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Popular ad campaign sold rye bread to non-Jews

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Judy Protas knew that an advertising campaign to sell rye bread to America’s Jewish population would be money squandered in preaching to the converted. So, with a clever tagline, the advertising agency Doyle Dane Bernbach convinced New Yorkers who were not Jewish to try and then love Levy’s Real Jewish Rye bread.

“We had a local bread, real Jewish bread, that was sold wildly in Brooklyn to Jewish people,” Protas told The New York Times during 1979. “What we wanted to do was enlarge its public acceptance. Since New York is so mixed ethically, we decided to spread the good word that way.”

One print ad featured a Native American enjoying his rye bread sandwich. The campaign appeared in newspapers, magazines, billboards, subways and buses, and eventually on television. Other people featured in the campaign included an African-American boy, an Asian man and a robed choirboy. Also included in the campaign were an Irish policeman, an Italian grandmother and even the aged, but still popular, comedic actor Buster Keaton.

The campaign slogan—“You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s Real Jewish Rye”—has far outlived the actual campaign that began during 1961 and continued until the 1970s. That copy was created by Protas, who spent most of her career at the agency. She also contributed to ads for other clients, including Cracker Jack. She wrote the lyrics to the popular television jingle that most baby-boomers still easily can sing: “Lip-smackin’, whip-crackin’, paddy-whackin’, knickin’ knackin’, silver-rackin’, scoundrel-whackin’, cracker-jackin’ Cracker Jack.”

A Campaign With Humor

The campaign for Levy’s, a Brooklyn baker, was delivered with warmth, wit and inclusiveness. The tagline originally and incorrectly was credited to the founder of DDB and to the agency’s chief copywriter. William Bernbach did conceive the campaign along with art director William Taubin, but the memorable line long ago was attributed to Protas in period newspaper accounts and archival sources.

The campaign created high demand and soaring sales for Levy’s rye bread. The ads were admired by the diverse New York population. Syndicated columnist Walter Winchell called it “the commercial with a sensayuma” in typical New York dialect.

Judy Protas, who passed away this past January at the age of 91, was from Brooklyn. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Barnard College and a master’s in English literature from Yale University. She joined the advertising department at Macy’s and became a senior fashion copywriter. She was hired by DDB during 1950 and did not retire until the 1990s.

Levy’s closed during 1979 and sold its name to Arnold Bakers. Now a division of Bimbo Bakeries, Arnold still makes Levy’s Real Jewish Rye.

It’s no secret that many people who are not Jewish still enjoy it.

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