What are now the basic tenets of modern advertising are in generous measure the outgrowth of Ralph Starr Butler’s foresight and considerable contributions.
Butler graduated from the University of Michigan in 1904, and it was through academia that his influence on business was first felt. In 1909 a course he developed on marketing was instituted at the University of Wisconsin. This pioneering program was later compiled into a textbook Butler’s Marketing Methods, which served as the basis for countless similar volumes now on business shelves. This course, in fact, established the criteria for the word "marketing" as it is now used.
Butler’s understanding of economics led to his view of advertising as an inseparable part of the free enterprise system. He saw salesmanship through mass communication not as an added business expense but as an economy. "[Advertising] is no more a charge upon society that is personal salesmanship or any other machinery for bringing manufacturer and consumer together," he wrote, adding that it is often the least expensive. He was early to point out advertising’s role in brand identification, calling it a clear route to better products at lower prices through fair competition.
Entering the business world in 1917 as director of commercial research for the United States Rubber Company, he assumed that company’s advertising responsibilities in 1920. In 1926 he joined the Postum Company as advertising manager. Three years later he was named a vice president of Postum prior to that company’s formation into the General Foods Corporation. At General Foods, Butler’s advertising responsibilities were soon expanded to include merchandising, and in 1943, public relations, research and development and consumer service. He retired in 1947.
His career produced many innovations in advertising technique as well as policy. Butler was the first to employ the continuity comic strip as an advertising medium in 1943. A year later, his sponsorship of long-distance radio coverage of the Byrd Polar Expedition opened the door for this new medium as a major advertising vehicle.
He reinforced his confidence in radio with General Food’s sponsorship of the "Maxwell House Showboat," one of radio’s first full-hour variety shows.
An early supporter of such pioneers as Nielsen and Gallup, Butler strove to take the guesswork out of marketing and replace it with sound fact gathering. He was vigorously active in the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC), having served with distinction as a member of its board of directors for 23 years.
His greatest contribution to advertising, however, was his high sense of integrity, in his personal relationships and in the advertising and marketing projects he directed. He worked hard for credibility in advertising, exerting his considerable influence toward improving the ethics and taste of advertising copy.
In 1947 he received the Gold Medal Award "in recognition of distinguished service to advertising." This was but one of innumerable ways his efforts in and for advertising received warm acclaim.