Now I approach a tragic epoch in my life. I was close to my limits in Grand Rapids. The offer from Lord & Thomas gave me wider recognition. Ambition surged within me, because of my mother’s blood. I became anxious to go higher.
But I had built a new home in Grand Rapids. All the friends I knew were about me. There I enjoyed prestige. I knew that in a larger field I would have to sacrifice the things that I loved most.
I suppose I was right in my desires, according to general standards. Ambition is everywhere applauded. But I have often returned to Grand Rapids to envy my old associates. They continued in a quiet, sheltered field. They met no large demands. Success and money came to them in moderation. But in my turbulent life, as I review it, I have found no joys they missed. Fame came to me, but I did not enjoy it. Money came in a measure, but I could never spend it with pleasure. My real inclination has always been toward the quiet paths. This story is written in gardens near Grand Rapids, where the homing instinct brought me. When my old friends and I get together here, it is hard to decide who took the wiser course.
Swift & Company, packers of Chicago, advertised for an advertising manager. I looked them up, and I found that their capital at that time was $15,000,000. I inquire about them, and I learned that they intended to spend $300,000 per year. That would place them at that time among the largest American advertisers. I could not see in the Bissell line one-tenth the chance they offered. So I resolved to obtain that Chicago position. I had no doubt of my ability to do so. In my Michigan field I was king, and I never dreamed that other potentates might treat me as a slave.
I went to Chicago, then out to the stockyards, and was referred to Mr. I. H. Rich. He was head of the butterine department and the man who had urged them to advertise.
“Mr. Rich,” I said, “I have come for that position.”
He smiled at me benevolently and asked for my name and address. Then he wrote my name down on a sheet which held many names before mine.
“What are all those names?” I asked.
“Why, they are other applicants!” said Mr. Rich.
“There are one hundred and five of them. Your number is one hundred and six.”
I was astounded. One hundred and six men considered themselves fitted for that high position. What effrontery!
I turned to Mr. Rich and said: “I came here mainly to learn where I stood in advertising. I did not really desire this position. My heart is in Grand Rapids, and I feel that my happiness lies there. But this is a challenge. I am going to prove myself best fitted for this place.”
Mr. Rich smiled and said: “Go ahead , and God bless you. We are waiting to be convinced.” Then after a brief talk he dismissed me.
I knew all of the leading advertising agents of Chicago. They had solicited my business. So that afternoon I went to each and said, “Please write today to I. H. Rich, care Swift & Company, Union Stockyards, Chicago, and say what you think of Claude Hopkins.” All promised to do that, and I knew that some of them would write very flattering things.
That night I returned to Grand Rapids. It happened that I had lately been employed there by the Board of Trade to write a history of Grand Rapids. The members were delighted with it. Writing that book had brought me into contact with all the leading business men. I started out the next morning to see them. First I called on the bankers, then on the furniture-makers, then on the wholesalers, then or other business men. I spent several days in this quest. To each one I said, “Please write to I. H. Rich, care Swift & Company, Union Stock Yards, Chicago, and say what you think of Claude Hopkins as a writer and an advertising man.” That started a flood of letters.
Then I went to the Grand Rapids Herald and said: “I want to write for you a daily two-column article on advertising. It will cost you nothing and it will educate your advertisers. All I ask is that you let me sign the article and that you publish my picture in them.”
They agreed, so every evening after office hours I wrote the two-column article. Then I took it to the office on my bicycle to reach the paper before midnight. Every article was addressed in reality to Swift & Company, to Mr. I. H. Rich. It was written to show what I knew about advertising. As the articles appeared I mailed them to Mr. Rich.
After three weeks of that daily bombardment I received a telegram from Swift & Company asking me to come to Chicago. I went, but with little idea of accepting the position. I had come to realize more than ever that I would be lonesome away from Grand Rapids. But I had to complete my conquest, so I went.
We had not discussed salary—that was too remote. So my ideas of escape was to ask a salary higher than they would pay. I did so, and Mr. L. F. Swift, now president of the company, refused to consider it. He had read none of my letters or articles. I had made no impression on him; all he considered was my salary demand.
Mr. Rich then asked for another conference in the afternoon, and took me out to lunch. At the table he talked like a father. He pointed out the narrow sphere I had, and always would have, where I was. Swift & Company were offering me one of the greatest positions in my line. They had a score of lines to advertise. There I would have an unlimited scope. He pictured the folly of refusing such an opportunity, and I yielded to his persuasions. After lunch I went back and accepted the salary offered, promising to start in three weeks.
The next morning in Grand Rapids I went up to my home and saw the family on the porch. There were shade trees in front and many flowers in the yard. I contrasted that setting with the stockyards, where the outlook covered only dirty pens filled with cattle and hogs. The way to the office led through a half-mile of mud. Then I regretted my action. The price seemed too great to pay. Had I not given my word I would have turned back that morning to quiet insignificance. And now, after looking back thirty years, I think I would turn back this morning.
In three weeks I went to Chicago. I secured a room on Forty-third Street, because the cars there ran to the stockyards. The room was a small one, dark and dingy. I had to climb over my trunk to get into bed. On the dresser I placed a picture of my home in Grand Rapids, but I had to turn that picture to the wall before I could go to sleep.
The next morning I went to the stockyards and presented myself for work. Mr. Rich was away, so I was referred to Mr. L. F. Swift, now president of the company. He did not remember me.
I said, “Three weeks ago you employed me as advertising manager.”
“Is that so?” he replied. “I had entirely forgotten. If you are really employed here, go out and talk with Howes.”
Consider that reception for a lonely man, already half discouraged. For a proud man, who considered himself important. For a man from a small city where everybody knew him, his importance and his place.
But I was more unwelcome than I supposed. Mr. G. F. Swift, then head of the company, was in Europe when I was employed. It was his first vacation, and he could not endure it, so he hurried back. At once he asked what I was doing in his office. When told that I was there to spend his money, he took an intense dislike to me, and it never changed.
He set out at once to make my position untenable. The business he headed had been built without the use of print. He catered to nobody, asked nobody’s patronage. He had gained what he could by sheer force. He had the same contempt for an advertising man that a general must have for a poet.
He made my way very hard. I had come from gentle surroundings, from an office filled with friends. There I entered the atmosphere of war. There every conception of business was conflict, inside and outside the office. We have nothing left in big business today to compare with the packing business of thirty years ago.
Mr. G. F. Swift was a deeply religious man. I am sure he did the right as he knew it. But he was an autocrat in the days when business was much like war. No one gave quarter or asked it. That was the attitude which later brought business into bad repute.
Mr. Swift was a fighter, and I became one of his targets. I typified a foolish outgo. I had been installed in his absence to waste his hard-earned money. So I suffered the consequences. Among the many who trembled at his word, I always trembled most.
Mr. Swift’s conception of advertising referred in particular to signs on refrigerator cars. They went everywhere. Good advertising there consisted of light letters. I could never get them light enough.
Next came the annual calendars. He had very decided ideas about them, and they never agreed with mine. Nor could I carry out his ideas to his satisfaction.
One day he asked me to photograph a side of beef for hanging in his beef houses. I recognized this as a crucial test, so I called in a half-dozen photographers. The best sides of beef in storage were brought out for photographing. The next morning I sent him some dozens of pictures and asked him to make his choice.
Soon I saw Mr. Swift charging from his office, with his arms full of photographs, like a mad bull. He started for my desk, but stopped some twenty feet away and threw the pictures at me.
Then he came up and said: “Do you think that those things look sides of beef? Where are the colors in them? Do you think that anybody wants black beef?”
I explained that photography could not show colors. Then he said, “I know a girl who can paint beef in colors. I will take my job to her.” Thereafter that girl held a place in our office much better than mine.
The chief advertising project of Swift & Company in those days was Cotosuet. The N. K. Fairbank Company were advertising Cottolene, and making considerable strides. My chief problem in those days was to fight that competition.
Cottolene and Cotosuet were both brands of compound lard. They consisted of a mixture of cottonseed oil and beef suet. They were offered as substitutes for lard, and for butter in cooking, at a much lower price.
Cottolene, being the original product, had attained a big start and advantage. But it was expected that I, as an advertising man, could quickly overtake and defeat it. It was something like combating Ivory Soap with another white soap today.
We opened a sales office in Boston and started advertising in New England. We had hardly started when Mr. L. F. Swift came to my desk one day. He said: “Father is very nervous about this money spent in advertising. He considers it an utter waste. The results so far are not very encouraging. You have been here nearly six weeks, but our sales on Cotosuet have hardly increased at all.”
I had no need to explain to him. He knew that advertising had hardly started. But I saw that I had to help him out by making some quick showing.
That night after dinner I paced the streets. I tried to analyze myself. I had made a great success in Grand Rapids; I was making a fizzle here. What were the reasons? What was there I did in the old field which I could apply to Swift & Company’s problems?
At midnight, on Indiana Avenue, I thought of an idea. In Grand Rapids I created sensations, I presented enticing ideas. I did not say to people, “Buy my brand instead of the other fellow’s.” I offered them inducements which naturally led them to buy.
Why not apply those principles to Cotosuet? Rothschild & Company were then completing a new store. They would have an opening in two weeks. I knew Charles Jones, the advertising manager, and I decided to go to him and offer a sensation for his opening.
The next day I did so. His grocery department was on the fifth floor and it included a large bay window. I urged him to let me have that window for a unique exhibit. “I will build there,” I said, “the largest cake in the world. I will advertise the cake in a big way in the newspapers. I will make that,” I promised, “the greatest feature in your opening.”
My idea was to make a cake with Cotosuet in place of butter. Then to argue that a product better than butter was certainly better than lard.
Mr. Jones accepted my proposition. Then I went next door to H. H. Kohlsaat & Co., bakers, and asked them to bake the cake. I told them to make the special tins which were necessary, to decorate the cake in a magnificent way, and to build it as high as the room. They did so.
At the time of the opening I inserted half-page ads, in the newspapers announcing the biggest cake in the world. That was on Saturday, and that night the store was to open. After dinner I started down to see the cake myself, but the cars stopped on State Street long before they reached the store. I stepped out and saw before me a perfect sea of people. After a long time of struggle I reached the doors. At every door I found a policeman. The authorities had closed the doors because the crowd was too large to admit.
During the next week, 105,000 people climbed four flights of stairs to that cake. The elevators could not carry them. There I had demonstrators to offer samples of the cake. Then we had prizes to offer to those who guessed nearest to the weight, but every guesser had to buy a pail of Cotosuet.
As a result of that week, Cotosuet was placed on a profit-paying basis in Chicago. We gained many thousands of users.
Then I organized a group to carry our plan through the Eastern states. The group consisted of a baker and decorator, three demonstrators and myself. We went to Boston and arranged an exhibit at the store of Cobb, Bates & Yerxa, but they threw us out the first forenoon. The crowd was so great that it destroyed all their chance to do business.
We went along the New York Central, and in every city we learned new ways to increase the results of our efforts. We went to the leading baker and showed him newspaper clippings of what we had done elsewhere. We offered to let him build the cake, and be advertised as its creator, on condition that he bought a carload of Cotosuet. Sometimes two carloads. We went to the leading grocery and prove the results of our cake-show. Then we offered to place the cake in his store if he ordered a carload in tins.
Wherever we went we sold enough Cotosuet to insure us a profit in advance. Then we hired boys on Main Street to cry out with their papers, “ Evening News. All about the Big Cake.” As a result, we mobbed the stores where the cake was on display. And in every city we established thousands of regular users.
At last we came to Cleveland, where they had a public market. We could not there sell a carload to a grocer. But we arranged with the market to give us their band for a week, also their newspaper space. As a result, half the policemen in Cleveland were called there to keep the crowd moving. Ropes were stretched through the market. I doubt if the stalls sold much that week, but we certainly sold Cotosuet.
When I returned to Chicago, Mr. L. F. Swift said: “That is the greatest advertising stunt I have ever known. You have made good, both with father and with me.”
Thus I won out with Swift & Company.
That, many say, was not advertising. Advertising to them is placing some dignified phrases in print. But commonplace dignity doesn’t get far. Study salesmen, canvassers, and fakers if you want to know how to sell goods. No argument in the world can ever compare with one dramatic demonstration.
I have no sympathy with those who feel that fine language is going to sell goods at a profit. I have listened to their arguments for hours. They might as well say that full dress is an excellent diving suit. No dilettantes have any chance in prying money out of pockets. The way to sell goods is to sell them. The way to do that is to sample and demonstrate, and the more attractive you can make your demonstration the better it will be for you. The men who succeed in advertising are not the highly-bred, not the men careful to be unobtrusive and polite, but the men who know what arouses enthusiasm in simple people. The difference is the difference between Charlie Chaplin and Robert Mantell, or “After the Ball” and “The Moonlight Sonata.” If we are going to sell, we must cater to the millions who buy.