Myril Axelrod Bennett, former advertising vice president, mother of politcal guru David Axelrod
BY STEFANO ESPOSITO Staff Reporter January 21, 2014 7:12PM
Myril Axelrod Bennett looked beyond sales figures to pin down the emotional magnet that drew people to products — a strategy her son would use some 40 years later in helping Barack Obama become president.
Updated: February 23, 2014 6:28AM
As a “Mad Men”-era advertising pioneer, Myril Axelrod Bennett looked beyond sales figures to pin down the emotional magnet that drew people to products — a strategy her son would use some 40 years later in helping Barack Obama become president.
“Because of my upbringing, because I saw what really good qualitative research was like, I became very interested in it and placed a great deal of emphasis on it, in terms of trying to figure out what voters were really thinking and feeling,” said Mrs. Axelrod’s son, David Axelrod.
Mrs. Axelrod, who like her son started out as a journalist, died Tuesday at her home in Newton, Mass. She was 93, her son said.
Mrs. Axelrod was immensely proud of her son’s achievements, gladly sharing with other residents in her retirement community her son’s rise from Hyde Park Herald columnist to Obama senior adviser.
“She was so proud of him,” said Mrs. Axelrod’s close friend, Peggy Ives, who also lives in Newton. “She was proud of the fact that very early on, when David had first met Barack Obama, that he told his mother he would do anything to work for this man. He (Obama) was the best he’d ever seen.”
Mrs. Axelrod was born on April 4, 1920, in Weehawken, N.J. Her father was a dentist, whose patients included a young Frank Sinatra, her son said. Mrs. Axelrod’s mother was a teacher and homemaker.
Like her older brother, Mrs. Axelrod had an inquisitive mind and loved to write. She was a standout journalism student at New York University and, unlike many young women in the 1940s, managed to avoid being pushed toward society page columns.
“She was very determined to be a serious reporter and I think (did so) through sheer force of will,” Axelrod said. She worked for a left-leaning daily called PM. When that newspaper folded, followed soon after by its successor, Mrs. Axelrod eventually embarked on a second career in advertising.
Mrs. Axelrod’s training as a journalist, including her ability to listen, helped her realize that the way to market products was to understand exactly what they meant to the people who bought them — at the time, a novel concept.
“She rose up in an industry that was very much dominated by men, the “Mad Men”-era of advertising . . . and she became a vice president in one of the largest advertising companies in the world,” her son said.
Her “probing research helped clients understand the whims, desires and experiences of their customers,” Axelrod said. “Her research informed creative work on products as varied as hair spray and automobiles, and shaped campaigns for such iconic brands as Jell-O, Birds Eye and Maxwell House.”
Axelrod was one of the first female vice presidents of the advertising firm Young & Rubicam.
In her later years, she followed her son’s career very closely — watching his appearances on television and paying particular attention to what others said about her famous son.
“She didn’t like it when the commentary was negative,” her son said. “I told her not to watch that stuff.”
In addition to her son, survivors include a daughter, Joan, of Arlington, Mass.; and five grandchildren. Mrs. Axelrod’s husband, Abner I. Bennett, died in 1986.
Services are pending.