Season 5: Marketing Pioneers
(Originally aired February 5th/10th, 2011)
This week on the Age of Persuasion, we look at the Marketing Pioneers who created products that created industries. We talk about the first company to link diamond rings to engagements, how alcohol inspired the very first travel agent, how a brainstorm while ice-fishing ignited a $97 billion dollar industry, how a traveling salesman and his date led to the first car rental, and how an embarrassing moment in a restaurant revolutionized the way we shop. Each pioneer was a visionary, each overcame almost insurmountable obstacles, and all of them changed our lives forever.
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In 1878, George Eastman was packing his photography equipment to go on a trip. He couldn't believe how cumbersome the camera paraphernalia was, so he swore to himself that he would invent a photography method that would simplify the process.
Six years later, Eastman invented the world's first transparent roll film, revolutionizing photography. But first, Eastman had to invent a camera that could use his new film. In 1888, Eastman unveiled the Kodak hand-held camera, pre-loaded with enough film for 100 exposures.
George Eastman not only invented a product, he created an entire industry.
Here's a classic Kodak commercial from the early 1950s:
Eastman's invention also revolutionized Hollywood by helping set the standards for 35mm film. Soon after, Kodak offered movie cameras to the public:
DeBeers was (and is) the world's biggest diamond supplier.
In 1939, the value of diamonds plummeted after the Depression, so DeBeers needed to find a new way to market the precious stones. They hired advertising agency N.W. Ayer, who devised a strategy to link diamond rings to engagements, coining the slogan, "Diamonds Are Forever." Prior to that, men would give women fur coats, automobiles or rubies as an engagement gift.
But ever since diamonds have been linked to engagements, over 80% of the women in North America sport diamond engagement rings.
DeBeers not only married diamond rings to engagements, they created an entire category.
In 1916, Nebraskan Joe Saunders looked at this Model-T and wondered if he could rent it. So he put out a car rental sign, and a traveling salesman who was trying to impress a local girl rented Saunder's car for 10 cents a mile.
Encouraged, he soon bought other cars, and by 1925, had offices in 21 states across America.
Even though the Depression eventually forced him into bankruptcy, he would bounce back in 1947 and become one of the founders of National Car Rental.
Here's a recent National Car Rental commercial that my company worked on. The voiceover is Patrick Stewart, or you may know him as Captain Jean-Luc Picard, from Star Trek: The Next Generation:
In 1949, Frank McNamara took two friends out to dinner. When he reached to pay for the dinners, he realized he had forgotten his wallet. Embarrassed, he had to call his wife to bring him money.
Vowing never to let that happen to him again, he later came up with the idea of a credit card that could be used at multiple stores and restaurants.
He targeted salesmen first, as they had to take many clients out for dinner. That inspired the name "Diner's Club."
While credit cards already existed, none could be used at multiple locations, until Diner's Club.
McNamara's embarrassing moment that fateful day changed the way we all shop forever.
Diner's Club enjoyed eight full years without any competition.
Then in 1958, both American Express and Bank Americard (later called VISA) arrived on the scene, and in 1966, Master Charge was created, which later changed its name to Mastercard.
Thomas Cook was a Baptist minister in England. He was also a big supporter of the Temperance Movement, preaching the evils of alcohol. One day while waiting for a stagecoach, he wondered if the educational benefits of travel might divert people's attention away from alcohol.
So in 1841, he arranged for 570 Temperance supporters to take an 11-mile train trip to a rally, and the rail company paid Cook a commission.
That sparked a big idea in Cook's mind: He could start a company that arranged travel for people.
Soon he was organizing trips around the world, and by 1890, Thomas Cook & Son Travel had sold 3 million tickets.
Thomas Cook had not only started a business, he put an entire industry on the road to success:
In 1912, Clarence Birdseye went to Labrador to be a fur trader. While there, he was taught to ice fish by the local Inuits. One day, in minus-40 degree weather, he noticed that the fish he caught froze almost instantly, and when thawed, tasted fresher than any other frozen fish he had ever had.
Birdseye knew in his heart that the public would gladly pay for this quality of frozen food. So he went back home and started experimenting - and with an investment of $7 for an electric fan, buckets of brine and cakes of ice - he founded Birds Eye Seafoods in 1924.
He eventually developed and patented a "quick-freeze machine," the first frozen food laboratories and a full line of commercial products.
Birdseye not only created a leading frozen food company, he pioneered an industry that today is worth $97 billion worldwide.