Ilon Specht, Who Empowered Women With ‘I’m Worth It’ Ad, Dies at 81

Ilon Specht, who rebelled against her patriarchal male colleagues at an advertising agency by writing a successful TV commercial for L’Oréal’s Preference hair color product that included a message of feminist empowerment that has endured for decades, died on April 20 at her son’s home in Barrington, R.I., near Providence. She was 81.

Her son, Brady Case, said the cause was complications of endometrial cancer.

It was 1973. Ms. Specht was a copywriter at the McCann-Erickson (now McCann) agency in Manhattan. L’Oréal was using Preference, a relatively new product, to challenge the market dominance of Clairol’s Nice ‘n Easy. The agency’s team had a month to create a campaign to replace one that had been canceled.

“We were sitting in this big office and everyone was discussing what the ad should be,” Ms. Specht told Malcolm Gladwell of The New Yorker in 1999. “They wanted to do something with a woman sitting by a window and the wind blowing through the curtains. You know, one of those fake places with big glamorous curtains. The woman was a complete object. I don’t even think she spoke. They just didn’t get it.”

Ms. Specht in the 1970s. “She really represented what was going on in society, particularly with women,” a colleague said.Credit…via Specht-Case family

“They” were the men who wanted a traditional ad, whose expectations she spurned. Cursing to herself in anger, she wrote the commercial in about five minutes.

“I use the most expensive hair color in the world,” the ad began. “Preference by L’Oréal. It’s not that I care about money. It’s that I care about my hair. It’s not just the color. I expect great color. What’s worth more to me is the way my hair feels. Smooth and silky but with body. It feels good against my neck. Actually, I don’t mind spending more for L’Oréal.”

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