Jim Mullen, founder of UNC's advertising program, dies at 91

Jun. 24, 2014 @ 04:14 PM

Jim Mullen didn’t try to inspire anyone to follow his way.

The man who founded the advertising program with the University of North Carolina’s Journalism and Mass Communication school in 1959 wanted students to learn from different teaching approaches.
“In a very wide-ranging field, it is better for students to wrestle with different perspectives and teaching styles,” said John Sweeney, current head of the advertising program and director of the sports communication program. “It makes them more flexible and, if there’s anything advertising requires, it’s an ability to be flexible in the midst of changing situations.”
Mr. Mullen died on Memorial Day – May 26 – at age 91. He was born on Veteran’s Day in 1922. On July 12 at 2 p.m., the Rev. Robert Dunham will preside over a memorial service for him at Carolina Meadows.
Mr. Sweeney first met Mr. Mullen in the early 1980s when he interviewed for a visiting lecturer job and then took a leave of absence from an advertising job in Chicago for a year.
“They thought it would be interesting for me to learn about education,” Mr. Sweeney said. “Of course, I became one of those people who never left Chapel Hill after getting here.”
He worked with Mr. Mullen and Professor Thomas Bowers for about five years. Mr. Mullen retired in 1986.
“We were all three pretty different people from each other, but Jim let each teach his own way,” Mr. Sweeney said. “I have found that to be an important insight.”
Mr. Mullen had a great deal of interest in the advertising business, but also was critical of it, which Sweeney described as “an effective orientation to a controversial field.”
In a 2012 interview with Kalli Wade published on a UNC blog, Mr. Mullen offered his thoughts on the evolution of advertising:
“Well, I think that in the early days, the focus of most advertising was, here is a product that will serve you well. You’ll be glad you tried it and you will continue to use this product. So that was kind of the approach we used. But somewhere along the line, the industry has kind of shifted away from that. And today, in my opinion, they’re not selling the product as well as they used to sell it. They’re trying to sell their agency – not directly, but they try to make the work of the agency appear to be terribly exciting and thrilling. And that is not the reason advertisers put money into the pocket.”
Mr. Mullen was born in St. Paul, Minnesota. He earned his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Minnesota. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II.
He enjoyed golf, crossword puzzles and duplicate bridge. After he retired, he helped with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program and the Interfaith Council for Social Service in Chapel Hill.
Mr. Sweeney said that the advertising program, one of the most popular at UNC, will remain Mr. Mullen’s greatest legacy.
“Jim Mullen started it by himself and nurtured it by himself in the early years,” Mr. Sweeney said. “We named our award for the outstanding advertising senior every year after him to honor his work in getting a new academic field up and running. He will always be remembered here for that.”

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