s papers amounted to nearly 100 boxes of print documents, photographs and audiovisual materials, which is intimidating for a first archival processing project.

My relief was immediate when I discovered these boxes contained dozens of awards, fascinating drafts and edits to ads, pleasant correspondence, articles explaining an honest and steadfast worldview, and above all, a character who I came to deeply respect the voice and intents of through a long and successful career.

Union Label song created by Paula Green and Malcolm Dodds in 1975 for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union.

The central theme I would use to describe Paula Green’s work is ‘cause-driven’. Paula’s speeches and correspondence make it clear she chose clients she personally believed in, including the local jobs offered by the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU), and the work she did to fight breast cancer with the U.S. government’s Public Health Service and the American Cancer Society. Perhaps her largest success was her part in creating the “Look for the Union Label” song for the ILGWU in the 70’s. The song’s importance became more tangible to me when reading President Jimmy Carter’s quote “Sometimes I have a hard time deciding which I like best, ‘Hail to the Chief’ or ‘Look for the Union Label,’” and the subsequent parodies from newspaper comics, South Park and Saturday Night Live. The song represented an enormous collective effort of the American fight for local jobs. As I pieced together Paula’s insistence on visiting local factories, employing real workers for TV spots, and saying “please buy from us” rather than “don’t buy from foreigners,” I realized that she applied her own moral standard to the work she believed in.

Paula Green created the now famous “We Try Harder” campaign for Avis in 1962.

The second notable theme in Paula Green’s work is intelligence. Her early success at Doyle Dane Bernbach with the ‘We’re No. 2’ advertising campaign for Avis car rental allowed her the economic power to create her own advertising agency in 1975, and demonstrated her intelligence in engaging with the audience. I consider how well her methods would work in today’s more image-driven and crowded advertising landscape. Records of her work include hundreds of edits of reasoned arguments and recipes used to include in her marketing of food products. She often argued against a more deceptive world of associating lifestyles with products, and instead cleanly focused on the merits of her products. Her copywriting involved well-written sentences to back up her buzz-words and intelligent methodology in expressing her ideas. 

A cookbook as part of an advertising campaign created by Paula Green for Goya in the 1980s.

Paula Green had many clients like Subaru and Goya food, and she played an integral role in helping their products hit mainstream American audiences. She was an agency-leading woman in an industry dominated by men, and was even an invited guest at the White House for Jimmy Carter’s executive order to help female-run businesses. Her “Don’t be afraid, it’s what you don’t know that can hurt you” campaign for the American Cancer Society encouraged women to conduct breast self-examinations at a time when regulations made it difficult to even correctly describe the process. Paula Green’s influence was felt by nearly every media-consuming adult in America during her work years, and continues to resonate today.

I enjoyed the process of sorting through her life’s work and making an organized whole collection. The collection demonstrates what an ad agency does, how Paula Green employed intelligence and morality into her work, and what it means to say a large amount in few words, from correspondence to new clients to her famous ads.

Paula Green began working with the American Cancer society in 1969 to create breast cancer self-examination ads.


Paula Green’s papers are held at the David M. Rubenstein Library as part of the John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising, & Marketing History.