Summer Series: How Marketing Created Rituals
Our Summer Series airs every Saturday at 1:30pm on CBC Radio One.
In our first episode of the Summer Series, we look at how the marketing industry created many of our everyday rituals. We don't think twice about having bacon & eggs for breakfast or taking a coffee break, but both of those routine rituals were invented by marketing companies to sell more product.
When Babe Ruth took to the mound in game one of the 1918 World Series, he was pitching for the Boston Red Sox.
The United States had entered the First World War 17 months earlier, and over 100,000 Americans had lost their lives in that short period.
The government was drafting major league players for active duty, and ordered the championship to be done by Labour Day, making it the only World Series to be entirely played in the month of September.
The crowd was subdued that day, but as was customary during the seventh inning stretch, a brass band struck up a tune. It happened to be the Star Spangled Banner…
A baseball player on the field - who was on furlough from the Navy - snapped to attention and saluted.
Other players did the same. The fans, who were already on their feet for a stretch, joined in on a spontaneous sing-along, hands to their hearts. As the New York Times later reported, it was the most rousing moment of the game, and ended in thunderous applause.
Before long, the national anthem was played at every 7th inning stretch across the league. The response was so stirring and uplifting, the decision was made to move it to the beginning of the game.
Thus started one the most famous rituals in our culture – the singing of the national anthem at sporting events.
At a recent hockey game in Toronto between the Maple Leafs and the Nashville Predators, the Star Spangled Banner was being sung, when suddenly the microphone started to malfunction, then it quit completely…
Hmmm. I wonder if Nashville fans would know the words to O Canada…
Back in 1983, Marvin Gaye sang the national anthem at an NBA All-Star Game.
But Marvin didn't sing the Star Spangled Banner the traditional way:
It was a highly unusual take on the national anthem.
Later, many people objected to Gaye's performance. As Dennis Rook noted in his study on Ritual Behaviour, people called it disgusting and disrespectful. Even some fellow musicians felt Gaye's singing cheapened the anthem.
It was an interesting reaction. Not only is a national anthem a patriotic thing, but the singing of the anthem at sporting events was a ritual.
And Marvin Gaye had radically altered that ritual.
We, as a culture, have a lot invested in our rituals. We have daily rituals, yearly rituals, personal rituals and social rituals. And we take them very seriously.
In the world of marketing, a ritual involving a product can be a pot of gold to an advertiser. If we use a product daily, or monthly, or sometimes even yearly, those rituals can add up to big profits.
But what you may not know is that many of our rituals were started by marketers. From what we eat and drink for breakfast – to when our kids trick or treat, to what you do in your bathroom, was all decided in a boardroom…
Back in late 1966, John Lennon was having breakfast, and saw a TV commercial for Kellogg's Corn Flakes.
The lyric in the jingle was, "Good morning, good morning, the best to you each morning…"
Which inspired him to write this song:
Which turned into this song:
Cereal in the morning is a ritual for many people.
As we mentioned in a past episode, companies like Kellogg's and Post created cereals and marketed them as breakfast foods.
Which is just one of the many rituals created by marketing companies.
A "ritual" can mean perennial profit for a marketer, especially if it's a daily ritual. That means a constant re-purchase cycle and a loyal customer.
When servicemen went to war in 1917, coffee was a part of their rations. So when they returned home, they brought back a taste for it.
The next big boost coffee got was during prohibition in the 1920s. For the 13 years alcohol was banned, coffee sales grew steadily.
During World War II, coffee was again part of a serviceman's rations. And it was during this war that a coffee became known as "a cup of Joe" – meaning it was the perfect drink for the average Joe. Or G.I. Joe.
After the war in the 1950s, nearly every North American household served coffee, but very little of it was consumed outside the home. And soft drink manufacturers were beginning to convince consumers that caffeine could be fizzy and fun, making coffee seem old and outdated.
So in 1952, the Pan-American Coffee Bureau – an organization funded by Latin American coffee growers - made it a mission to promote out-of-home coffee sales in the U.S. and Canada.
It created a well-funded, multi-media campaign with the theme:
While the language of the slogan was a bit cumbersome, the idea of taking a "coffee break" caught on big time.
Within just a few months, over 80% of North American companies had introduced coffee breaks into their employee's work schedules. That success was also aided by the introduction of the first coffee vending machines.
So popular was the idea of a "coffee break," that unions began demanding they be written into their agreements. Laws were put into place to guarantee workers a 10-20-minute coffee break between shifts of four consecutive hours, and coffee breaks became routine in kitchens across the nation.
Today, coffee is the third most consumed beverage in North America, behind water and soft drinks. Over 80% of North Americans drink coffee.
The "coffee break" is a ritual embedded into our culture.
And it all began with a marketing idea - when a Latin-American organization needed to stimulate coffee sales.
Ever had orange juice with breakfast?
How do you think that started?
Way back in 1908, there was an advertising agency based in Chicago called Lord & Thomas. It was the biggest agency in North America at the time, and it was run by a man named Albert D. Lasker.
Lasker was probably the most fascinating advertising man who ever lived, and I really should do an entire episode on him. Back in 1908, Lasker was approached by an organization called the California Fruit Growers Exchange.
It was a cooperative of citrus growers, and its largest crop was oranges. But the growers were facing a serious problem. The market for oranges was vastly oversupplied, prices were dropping, orange farmers were selling at a loss and many were beginning to chop down orange trees to halt the glut.
The only solution was to grow the market, so the fruit farmers asked Lasker if his agency could develop an advertising campaign to promote the consumption of oranges. It was an interesting challenge, as no national advertising campaign at that time had ever been developed for a perishable commodity.
So Lord & Thomas got to work. First, the agency recommended that the California Fruit Growers Exchange change their name to a more marketable and memorable one. They came up with the word "Sunkist" – and instead of spelling it "Sunkissed," they spelled it "Sunkist" – so they could protect the trademark.
Then Lasker and his top copywriter, Claude C. Hopkins, developed a famous print ad that would change the fortunes of fruit growers forever.
The headline simply said, "Drink an orange." The thinking behind the ad was brilliant. Oranges weren't easily used in baking or other recipes – like apples and lemons. The only way to consume an orange was to simply cut it open and eat it in sections. Most oranges ended up as treats in a Christmas stocking.
The "Drink An Orange" ad, on the other hand, persuaded people to squeeze oranges and drink the juice. The copy told readers orange juice was delicious, and that physicians recommended "citrus juice" for its health value. As an added incentive, Lasker actually hired a man to invent a juice extractor, and the print ads offered those glass juice extractors for just 10 cents a piece. It was an ingenious marketing idea. Lasker sold 3 million of them almost overnight.
Before the campaign, the average consumption per serving was half an orange.
But after Lasker's juice campaign, it jumped to two and a half oranges per serving. A 400% increase.
By the early 1920s, orange juice had become a staple of North American breakfasts.
And it all began with a marketing campaign to save the orange growing industry.
Lasker simply sold orange juice, instead of oranges.
Coffee and orange juice were not the only rituals the marketing industry brought to breakfast.
Eggs needed a partner.
Edward L. Bernays was born in 1891 in Vienna, was raised in New York and went on to become a public relations pioneer.
He was the first to apply psychoanalytic principles to public relations with great success. Bernays was inspired to do so after reading Sigmund Freud's "General Introductory Lectures."
The book was a gift from his uncle – who happened to be Sigmund Freud.
Bernays was intrigued by his uncle's theory that certain forces drove human behaviour. Bernays hypothesized that by harnessing a group's mindset, he could use those forces to sell products to individuals.
So in 1925, the Beechnut Packing Company came to him with a problem. Its line of bacon was suffering from dismal sales, and projections were even worse. So the packing company hired Bernays to somehow stimulate demand.
In the conventional style of marketing at the time, an advertiser would constantly repeat a stimulus – in other words, inundate consumers with full-page ads - then follow up with the reward of discount coupons.
But Bernays wanted to try a Freudian strategy. Instead of repeating a stale selling message, he wanted to engineer certain behaviour. So he asked himself, "Who influences what people eat?"
The answer…was physicians.
With that insight, Bernays surveyed 5,000 physicians with a very specific question: He asked if a hearty breakfast was better than a light breakfast to replace the energy lost by the body overnight.
Physicians overwhelmingly favoured a substantial breakfast – which was just the wedge Bernays needed to convince North Americans to swap their typical light breakfast of toast and eggs for a more ample one consisting of bacon and eggs. Bacon was positioned as a hearty solution that added much needed vitality and energy to breakfasts.
The survey results – which he called "study" results - were sent to doctors all across the nation, and were repeated in all the major newspapers, magazines and radio networks – where Bernays carefully placed ads for Beechnut bacon, as well.
Demand for bacon skyrocketed. Beechwood's profits soared.
And the ritual of bacon and eggs took hold in restaurants, greasy spoons and households across the land.
Today, 70% of all bacon is consumed at breakfast.
The result of a marketing idea to help one company's bacon sales…
Many of the rituals in our lives happen in the bathroom.
Most of which were invented by marketers.
We brush our teeth to make them whiter and more attractive. We gargle with mouthwash so our breath will stay minty fresh. We deodorize so we won't offend co-workers.
And we use a lot of soap.
Back in 1927, the snappy sounding Association of American Soap and Glycerine Producers realized that in order to expand, they had to create more demand.
So the Association decided to establish the Cleanliness Institute. This much more friendly-sounding organization could promote the benefits of hygiene to the public - at a seemingly arms-length distance - while stimulating soap consumption at the same time.
The initial target was school children. Research initially showed that only 57% of schools even had soap on the premise. As Vincent Vinikas writes in his book, Soft Soap, Hard Sell, no approach could better meet the industry's goals than by introducing every youth in America to a habit of soap-and-water. Once it became a ritual, the children would guarantee a market for years to come.
The goal of the Cleanliness Institute was not just to make children clean, but to make them love to be clean.
To achieve that, the Institute created teacher's guides and posters. It published storybooks with titles like, "A Tale Of Soap and Water" outlining the historical progress of hygiene and sanitation. A series of eleven 15-minute "Cleanliness Broadcasts" were aired on national radio networks, dozens of pamphlets were printed and distributed for free.
A 56-page book titled Hitchhikers was published, explaining how organisms of various communicable diseases hitchhiked on dirty hands and fingers.
Ads were aimed at mothers.
And so on.
With that concerted effort, people began washing their hands with soap and water after using the toilet, before meals, after the workday, and they jumped into the shower or tub on an almost daily basis.
That was a huge change in behaviour. Prior to this, most people bathed only a few times a month, and soap had only been used to clean clothes.
Today, over 70% of men and women shower or bathe every day. 10 billion pounds of soap are produced each year, and North Americans account for one-third of that amount.
There is no doubt that hygiene is the most cost-effective health prevention available, and millions of lives are saved each year because of clean hands.
But the ritual was the result of a marketing campaign.
The objective of which was to sell more soap.
Every spring across most of North America, we practise the ritual of Daylight Saving Time – where our clocks advance by one hour.
Then in the autumn, we fall back an hour.
So during the months of March and November, you will often hear this message:
That ritual was started in 1987 by Energizer batteries.
Back then, a disturbing trend was emerging – many people were dying in home fires, even though they had installed smoke alarms.
The problem was that the batteries powering the alarms were often neglected. Energizer believed the problem was not being addressed on a national scale. So the battery company formed an alliance with the International Association of Fire Chiefs, and tried a pilot program in St. Louis and Atlanta.
The message was simply to change your smoke detector batteries when you change your clock.
The success of that pilot evolved into the most widely used fire safety education program in North America.
Sadly, it's still an ongoing issue - two-thirds of home fire deaths are the result of inoperative fire alarms. And while 96% of homes have fire alarms, 20% still have alarms with dead batteries.
So the change your clock/change you batteries message will continue.
It's a ritual that was attached to a ritual - and continues to save countless lives.
All started by a battery company.
At the end of every October of every year, we have a very scary ritual:
It is one of our most enduring rituals. Since the late 1930s, millions of little ghosts and goblins have been knocking on neighbourhood doors asking for treats.
But an interesting thing happened back in 2007.
President George W. Bush changed the dates of Daylight Saving Time. Not only did he move the date earlier in the Spring, more importantly, he pushed it a few days later in the Fall - from the last Sunday in October to the first Sunday in November.
The legislation was called the Energy Policy Act, and its official purpose was to get people to turn their lights on an hour later to save millions in energy costs.
But as author Michael Downing points out in his book, Spring Forward, The Annual Madness Of Daylight Saving Time, no energy savings have ever been proven.
The actual reason, says Downing, was to push Daylight Saving Time later so that it would occur a few days after Halloween.
Because one of the biggest reasons for the date change was pressure from the candy industry.
According to the New York Times, the candy industry had long lobbied to push the date of Daylight Saving Time ahead a few days, because it would provide one more hour of daylight on Halloween.
That meant trick or treaters would stay out one hour longer.
And just one additional hour of daylight meant millions of extra dollars for candy manufacturers.
Therefore, the official date of Daylight Saving Time was changed, and Canada followed suit that same year.
The ritual of Halloween, extended by one hour.
Brought to you by candy marketers everywhere.
Many of the rituals in our lives have been with us for so long, their origins are sometimes lost to the sands of time.
And some rituals, like taking a coffee break, having bacon & eggs and a glass of orange juice for breakfast, and washing our hands after with soap and water, are surprisingly recent.
And isn't it interesting to know they were all born of marketing.
You may have also noticed the majority of today's marketing rituals began in the 1920s, maybe the most influential decade for the advertising industry in the 20th century.
Many rituals are cemented into our culture. While George Bush showed us that some rituals are still written in pencil.
You have to wonder what rituals the digital world is easing into our lives these days, and where those rituals are originating.
The litmus test is to ask if a ritual is tied, even casually, to a marketing industry.
The answer to that question will shed some extra daylight on its origins.
And you'll be able to determine if the ritual is a trick or a treat…
…when you're under the influence.