Father owned a newspaper in a prosperous lumbering city. The people had money to send, so advertisers flocked there. We smile now as we remember the ads. of those days, but we smile at the hoopskirts, too.
Most of the advertisements were paid for in trade. Our home became a warehouse of advertised merchandise. I remember that at one time we had six pianos and six sewing-machines in stock.
One of the products which father advertised was Vinegar Bitters. I afterward learned its history. A vinegar-maker spoiled a batch through some queer fermentation. Thus he produced a product weird in its offensiveness. The people of those days lived that medicine must be horrible to be effective. We had oils ointments “for man or beast” which would make either wild. We used “snake oil” and “skunk oil,” presumably because of their names. Unless the cure was worse than the disease, no one would respect it.
So we had all sorts of bitters. Vinegar Bitters was the worst of its kind, and therefore the most popular. Father accepted that wretched stuff—dozens of bottles—in payment for the advertising. People came to us for pianos, organs, sewing-machines, but not for medicines. So our stock of Vinegar Bitters accumulated.
Mother, being Scotch, could not tolerate waste. She was bound to use up that medicine, and I, being the sickly one of the family, was the victim. I took Vinegar Bitters morning, noon, and night. If the makers of that remedy are still in existence, I can testify that since then I have had remarkable health.
Father, in his newspaper office, also printed bills. I used to study them; sometimes I would set them. Then I would go to the advertiser and solicit the job of distributing. There were one thousand homes in our city. I would offer to place one bill in each home for $2. It meant traveling some thirty-five miles. Other boys offered to do the same job for $1.50, but they would place several bills in a home and would skip all the far-away homes. I asked advertisers to compare the results, and I soon obtained a monopoly.
That was my first experience with traced results. It taught me to stand for known and compared returns, and I have urged them ever since. In no other way can real service reveal its advantage. Doing anything blindly is folly.
When I was then years old mother was left a widow. From that time on I had to support myself and contribute to the support of the family. I did this in many ways, but the only ways which count here are those which affected my after-career.
Mother made a silver polish. I molded it into cake form and wrapped it in pretty paper. Then I went from house to house to sell it. I found that I sold about one woman in ten by merely talking the polish at the door. But when I could get into the pantry and demonstrate the polish I sold to nearly all.
That taught me the rudiments of another lesson I never have forgotten. A good article is its own best salesman. It is uphill work to sell goods, in print or in person, without samples.
The hardest struggle of my life has been to educate advertisers to the use of samples. Or to trials of some kind. They would not think of sending out a salesman without samples. But they will spend fortunes on advertising to urge people to buy without seeing or testing. Some say that samples cost too much. Some argue that repeaters will ask for them again and again. But persuasion alone is vastly more expensive.
I wish that any advertiser who does not believe that would do what I did with that silver polish. It taught me a lesson which has saved advertisers a good many millions of dollars. It will teach any man in one day that selling without samples is many times as hard as with them.
I learned this also from street fakers. I stood for hours to listen to them in the torchlight. I realize now that I drank in their methods and theories. They never tried to sell things without demonstration. They showed in some dramatic way what the product they sold would do. It is amazing how many advertisers know less than those men about salesmanship.
I shall deal with this further. The subject is very near to my heart. I touch on it here to show where I learned the rudiments of coupons. Since then I have sent out in magazines and newspapers hundreds of millions of coupons. Some were good for a sample, some were good for a full-sized package free at any store. My name id identified with this system of advertising. I have sampled every sort of thing. Nothing else had done so much to make me a factor in advertising. Yet how simple it is and how natural. Doing what every salesman must do, every canvasser and faker. None but those who regard advertising as some magic dreamland will ever try to sell without sampling.
Another way I found to make money was by selling books. The profit was 100 per cent, and the field appeared inviting. One day I read that Allen Pinkerton, the great detective, had written his life history. No need to say that Allen Pinkerton was the hero of all boys of those times. So I induced mother to invest our little capital in a supply of Allen Pinkerton’s books.
I remember when the books came in. I spread them over the floor. I was sure that all people were waiting to get them. I was anxious to rush out and supply them.
Mother said: “Get the leading men first. They will bring in the others.” So I went up that morning to the mayor—Mr. Resigue—before he left his home. He received me very cordially. I was a widow’s son. I had the cordial support of all our best people in my efforts to make money. And I have learned since that every young person has. A man who has made a success desires to see others make a success. A man who has worked wants to see others work. I am that way. Countless young people now flock to my home, but the welcome ones are those who work, whether young men or young women. A boy having a good time on his father’s money has always been offensive to me. So, to a degree, a young woman. If there is to be any equality between the sexes, there should be equality in effort. People of either sex must justify existence. Some, through circumstances, may not fully earn their way, but they should strive to do so. I abhor drones. And I believe that my influence has driven many men and women to greater happiness.
I realize now why Mr. Resigue received me so politely that morning. I was a town boy, struggling to succeed. Never in my busiest hour have I ever refused to meet such a boy or girl myself. I have spent many precious hours with them, financed them and advised them. There is nothing I admire more than the spirit to win one’s way.
But I struck a snag that morning. Mr. Resigue was a deeply religious man. He had some extreme and exacting ideals. One idea of his was that a detective, dealing with criminals, had no place in polite society. He had outgrown the hero stage.
He listened to me until I brought out my book. Then he gave it one glance, and threw the book in my lap. He said, “You are welcome in my home, but not your book. One of you must depart. You may stay here as long as you wish to, but your book must go into the street. I consider that an Allen Pinkerton book is an offense to all I stand for.”
That was a revelation. I have seen it exemplified scores of times since then. Hundreds of men have discussed their pet projects with me. Boards of directors have gravely decided that the world must be on their side. I have urged them to make tests, to feel out the public pulse. I have told them that people in general could never be judged by ourselves. Some have listened and profited, some have scorned my opinions. Sometimes those who decided to judge the world by themselves, succeeded. Four times in five they failed. I know of nothing more ridiculous than gray-haired boards of directors deciding on what housewives want.
In the particular case which I recite the odds were in my favor. I went home from the mayor’s house discouraged. I never dreamed that such opinions about detective stories, my loved stories, could exists.
Mother encouraged me. She said: “Go among business men; go down to the ‘Big Store.’ Learn what they say about it.” I did so. The manager bought a book. Then he took me around among his office force and sold six more books for me. I made a big clean-up on Allen Pinkerton’s book.
That taught me another lesson. We must never judge humanity by ourselves. The things we want, the things we like, may appeal to a small minority. The losses occasioned in advertising by venturing on personal preference would easily pay the national debt. We live in a democracy. On every law there are divided opinions. So in every preference, every want. Only the obstinate, the bone-headed, will venture far on personal opinion. We must submit all things in advertising, as in everything else, to the court of public opinion.
This, you will see, is the main theme of this book. I own an ocean-going yacht, but do you suppose I would venture across an ocean without a chart or compass? If I have no such records, I take soundings all the way.
We are influenced by our surroundings. The prosperous mingle with the prosperous, so do those of certain likes and inclinations. The higher we ascend the farther we proceed from ordinary humanity. That will not do in advertising.
I have seen hundreds of attempts and thousands of projects which had no chance whatever. Just because some bigoted men judged the many by the few. I have taken part in such enterprises, but only because of some business requirements. Men could not be convinced. They were going ahead on their limited conceptions, whether they were wrong or right. I have done my duty by showing them the way, or showing them the rocks, at the least possible expense.
Let me digress here to say that the road to success lies through ordinary people. They form the vast majority. The man who knows them and is one of them stands the vastly better chance.
Some of the greatest successes I have ever known in advertising were ignorant men. Two are now heads of agencies. One of them has made much money in advertising—a man who can hardly sign his name. But he knew ordinary people, and the ordinary people bought what he had to sell.
One of them wrote copy which would induce a farmer to mortgage his barn to respond. But his every sentence had to be edited for grammar.
Now college men come to us by the hundreds and say, “We have education, we have literary style.” I say to them that both those things are handicaps. The great majority of men and women cannot appreciate literary style. If they do, they fear it. They fear over-influence when it comes to spending money. Any unique style excites suspicion. Any evident effort to sell creates corresponding resistance. Any appeal which seems to come from a higher class arouses their resentment. Any dictation is abhorrent to us all.
All the time we are seeking in advertising, men with the impulses of the majority. We never ask their education, never their literary qualifications. Those lacks are easily supplied. But let a man prove to us that he understands human nature and we welcome him with open arms.
Let me cite two or three examples. One day I received a letter from a man who had evidently addressed me at random. He said, “There is a great demand for ready-made meat pies, and I make them. I have named them Mrs. Brown’s Meat Pies, because people like home cooking. I have created a considerable demand, and I know there exists a much larger demand. I want capital to expand it.”
I saw in that man primeval instincts. His meat pies did not attract me, but his rare insight to human nature did. So I sent out a man to investigate. He found that the writer was a night cook in a shabby restaurant at $8 per week. I brought him to my office, and I offered him $25 per week to learn advertising. He came with me, and he is now one of the leading advertising men of the country.
Another man came to Chicago from Manitowoc, Wisconsin. He ate breakfast at a Thompson restaurant. He found there a baked apple which reminded him of his home. He said to himself, “There are thousands of men to who come, as I do, from the country to Chicago. Two-thirds of the city consists of them. I should tell them about those baked apples.”
He wrote up a page ad. on baked apples and submitted it to John R. Thompson. Mr. Thompson agreed to run it, and the patronage of his restaurants increased at once. That was the beginning of an advertising campaign which multiplied the patronage of the Thompson lunch rooms and made their owner many times a millionaire.
Most young men and most beginners think that the older men overlook them. My experience is that men in business are looking for capacity. That is the crying dearth. The more we know the more we realize the volume of work to be done. The able workers in any line are few, and all are looking for relief and help. All who see the realities are anxious to find others who can see them.
That first Thompson ad. was published on Sunday morning. I was head of the copy department in a large advertising agency. I was seeking for new talent. That very morning I found the man who wrote that ad. and brought him to my hotel. I offered him $7,500 per year—a man from a small town in Wisconsin who had never earned one-fifth that. I saw in him one of the few men who knew people as I know them.
He did not accept, for he saw in his first ad. the chance to independent success. He went on and won it. He pictured to the country boys of the city the foods they had known at home. Doughnuts, pies, real country eggs and butter. And there he laid the foundation of a great advertising career.
So with Phillip Lennan. He came from Syracuse, and after some initial experience started with Royal Tailors. The Royal Tailors sold tailored clothes to young men in small towns and in the country. Lennan conceived the idea that Chicago contained a large country population. He remembered his own environments of few years before. Men would go to “misfit parlors” because the name suggested made-to-order clothes. So he invited the men of Chicago to come to his shops, and brought them by the tens of thousands. I offered him a position at twice what he was earning, because he knew what people really wanted.
So with Charles, Mears, who advertised the Winton car. He was one of the most human men I have ever met. I offered him $25,000 per year to come into the agency field. I said: “You are one of the few natural people in advertising who appeal to natural impulses. We need you, we who are struggling to find real humanity.”
I am trying to show by this how ordinary, how plebeian, good advertising is. And how ordinary humanity counts. Most new men in this field rely on language, on the ability to express an idea. Others count on queer things which attract attention. All of them are trying to flatter themselves, and that always arouses resentment. The real people in advertising whom I know are all humble people. They came from humble people, and they know them.
Those people are canny, economical, thrifty, suspicious. They are not easily fooled on ordinary purchases. The highly-educated man, the man who has lived in a different environment, cannot understand them!
We see today that the heads of large enterprises are men who arose from the ranks. They know their associates all the way up, the men they command and influence. Yet there is no line in which such, knowledge is more important than in advertising. So the lowly experiences I have cited here are indicative, of the chief requirements in advertising, in business, or in politics.