Groundbreaking Marketing Stories From The Past

Let’s have some fun!

We’ve been pretty serious lately, delving into ways to be better and make our companies better and our customers love us. It’s time to loosen that proverbial tie (when is the last time you saw someone wear one of those?) and talk about some fun marketing stuff.

I did my homework this week and went digging for some interesting marketing stories that were not only entertaining, but strangely enough, they worked! These are great examples of how thinking out of the box not only worked but changed marketing forever. Check out these classics I lifted from that great and dusty tome of the history of marketing.  And always remember as I like to tell my pastor…it’s not lying, it’s marketing.

  1. P.T. Barnum’s “Feejee Mermaid” 

In the mid 1800’s the famous showman displayed what he called the “FeeJee Mermaid” to attract crowds to his museum. The supposed mermaid was actually a cleverly crafted hoax (surprise!), a taxidermied combination of a fish and a monkey. Barnum’s creative marketing generated immense curiosity and foot traffic helping him make a fortune in ticket sales.


  1. John H. Patterson’s Free Sewing Machine Lessons

In the late 19th century, Patterson, founder of the National Cash Register Company (NCR) came up with the brilliant strategy to sell his cash registers. He offered free sewing machine classes to small business owners.  Remember that at that time sewing machines were the latest hot thing and everyone wanted one and wanted to learn how to use it (kind of like the PC a forty years back) During these lessons, he would introduce the business owners to his cash registers, demonstrating how they could improve efficiency and reduce errors in their operations. This approach not only boosted sales but established NCR as a trusted brand in the industry.


  1. Ron Popeil’s Infomercials

Now we all remember this guy. As we all know Ron was a prolific inventor and the ultimate salesperson. He was known for his catchy infomercials in the late 20th century. He demonstrated and sold a wide range of products from the Veg-O-Matic to the Pocket Fisherman, to the Smokeless Ashtray to the Showtime Rotisserie.  His energetic and engaging, not to mention entertaining as heck, infomercials showcased his products’ features and benefits and made him and his products a household name. He was actually the father of the impulse buy, having started selling knives at the Illinois and Wisconsin State Fairs before moving on to TV. His infomercials revolutionized direct response marketing and generated millions in sales.


  1. David Ogilvy’s Rolls-Royce Advertisement 

I love this guy! In the 1950’s he was the king of print ads. For those of us old enough, remember the man in the Hathaway shirt? It was Ogilvy who gave him that iconic black eye patch. He also did the ground-breaking advertisement for Rolls-Royce which along with a picture of that incredible car stated, “At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.” Appealing to the most discerning (and probably snobbish) of Roll’s target audience.


  1. Avon’s door-to-door selling 

Avon founder David H. McConnell in the late 19th century recruited a group of women to sell his line of perfumes door-to-door. This approach was revolutionary at the time, as it provided women with their own income stream. Avon representatives would also offer beauty demonstrations, building personal relationships with their customers. This strategy not only boosted sales but empowered women in business.


  1. The Tupperware Home Party

A man named Earl Tupper (of course that was his name) invented the revolutionary airtight watertight plastic container called Tupperware which he was trying to sell though normal retail channels, and also failing miserably. That’s when he engaged with a woman named Brownie Wise who saw the product in a department store and saw the potential. She bought some of the products and began selling them at home parties. She then approached Mr. Tupper about working for the company and selling them through parties. The first party took place in 1948 and the rest is history. She created a groundbreaking approach to direct sales and marketing.


  1. Steve Job’s Product Launch

Steve Jobs was a master of product marketing and launch events. He created a sense of anticipation and excitement by unveiling new Apple products in carefully orchestrated events. His presentations were not just about features and specifications but about storytelling and creating an emotional connection with the audience. This approach led to record breaking sales and loyal Apple customers.

Of course, there are many, many more of these stories, but these are among my personal favorites. How about you? Do you have any stories of your own? Have you ever come up with any groundbreaking marketing that worked, or even did not work…those stories are often even more interesting! It’s only common sense.