Inspired by LIFE

I collect old issues of LIFE magazine from thrift and consignment stores when I come across them. Frankly I think they’re brilliant for inspiration and decoration. As a PR and marketing professional, I am always looking for great design, powerful copy, and vivid imagery to learn from and the pages of LIFE are chalk full of the triumvirate. There are plenty of aspects to focus on in discussing the magazine, but we’re going to focus on the advertisements, specifically, because that’s what we do.

The magazine was built around photographers. Then skilled writers were called in to cram important information into text blocks and short captions. LIFE magazine is simply one of the smoothest road maps to good marketing. The visual arrests the audience and the words drive the message home. The combined effect lingers on much longer after you turn the page.

Canadian Club’s Legacy

One of the magazine’s longstanding advertising partners, Canadian Club, has built campaigns that I find myself thinking of whenever I’m trying to get out of the box, so to speak. They developed story lines and contests that took readers to far off places on mysterious missions down winding paths, where eventually they would find…Canadian Club Whiskey. It’s completely bizarre, but it works marvelously.

Advertising Agency: Energy BBDO, Chicago, USA 

  • Chief Creative Officer: Marty Orzio
  • Creative Directors: Derek Sherman
  • Copywriter: Derek Sherman
  • Art Director: Jason Stanfield
  • Designers: Steve Denekas, Jason Hardy
  • Senior Art Buyer: Liz Miller- Gershfeld
  • Assistant Art Buyer: Jackie VanWinkle
  • Print Producer: Linda Dos Santos
  • Photographer: Robert Whitman
  • Account Services: Doug Ryan, Marzena Grecki

For more than a century, LIFE has documented history as it happened. It has also made history a time or two with brilliant design and ad campaigns. In the digital age, I see the lessons that can be learned from LIFE (it’s nearly impossible to get away from a pun) becoming more and more valid.

LIFE and Modern Web Design and Marketing

Web pages are extremely visual and fluid in terms of scale. Think of one web page as one broadsheet page from an old issue of LIFE. Now, the general rule is, keep the important information above the fold; however, most website pages are longer than that by necessity. Therefore it’s important to make sure that everything on the page is interesting and important. You want the reader’s eye to scroll all over it, soaking up as much as possible.

A Brief History of Life

Starting in 1883, LIFE was published as a humor and general interest magazine until 1936, when Henry Luce, the founder of Time magazine, bought it and the trademark name. Luce launched LIFE as a weekly news magazine with a strong emphasis on photojournalism. From 1972 to 1978, it was published as an intermittent “special” that eventually evolved into a monthly from 1978 – 2000. From 2004 – 2007, Time Inc. published LIFE as a weekly newspaper supplement included in some American newspapers. With the launch of in March of 2009, it came into the modern era, and then returned to the fold in Jan. 2012, as a photo channel on While the emphasis is still on powerful imagery and sharp text, it has lost something of the style that I’ve been reminiscing about. You really have to pick up those old ads to see what I mean. Luckily, something that popular always finds a way to linger on long after the pages are gone.

For more on LIFE’s history: