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Blast from the Past

This gem first appeared in the publication, In Publicity … in 1901! These are choice excerpts, for the full meal deal, here ya go.

“The time is not far away when the advertising writer will find out the inestimable benefits of a knowledge of psychology. The preparation of copy has usually followed the instincts rather than the analytical functions. An advertisement has been written to describe the articles which it was wished to place before the reader; a bit of cleverness, an attractive cut, or some other catchy device has been used, with the hope that the hit or miss ratio could be made as favorable as possible.

But the future must needs be full of better methods than these to make advertising advance with the same rapidity as it has during the latter part of the last century. And this will come through a closer knowledge of the psychological composition of the mind. The so-called ‘students of human nature’ will then be called successful psychologists, and the successful advertisers will be likewise termed psychological advertisers. The mere mention of psychological terms, habit, self, conception, discrimination, association, memory, imagination and perception, reason, emotion, instinct and will, should create a flood of new thought that should appeal to every advanced consumer of advertising space.

One of the great weaknesses of the present day advertising is found in the fact that the writer of the advertisement fails to appeal thus indirectly to the senses. How many advertisers describe a piano so vividly that the reader can hear it? How many food products are so described that the reader can taste the food? How many advertisements describe a perfume so that the reader can smell it? How many describe an undergarment so that the reader can feel the pleasant contact with his body? Many advertisers seem never to have thought of this, and make no attempt at such descriptions.

In advertisements of food products it is surprising to note that many foods are advertised as if they had no taste at all. One would suppose that the food was to be taken by means of a hypodermic injection, and not by the ordinary process of taking the food into the mouth and hence into contact with the organ of taste. The advertisers seem to be at a loss to know what to say about their foods, and so have, in many cases, expressed themselves in such general terms that their advertisements could be applied to any product whatever.

Advertising is an essential factor in modern business methods, and to advertise wisely the business man must understand the workings of the minds of his customers, and must know how to influence them effectively,—he must know how to apply psychology to advertising.”

How Spam Came to Rule the World (and why it is shoplifted in Hawaii)

What do you think of when you hear the word, “Spam”? First off, we are not talking about electronic junk mail. 

If you are thinking luncheon meat, you probably have a mixed reaction at best. For most of the grocery product’s 8-decade history, Spam has been disparaged and dismissed. The harshest critics cite is as inedible and mock it as “Something Posing As Meat” or “Scientifically Processed Animal Matter”. Yet, over 8.5 billion cans have been sold since Hormel launched the product in 1937. 

Americans buy 113 million cans of Spam annually. This means 3.8 cans are consumed every second in the United States. To keep up with demand, the slaughterhouse next to the Hormel plant in Austin, Minnesota butchers 20,000 pigs a day. So, how can we reconcile what is so bashed with what is bought (and stolen) in mass amounts?

Spam was successful right out of the gate, having grabbed 18% market share in its first year of sales. By 1940, 7 out of 10 of Americans had tried Spam. This was largely attributed to an economy still suffering from the Depression and it began Spam’s longstanding association with low-cost and frugality. Sales still spike when times are tough. 

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When Commerce Met Art

As my readers know, I am a huge fan of marketing history (to the point of being supremely nerdy). Over the past few years, I went back through the centuries to find great stories for my book, Why Marketing Works. That research missed a very cool tale that I am happy now to share. It involves Walter Paepcke and his company, Container Corporation of America (CCA).

When just 25, Paepcke inherited his father’s Chicago-based wooden crate empire. Predicting the shift to a consumer goods economy requiring smaller, lighter packaging, he moved production from wooden crates to corrugated paperboard containers. He bought a bunch of other packaging suppliers along with paper mills to ensure vertical integration and founded CCA in 1926. One smart fellow…as you will learn (read to the end to see how he and his wife are responsible for the popularity of the town of Aspen).

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Consumer Misbehaviour

An episode of the U.S. version of the television comedy, The Office, involves a Halloween costume contest at the paper supplier Dunder Mifflin. The top prize is a discount book offering coupons from local businesses. The retail cost of the book is $40.00 that offers $15,000 in savings if all coupons are redeemed. One character on the show, Oscar Martinez, is an accountant who takes exception to the irrational exuberance of his colleagues towards this prize.

The employees throw themselves into the contest. They produce topical and highly detailed costumes to best each other. The competition dominates the workday. Oscar’s frustration grows to the point where he challenges their thinking, “Everyone realizes this coupon book is not actually worth $15,000 right? You would have to spend $200,000 on crap you don’t need to get $15,000 of benefits. I am not the only one who sees this, right?”

Apparently, he is.

The employees escalate the competition by upgrading their costumes and strategizing how best to present them. Oscar tries one last time to educate his colleagues on the economics and their behavior. They aggressively rebut or outright disregard his argument.

To them, the coupon book represents $15,000 in real value. Oscar chooses to confront this irrationality head on. He switches from a colorful disco themed dance outfit to a very staid and generic ensemble worn by an everyman. Oscar explains to his colleagues using air quotes that he is now a “rational consumer”.

The contest commences with the participants showing off extremely elaborate creations including a samurai, Lady Gaga, a mummy, film director Michael Moore and a sexy nurse. Each employee casts a vote for the winning costume and to everyone’s surprise Oscar wins but the victory is greeted with little enthusiasm. The show cleverly reveals that the reasons why people voted for Oscar were as irrational as their view of the prize.

Given our confusing behaviors, it should come as no surprise that the earliest writers in marketing were psychologists. Understanding why people do what they do is at the heart of marketing. Yet, marketers constantly struggle to better their performance.

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