Sunlight can only be pictured with shadows

James Webb Young in 1939
Photo: Library of Congress

Born in 1886 in Covington, Kentucky, James Webb Young was no stranger to the persuasive power of words, rising through the ranks to become an influential figure at J. Walter Thompson, one of the world’s leading advertising agencies. Known for his keen insights into human psychology and creative process, he even authored works like “A Technique for Producing Ideas,” which became seminal reading in the field. It was in 1944 that Young’s diary was published, capturing the thoughts of an ad-man at the top of his game. Two years later, he was named Advertising Man of the Year.

The Diary Entry

​​Sunday, October 25, 1942

Every artist knows that sunlight can only be pictured with shadows. And every good biographer shows us, as Boswell did, that only the faults of a great man make him real to us. But in advertising we are afraid of this principle, hence less convincing than we might be. The most extraordinary response I ever got to an ad was when I offered a second-hand motor car for sale, and judiciously described its defects as well as its virtues.

Further Reading

James Webb Young’s diary was published in 1944 with the title The Diary of an Ad Man: The War Years June 1, 1942 – December 31, 1943. Before that, a selection of entries had been published anonymously in Advertising Age.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *