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3 Bizarre Marketing Initiatives that Changed the World

The world we live in today is defined by the decisions and innovations of the past. Often these key inflection points are a result of the actions of a business function. For example, if Product Managers had not decided to make enhancements to a certain “patent medicine” called Coca-Cola, today we might live in a world where people are forced to survive on things like water. Gross.


Similarly, if Finance gurus didn’t exist, we wouldn’t have GAAP accounting, derivatives, or a group of people who are willing to buy Hermes ties. At the same time, HR types have given us equal opportunity laws, countless employee satisfaction surveys, and bans against watching South Park at work. In addition, Operations experts have taught us that being a 6 Sigma black belt is the lamest possible form of martial arts.


But there is one function that seems to always be undervalued in the field of innovation. Marketing. Marketing gets no love for lasting impact. It’s the Rodney Dangerfield of the business world. No respect. People call it a “soft skill.” When products do well, people say things like, “It has a design that sells itself.” But when products are received poorly people say, “Who’s the marketing genius who came up with that?” But the truth is marketing genius does exist.

Marketing works. It communicates value. Marketing is why my online dating profile still says “management consultant” instead of “comedian and future disappointment to your parents.” In all seriousness, Marketing has tremendous impact and sometimes in the most bizarre circumstances possible. Here’s three examples to prove the point that Marketing can and has absolutely changed the very odd ways:

3. Pork Fat For Breakfast is awesome.


The smell of bacon cooking in the morning. It’s magical. It’s like you woke up and the world said, “Start your day off with joy, deliciousness, and a possible coronary.” On second thought, bacon for breakfast seems kind of insane. Why do so many people shove greasy sticks of pork fat down our gullets to start out the day? Marketing. That’s why. Until 1925, most Americans had a relatively light breakfast of coffee, bread, and orange juice. In 1925, the Beech-Nut Packing Company hired a marketer named Edward Bernays to increase bacon sales. Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud, believed in combining “crowd psychology” or herd instinct with the psychoanalytical ideas of Freud. It was this philosophy that caused Bernays to be known as the father of public relations and to be named one of “Life” magazines 100 most influential Americans of the 20th Century.


When Beech-Nut hired Bernays, he decided to do something quite simple. He sent out a survey to 5,000 doctors asking if a hearty breakfast was better for health than a light one. They said that yes hearty breakfasts are better, because that’s true and apparently doctors in 1925 were happy to answer random surveys in the mail from bacon companies. Bernays took that and sent word around America that thousands of doctors agreed that people should eat hearty breakfasts and, oh by the way, bacon and eggs form a hearty breakfast. And the media ran with it. Mothers around the world fed their children bacon in the name of “health” and “negligent parenting.”


Don’t believe it? Here’s Edward Bernays himself:

1. Marketing gave us something we should have already wanted.


Still not convinced marketing works? Think it’s all about a great product? Let’s tell you about the most important of all product innovations...that also didn’t sell: toilet paper.


Throughout history, people used basically whatever was available to fulfill their hygiene needs. This included coconuts, shells, snow, moss, hay, leaves, grass, corncobs, sheep’s wool, and wide variety of other ridiculousness. (Yes, you read corncobs.) In the 1800's people often used catalogs like Sears, Roebuck. The Farmers Almanac actually still comes with a hole in it, that was originally used to hang it from a hook in the bathroom, so you could tear the pages out, read them, and then use them.


Along comes Joseph Gayetty, with soft paper sheets infused with aloe. Obviously the world jumped at this and everything changed...except it didn't. People didn't want to pay for something they previously got for free. It took the marketing genius of the Scott brothers (who created the still successful Scott Toilet Paper) to add the additional convenience of putting toilet paper on a roll. But when it really took off was with two marketing campaigns:


1.) Northern Tissue came up with "Splinter Free Toilet Paper" because people had to be reminded that splinters hurt.


2.) The Hoberg Paper Company introduced the idea of marketing its softness by creating a brand called Charmin that was represented initially by a beautiful woman on the packaging that evoked softness and femininity. They would eventually evolve further on that concept with a teddy bear spokesman and the famed "Don't Hug The Charmin" campaign.

I sacrificed so you could listen to Nickelback.

But how could Beech-Nut have known Bernays would be good at marketing bacon as a health food? Well, his prior experience was marketing another health product called “cigarettes.” 

2. The birth of broadcast advertising comes from pretty ridiculous marketing.


Broadcast advertising is that thing that we all must endure to enjoy our favorite programs. Despite assaults from its natural predators, mute buttons and DVR’s, broadcast advertising is still a prevalent part of everyday life. But where did this horrible form of irritation originate? Once again, from marketing. 

It all goes back to the original broadcast form: radio. It’s hard to imagine, but radio in the early 1900’s was akin to a public library. It was free, focused on cultural advancement, and had no advertisements.


At the same time, a physician named Dr. John Brinkley had developed a unique procedure to address male impotence. His solution: implanting goat testicles into his patients. His patients were numerous and included judges, an alderman, and the Chancellor of the University of Chicago Law School. In 1922, the owner of the Los Angeles Times, Harry Chandler, challenged Brinkley to conduct the transplant on one of his editors, because apparently this is what was expected of newspaper editors in 1922. If Brinkley was successful, Chandler promised to make him the “most famous surgeon in America.” The operation was (I have no idea how) deemed successful and tremendous press coverage ensued.


Brinkley decided he needed a way to further market his success and, in 1923, he launched his own radio station. His radio station was the first one to feature advertising (about his recommended medical solutions) and because of the ads, he offered premium content including military bands, French lessons, astrological forecasts, storytelling, and Hawaiian songs. (Apparently, even “premium content” was incredibly boring in 1923.) Not long after, other radio stations followed suit and broadcast advertising was born. Still, 90 years later, no radio stations have offered apologies to the world’s goat population. 

Not even a hint of guilt.

iPhone: $199. Bigger iPhone that doesn't actually make phone calls: $499.

Marketing Genius.

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