One of the least successful examples of negative marketing on record comes from the battle over whether direct current or alternating current would be the standard for electrical usage.
Thomas Edison waged an unremitting campaign to prove that alternating current was far more dangerous than direct current. As part of that campaign, his assistants went to West Orange, N.J. and paid kids $.25 for each dog or cat they brought in. They pushed the terrified animals onto a wired tin sheet and pumped in a thousand volts.
Following their success in ridding the town of pets, Edison’s assistants went from state to state, bidding against Westinghouse’s assistants (proponents of alternating current) for the new electric chair contracts – each side using the other’s current and apparatus to prove how dangerous it was. N.Y. State decided to test the method on a human subject, one William Kemmler, using a low charge because of the purported dangers of alternating current. The execution was a horror, with the smell of roasting flesh filling the
air. But New York was satisfied. Alternating current got the contract.
And, more dangerous or not, alternating current is today’s standard in the U.S.
Before there were direct mail campaigns and before there were tele-marketers, there was direct marketing.
The concept of chewing gum has been around since the ancient Greeks. But modern chewing gum owes its success to General Santa Ana (of “Remember the Alamo!” fame) and Thomas Adams, an unsuccessful photographer.
Santa Ana was in exile on Staten Island, boarding with Thomas Adams, when he suggested that Adams use the chicle gum from the sapodilla tree to make synthetic rubber. Failing in attempts to make chicle toys, masks, rain boots, and bicycle tires, one day in 1869 Adams popped some in his mouth. Chewing away, it occurred to him to add flavor.
Adams spoke to his son, who suggested that they make up a few boxes and give it a name and label. Adams, Jr., who was a traveling salesman, took it on the road with him, offering everyone a chew.
In 1871, Adams New York Gum went on sale in drug stores for a penny apiece. By the end of the century, the firm was the nation’s most prosperous chewing gum company.
The most successful businesspeople are those who constantly look for new market opportunities, often finding them in the least obvious places.
When Henry Ford introduced the Model T to the public in 1908, he spawned not merely a revolution in industrial production or the public’s sense of space, but a series of associated industries. From automobile “accessories” (such as shock absorbers, accelerators, and gas and oil gauges, which did not come with the car) to gas stations, motor hotels (motels), and highway surfacing, new businesses arose to meet a new need.
But one of the most enduring, and ubiquitous, innovations came from far afield. For as Americans took to the road, they frightened animals, hit people, and often destroyed any property in their way. And then people sued.
Thus was invented “personal liability” insurance. In fact, by 1916 – just 8 years after the introduction of the Model T – 25,000 people in New York City alone had such coverage.