Over a career spanning 46 years, 40 of them at N.W. Ayer as head of the art department, Charles Coiner became known as the most influential art director of the 20th century by changing the creative course of the business through his pioneering efforts in the use of fine art in advertising. When illustration was merely a stepchild to a copy concept, Coiner’s ideas broke new ground and elevated the standards of advertising design to influence three generations of disciples who embraced his conviction that innovation and the highest standards in design should be demanded by both advertisers and their audiences.
Coiner commissioned original work from artists such as Picasso, Dali, Dufy, Laurencin, O’Keefe, Derain, Covarrubias and Cassandre, and he employed the talents of photographic legends like Steichen, Penn and Man Ray, to illustrate the famous ads he and his staff created for clients including DeBeers, the French Line, Ford, Dole and Steinway. Besides selling products and services, the advertising also encouraged the general public and American corporations to appreciate and support art. Coiner never lost sight of the real purpose of great artwork in his advertisements: "We were not trying to elevate art. We were trying to get readership and attention and give character to our clients’ advertising," he said.
A significant portion of Coiner’s time and talent was devoted to pro-bono work. Coiner designed the famous Blue Eagle symbol for the National Recovery Administration and the Red Feather emblem for the leading American charity, the Community Chest. As wartime design consultant to the Office of Emergency Management, he volunteered one day per week and most weekends in Washington where he designed, among other things, the various symbols used by the U.S. Citizens Defense Corps for preparedness in the event of attack. He also designed the Boys Club of America commemorative stamp for the U.S. Postal Service.