Then As Now

By Ray Schultz

Is there no getting away from advertising? It pops up everywhere online, even in the middle of content, instead of being gated off. And it’s annoying even for someone who works on the fringes of the business

But it’s nothing new. In this brief paragraph, Frank Presbrey describes the ad acene in the 1860s, before the telephone or even electricity. It’s from The History and Development of Advertising, his 1929 classic:

A merchant would hire a man to stand and look fixedly at a placarded announcement; many would stop and read what seemed so interesting to him. At busy street corners boys were distributing handbills, while others went from hosue to house. Every horse car had packages of them tied to the rods in the cars so that passengers could pull them off. Drugstore counters had piles of free almanacs carrying advertisements for patent medicines. (A generation later one patent-medicine house—Ayer—is said to have distributed 25,000,000 almanacs in a year.) Advertising cards were common in the saloons of river steamers and other excursion boats. Novels contained an assortment of advertisements in the back pages—an old practice. Advertising assailed the eye to an extent which then was sensational.

 

We’re Back

By Ray Schultz

Finally. After weeks of technological buffoonery, I’m happy to announce that the TellAllmarketing Blog is back up.

After a fashion. My old blog simply died one day—you could no longer access it. And it was beyond my technical skill to figure out why.

So I engaged WordPress, and created this new version, which looks a little like the old one. Granted, I’ve got questions to answer going forward—like what to do with the dead site. Do I repost the 700 or so items that had piled up, starting in 2010?

I’ve decided not to. I don’t want to be like the Nelson Algren character who saved old racing forms “against a day when age would lend them some value; as age had in no wise increased his own.”

But I have recycled some oldies for the record, like my interviews with Art Spiegelman and Charles Ludlam.

The question might be asked: Just what is the TellAllmrketing Blog about?

In theory, it’s about marketing. But it also delves into the history of marketing, especially the direct mail medium.

It may be true that those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it. But there’s a more positive reason to study it—to get an idea of our heritage, and how our forebears solved their problems.

The blog also contains appreciations of writers I admire. I’m no literary critic— these pieces are an excuse for sharing long quotes by the authors. In the end, it’s all about writing.

This isn’t the first time the blog has gone dark. It tends to suffer when I’m working on a deadline.

Deadlines? Yes. I write content for cutting-edge firms like Aimia and IBM, doing everything from blogs to white papers.

I’ve also been writing books. I’ve finished one on boxing, titled The Man With the Brass Jaw, about the great Cuban journeyman Angel Robinson Garcia. And I’m writing a commissioned biography of a leader in the distance-selling business, a direct marketing legend whose name you will recognize when it’s published.

In the interim, please forgive the typos, missing headlines and other errors that pop up on the blog. It’s clear I have hardly mastered this process.

But enough of all that. It’s Memorial Day. Let’s remember our departed heroes and return to work on Tuesday. Have a great weekend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Swimming With the Big Fishes

By Ray Schultz

What does it take to be a top marketing performer? A focus on customer relationships and a willingness to spend money on technology, according to a survey by Salesforce.

Of the 4,000 firms surveyed, 48% of the high performers are substantially increasing their spending on marketing tools and technology, compared with 23% of the moderate performers and 27% of the underperformers.

How does Salesforce define high performers and moderates? As follows:

High performers , who represent 18% of the firms surveyed, are extremely satisfied with the results of their marketing investments. Moderate performers, 68% of the whole, are only moderately satisfied. And the underperformers are “slightly or not at all satisfied.”

What do these folks worry about?

The top performers fret most about keeping pace with their customers, producing original content and talent acquisition. In contrast, the purported “moderate” performers are concerned about budget constraints, building customer relationships and new business development.

That’s very enlightening, but I wonder: Just how scientific is it when you’re asking a company to rate its own performance?

Pessimists can call themselves “underperformers,” and still deserve a higher rating. And optimists may not be doing as well as they think.

That said, here’s what the survey found. Overall, 35% of all marketers consider customer satisfaction their first measure of success. For 33%, it’s revenue growth and 24% cite customer acquisition.

At the same time, 37% list brand awareness as a top priority, compared with 34% who seek higher levels of customer engagement and 25% who cite social media engagement.

Based on the survey, digital marketing now gets 70% of the average marketing budget, compared with 62% in 2011. And the total is expected to hit 75% by 2021.

That said, here are some best practices that emerge from the survey. High performers are:

  • 8.8 times more likely to adopt a customer journey strategy as part of the overall business strategy.
  • 13.7 times more likely than the others to integrate their business systems to obtain a single view of the customer.
  • 34.4 times more likely to be excellent at creating personalized omni-customer experiences.
  • 10.7 times more likely to use predictive intelligence.
  • 7.2 times more likely to use web personalization.
  • 2.8 times more likely to substantially increase spending on marketing tools and technology.
  • 9.7 times more likely to be actively mapping the customer journey.
  • 3.3 times more likely to lean on CRM tools.

Got it all? Now here’s a couple of additional state to keep in mind: 63% of the high rollers are implementing digital transformation across the company, compared with 23% of the moderate performers and 8% of the underperformers.

Similar percentages excel at collaborating with other business units.

And not that this is any revelation, but 91% use data to segment or target advertising.

Salesforce surveyed 4,000 marketers, 32% of them in the U.S., 11% in Canada and 11% in the United Kingdom. Smaller percentages are in Germany, Japan, Brazil, Australia, France, the Netherlands and Scandinavia.

Bogus Blurbs

By Ray Schultz

Ladies Home Journal is not known for its investigative journalism. In 1906, though, it published a story titled, The Inside Story of a Sham, about phony testimonials in patent medicine ads, exposing the inside workings of a highly fraudulent business.

The article started with the fact that the medicine sellers brazenly used real peoples’ names without their permission. For example, a Senator whose signature appeared in ads wrote that he had not endorsed the product, and that he had never even received the sample that supposedly was sent to him. Another notable threatened legal action if the medicine sellers didn’t stop quoting him by name. Author Mark Sullivan wanted to know: How did the medicine sellers get these peoples’ signatures? Here’s what he uncovered. (Note: we’ve maintained his spelling).

I found that there are three men, rivals in trade, who make a business of securing these indorsements for “patent medicines” from prominent men. They are known as “testimonial-brokers.” The best-known and most successful of the three was approached one day last spring by a man who represented a well-known “patent medicine.” The medicine man states his case: he was about to extend the advertising of his “medicine” and he wanted testimonials. In short, he put it to the testimonial-getter concretely by saying that he wanted signed testimonials from, say, one hundred Members of Congress, Governors, and men high in the Army and Navy. The testimonial-getter was perfectly at home in this situation. He figured on the contract as an architect would estimate on a house.

Confirming my talk with Mr. _________, I will undertake to obtain testimonials from Senators at seventy-five dollars each, and from Congressman at forty dollars on a prearranged contract. A contract for not less than $5,000 would meet my requirements in the testimonial line.

I can put your matter in good shape shortly after Congress meets if we come to an agreement. We can’t get Roosevelt, but we can get men and women of national reputation, and we can get their statements in convincing form and language.

 Here it was then—an actual business!

 The next point I wanted to find out was: Who gets the seventy-five dollars or the forty dollars? Not the Senator or Congressman, I found. It is true that there are a few public men who have a financial interest in “patent medicines”; but none sells his name outright for seventy-five or forty dollars. The testimonial-getter explained this:

 “The knowing how to approach each individual is my stock in trade. Only a man of wide acquaintance of men and things could carry it out. Often I employ women. Women know how to get around public men. For example, I know that Senator A.________has a poverty-stricken cousin who works as a seamstress. I go to her and offer her twenty-five dollars to get the Senator’s signature to a testimonial.
But most of it I do through newspaper correspondents here in Washington. Take the Senator from some Southern State. That Senator is very dependent on the Washington correspondent of the leading newspaper in his State. By the dispatches which that correspondent sends back the Senator’s career is made or marred. So I go to that correspondent. I offer him fifty dollars to get the Senator’s testimonial. The Senator may squirm , but he’ll sign all right. Then there are a number of easy-going Congressmen who needn’t be seen at all. I can sign their names in anything and they’ll stand for it. And there are always a lot of poverty-stricken, broken-down Army veterans hanging around Washington. For a few dollars they’ll go to their old Army officers on a basis of an old acquaintance’ sake, and get testimonials.”

Assuming that was true, it doesn’t say much for the journalistic ethics of those home-town correspondents.

Just as bad, in Sullivan’s view, were the unauthorized testimonials from ordinary people. In one case, a woman said that she “had never used the ‘medicine’ she was advertised to indorse., but that a man had called on her, offered to have a dozen photographs of her taken at the best gallery in her city, and she could have them all free of charge if she would sign the letter and let her photograph be printed. She did, and she got the photographs, but she had never had the ailment spoken of in the advertisement, and had never tasted a drop of the “medicine.”

Well, at least she got the photos. Many people got nothing. And some victims had their names used because they were actually taking the medicines, and were so zonked that they didn’t care if their names were used. Sullivan explains:

 Where the “testimonials” seemed genuine, I found that either the cocaine or the morphine in the “medicine” soothed the pain of the victim, or the strychnine or alcohol exhilarated the taker. But as to a genuine case of actual good gone or help received, except fancied, I could not find a single one of all those I investigated.

Well, so much for honesty in that supposedly golden time, but it didn’t go on for long: The Pure Food and Drug Act was passed that same year, and put most of the patent medicine sellers out of business (along with some testimonial brokers, no doubt). Still, online scam artists post fraudulent testimonials even now. Ladies’ Home Journal should look into it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blowing Smoke

By Ray Schultz

The liquor peddlers we covered last week may seem like the ultimate marketing lowlifes. But there is an even worse group.

The tobacco pushers. They’ve used promotion, advertising, direct mail and every known discipline to hook smokers. And while we’re all responsible for our own vices, they helped kill many people.

Prior to 1900, most tobacco was either chewed or rolled at home in cigarette papers, like marijuana today. The rare person who smoked consumed an average of 16 cigarettes per year, and most women did not smoke at all.

Then mass production came into play, enabling tobacco companies to produce thousands of cigarettes in the time it previously took a smoker to roll one.

Smokes were now available by the pack in every town in the country. And, thanks to lobbyists, tobacco was exempted from the Pure Food an Drug Act of 1906. The result? The tobacco kings avoided the regulations that plagued the manufacturers of patent medicines and many other products.

But the biggest boost to the prosperity of the cancer merchants came with the development of mass advertising. By the mid-1920s, brand names like Lucky Strike and Camel were plastered on billboards and on the pages of magazines. They depicted smoking as an attractive pastime, and linked it to sporting activities and romance. An early Chesterfield ad showed a pretty young girl telling her boyfriend, “Blow some my way.”

The tobacco lords were not merely competing with each other to sell cigarettes, they were creating a market that never before existed. In a few years, thanks to subliminal advertising and popularization of smoking by movie and sports idols, millions of men, women and children picked up the habit. Then the coffin nail sellers received an unexpected bonus: mass addiction. As we now know, the physical habit is equaled by a psychological dependence so powerful that people light up cigarettes without even thinking about it.

Once they realized it, the ciggie manufacturers wasted no time in exploiting this fact. For starters, they aimed their advertising at young non-smokers instead of at people who were already hooked. They targeted women. And they sent thousands of free cartons to veterans’ hospitals and servicemen stationed overseas. Not only did they receive good publicity for these charitable ventures, they gained new lifetime customers among the soldiers who received the handouts.

As for health, their attitude seemed to be symbolized by the copy in one of their ads: “Not a Cough in a Carload.”

Even in the ‘20s, there were indications that smoking was harmful, but the tobacco men worked hard to suppress such information. In 1936, a medical researcher exhibiting a cancerous lung remarked that such a case was so rare it might never be seen again. It wasn’t until the early ‘50s, when the first generation of heavy smokers started dying off en masse, that scientists were able to show a definite relationship between smoking and respiratory disease, especially lung cancer.

The tobacco industry sold its composite of poisons for over 50 years with only the slightest interference from regulators. But eventually, as 77 million workdays were lost and 360,000 deaths were reported due to smoking-related illnesses each year, the problem became too big for any government to ignore. In 1964, after painstaking research, the U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory Committee on Smoking and Health released a historic report linking smoking with the spiraling death rate from cancer and heart disease. Unlike previous efforts, this one spelled it all out, for anybody who wanted to see it—it was also excerpted in almost every newspaper and magazine in the country.

Don’t think the tobacco firms rolled over. Almost out of nowhere, two “scientific” articles appeared, one in True magazine and another in the National Enquirer, purporting to show that cigarette smoking wasn’t bad for you at all—that it was much safer, in fact, than walking across the street or trying to fix a faulty electrical appliance The articles were widely reprinted, and copies were mailed, under True magazine’s letterhead, to 500,000 consumers.

Who mailed them? An FTC investigation revealed that it was the Tobacco Institute. The author of the article, Stanley Frank, was no scientist: This prehistoric content writer had previously done some articles on sports and other lightweight topics.

Meanwhile, the nicotine cartel carried on a backchannel fight to prevent the FTC from banning cigarette advertising on television. This went on for a few years until a New York attorney named John F. Banzhaf III petitioned the Federal Communications Commission, claiming that if cigarette companies were going to be allowed to advertise on the air then anti-smoking groups should be given equal time to refute them, under the FCC’s Fairness Doctrine.

The industry deployed its biggest legal guns, but lost, right up to the Supreme Court. The airwaves were deluged with anti-smoking commercials. And sales plummeted.

At this point, the tobacco trust decided that it should take its advertising off the air, because then the prime tine anti-smoking spots would also cease. So it sent its lobbyists out to support such a ban. And it promised to not target the young.

The ban went into effect on January 2, 1971, in accord with the Public Health Smoking Act of 1970. Some anti-smoking people saw it as a victory.

But they were deluding themselves. The networks stopped showing the antismoking commercials in prime time, and cigarette sales shot up almost as quickly as they had gone down.

What’s more, the smoke purveyors saved hundreds of millions of dollars by not running TV advertising. And they diverted these funds into other types of marketing. For example, they came up with the Virginia Slims Tennis Tournament, which won the endorsement of some of the biggest names in sports, while also gaining prime-time TV coverage (with the name Virginia Slims prominently displayed in color around the court). They also started mailing out free samples, just as they had done years before, but the FTC put a halt to it.

We’ll stop there. People of a certain age will recall that restaurants, bars and theaters were so full of smoke that the eyes burned. Things are better now in that way thanks to smoking restrictions, but you can still see young people puffing away on the street, especially women.

It’s impossible to scare them. But I’ve seen enough friends and colleagues die of lung cancer and emphysema, usually wearing inhalers for their last several years.

In the end, the cigarette marketers are worse than their liquor counterparts. An adult can enjoy an occasional glass of alcohol or enhance a meal with a good wine; why, it’s said that a daily glass of wine can improve your coronary health.

I can’t remember seeing any such reports about cigarettes (at least not credible ones). So no credit is due the swine who market the evil weed.

 

Drunken Youth

By Ray Schultz

Oh, our poor young people. People who worry about them often ask if liquor advertisers target youth.

Of course they do, you fools. Where else are they going to get new customers? The Boomers may drink more as they sink into dementia, but there’s a certain churn.

Rolling Stone magazine put it best in an ad in the Liquor Handbook some 30 years ago:

“Meet over 2 ½ million young adults who read Rolling Stone…They’re affluent, they’re thirsty, they’re deciding right now what they’ll be drinking for the next 20 years. Who needs ‘em?? You do: they’re your future.”

Has anything changed?

By the way, this was around the time the magazine ran a lurid article on teenage alcoholism. Talk about having it both ways.

When Prohibition was repealed in 1932, alcohol was less of a problem for both young and old. Less than a third of the American people drank at all and statistics on the damage from steady boozing were only a fraction of what they later became (perhaps because there was less research being done).

This changed in the 1950’s, when now-prosperous ex-G.I..’s created the home entertainment revolution. Booze was now more acceptable in the home, and millions of people set up bars in their houses to serve it.

Alcohol was also seen as more chic. And why wouldn’t it be? Liquor flowed once every eight minutes on the tube, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

Then as now, the most common kind of liquor advertising showed sexy young people enjoying a drink. They could have been playing with toy boats, as in a Smirnoff’s ad, or sitting around a fireplace. The message was that a person who drank the beverage being advertised would enjoy wealth, sex and social status like the people in the ad.

Which was pure rot. A person who made a career out of swilling what the people in the ad were drinking would not only get further away from wealth, sex and social status, but could end up with no wife, no house, no worldly possessions whatsoever.

Naturally, liquor companies soft-peddled that sad fact. But they hinted at it in occasional ads that seemed to appeal directly to alcoholism. For example, Smirnoff’s showed a bottle of vodka lying smashed on the ground, with a caption reading, “Did you ever see a grown man cry?”

That wasn’t the worst of it. As we now know, liquor advertising was (and still is) full of subliminal messages, which the industry pretended to only dimly understand. One person who understood them was Professor Wilson Byron Key, a former advertising executive, who wrote the book Subliminal Seduction.

In Senate hearings, Key showed slides of several full-color ads in national magazines. To the astonishment of the Senatorial audience, he pointed out various nightmare images such as death’s heads and devils masks, plus assorted sexual imagery, and the letters S-E-X, all superimposed on the ice cubes in the glasses.

If the reader looked carefully enough at the ice cubes floating in almost any liquor ad, he, too, would see macabre and sexually provocative images winking at him. “The subliminal content appears to be about two things—sex and death,” Professor Key said. He then explained that most people will never even realize that they are seeing such a thing, but that it will register in their subconscious, so that at a later time, when they are shopping in a liquor store, they will find themselves looking for a certain brand without knowing why. “These are subliminal stimuli, not perceived at any conscious level,” he added. “They are perceived at the unconscious level.”

The liquor industry claimed that these masterpieces of hallucinogenic art were just that—hallucinations. “They’re ordinary ice cubes,” one ad writer said. But Key debunked that. “If you have ever been around commercial photography, you would know that this is an impossibility. You can’t photograph ice. The stuff melts under hot lights.” As far as the professor was concerned, these images were most skillfully air-brushed in.

Granted, these ads weren’t all directed at the young. But many new products were. For example, vintners learned that young people were drinking wine to supplement their marijuana. In response, Ernest and Julio Gallo, introduced pop wines like Ripple and Boone’s Farm Apple Wine, and the Heublein Corporation brought out Annie Green Springs wine. When wine faded, and the love generation turned to harder booze, the wineries switched their focus to the teenage audience. Heublein introduced Hereford Cows, an alcoholic milkshake available in flavors like chocolate, strawberry and banana.

Think about that the next time you want to criticize Millennials for their drinking habits.

What’s more, people barely old enough to drink and vote were not the only prime market. The Gallos created a libation called Thunderbird after reading marketing reports that said black consumers were fond of mixing white port wine with lemon juice. Thunderbird sold 2.5 million cases during its first year. It’s not clear who bought them, but the product later became a staple on interracial skid rows across the country.

Is it true that the industry had nobody in mind for these ads and products? If you believe that, you shouldn’t work in marketing.

“An industry that spends over $500 million a year on advertising certainly has a good idea of who buys its products and why,” said Dr. Eugene Noble, director of the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, back in those halcyon days.

It still does.

The Shameful Sham

By Ray Schultz

I shouldn’t admit this, but sometimes I get nostalgic for the scam artists of the 1980s. Even the worst of them were fun to cover as a reporter.

Well, not to worry. The old rogues may be gone. But the free market provides.

Say hello to E.M. Systems & Services, LLC, and its web of “entities and fictitious business names.”

This outfit cold-called consumers and promised to reduce their credit card interest rates, according to an amended complaint announced last week by the Federal Trade Commission and the Florida Attorney General.

But the victims, who paid from $695 to $1,495 apiece, got bupkis for their money, the lawsuit alleges.

Most did not “achieve any debt relief at all, but instead found themselves saddled with even more debt than before because of the fees the (defendants) charged to their credit cards,” the plaintiffs charge.

And, of course, many never got the refunds they were promised if they failed to realize big savings (typically, $5,000 in 90 days), the court papers state.

As I live and breathe, it sounds like an old-fashioned credit repair scheme. And it was conducted in the time-honored way—not online, but by phone, according to the FTC and the Florida AG.

With E.M. Systems directing them, callers working for One Easy and other telemarketing firms “identified themselves as being with ‘card services,’ ‘credit services,’ ‘card member services,’ or one of the unregistered fictitious …businesses,” the complaint charges.

Then they “took steps to win consumers’ trust and create an air of legitimacy to their sales pitch.” it adds.

The callers told prospects that they already had “the names of some of their credit cards and/or the amount of their credit card debt,” the complaint continues.

Despite this purported knowledge, they then asked consumers for their credit card numbers, and billed them while they were still on the phone before any services could be rendered, the papers state.

And once the fees were paid, many consumers “never heard from the Debt Relief Defendants again,” and their “attempts at further communication were ignored,” the complaint continues.

Others were sent packets of information and papers to fill out. But they “rarely, if ever,” got the promised interest rate reductions, the FTC and AG maintain.

Another defendant, CardReady, arranged for at least 26 shell merchant accounts to “be used to process credit card payments,” the government plaintiffs charge. And this led to illegal credit card laundering and factoring of credit card transactions, they add.

CardReady, a so-called Independent Sales Organization, “maintained an agreement with a credit card processor named First Pay Solutions,” the complaint says.

This part of the scheme unraveled when “11 of the 26 shell LLCs were placed on the MasterCard Alert to Control High- risk (“MATCH”) list for excessive chargebacks,” according to the complaint.

Here’s a link to the complaint if you want to read it yourself.

But let’s not prejudge. This is a civil action, and it is yet to be litigated. The alleged villains may end up signing a consent decree with no admission of guilt, or they could get off entirely.

What a throwback, though—it’s enough to make you feel young again. Assuming there’s an ounce of truth in the charges, though, I doubt that the people who were snookered are amused.