Stuart Upson entered the field of advertising after completing his studies at Yale University and serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II in 1946. He began his career in Chicago with the Dancer Fitzgerald Sample Agency (DFS). DFS was the leading agency developer of radio show soap operas and created 60 percent of the radio soap operas for clients like Procter & Gamble, General Mills, Sterling Drugs and other large package goods companies. He later moved to New York City in 1955 when DFS sought to broaden their expertise into the emerging television business in New York. He is one of very few leaders in the advertising agency business to have spent his entire career with one agency, Saatchi & Saatchi (originally DFS).
His early years were focused on building the General Mills and Procter & Gamble client businesses, still the foundational clients for the agency, which led into merger in 1984 with Saatchi and Saatchi, also folding in the Compton agency so Saatchi and Saatchi could become a major presence leading the industry into globalization.
Some career highlights include establishing his agency's evolution from client-sponsored radio soap opera programs to the era of live television program production, sponsoring classic television serials like The Lone Ranger, The Beulah Show and numerous games shows and encouraging the development of sports broadcasts for his client sponsors. A further notable achievement was the kids' television programming DFS developed with the General Mills Company that evolved into long-running classics like Rocky and Bullwinkle and the Road Runner series.
In the early 1970s DFS encouraged the Hanes Hosiery client to launch a new stretch panty hose in an unconventional retail outlet-food stores. They created in the Legg's Brand the most successful new product launch in the business by 1975. "Our Legg's fit your legs" became a major industry case history and fostered many other new entries into food stores, thus encouraging the superstore concept we have today.
In 1975, DFS won the Toyota Business. Starting by emphasizing the emotional relationship a driver has for their car, the agency changed the preconceived notion that a Japanese car was cheap, utility transportation and not particularly consumer friendly. "You asked for it, you got it, Toyota" burst on the scene and captured a new generation of young car buyers. DFS then captured the emotional high ground for automobiles with the memorable and highly successful campaign: "Oh What a Feeling." DFS and Team One also helped Toyota accomplish what was then considered an oxymoron, the launch of a Japanese luxury automobile–Lexus.
Many other significant accomplishments developed during Upson¿s tenure. The famous "Where's the Beef" campaign for Wendy's is still considered one of the top 10 most effective campaigns of the past 25 years. The Ad Council's Crime Prevention initiative for the Department of Justice led to the creation of McGruff "The Crime Dog." The call to action, "Take a Bite out of Crime," actually resulted in a decrease in crime in the United States. His deep belief in the effectiveness of the Ad Council led to his election as chairman of in 1990.
DFS was named "agency of the year" by Adweek in 1985 and was bought by Saatchi & Saatchi in 1986. Rather than "taking the money and running" (as so many other agency sellers did), Upson stayed on and continued to work on behalf of his agency. In 1987 when the decision was reached to merge DFS with Saatchi & Saatchi Compton, he joined forces with Milt Gossett to guide the two agencies into one of the most successful large agency mergers.
Stuart Upson has also served as president of the Fresh Air Fund of New York and was chairman of the American Association of Advertising Agencies from 1980 to 1981.