Tag Archives: PR

Let’s Shelf this Idea -More PR Spin

It’s a charming characteristic of old houses, one that folks on HGTV demand and MLS listings proudly announce – Built In Bookshelves!

But why is this a thing?

In the 1920’s and 1930’s book sales began seriously lagging and book publishers started to seriously freak out. How could they get more people to buy more books?


Enter our old friend, inventor of modern PR, Edward Bernays! Uncle Eddie was hired by a group of book publishers and given one mission: make buying books cool.

The first thing he did was hire public people to espouse the importance of a private library. Only the coolest, smartest, best dancers with rock hard butts read. You read too, right?

Then (my favorite!) he urged architects designing the popular kit homes to include built-in bookshelves in the plans. ‘“Where there are bookshelves,” Bernays reasoned, “there will be books.”

It worked! Book sales took off. Next time you walk into a charming Sears Kit Bungalow that has built-in bookshelves, take a moment to give props to Ed!


Oh, the Wells Fargo Wagon is a’Coming – to insult us

Aunt Mary loves when advertising is in the news. People talking about commercials? Heck yeah! So, I would like to extend my hearty thanks to Wells Fargo for stepping in it something huge this week.

In case you missed it, the venerable finance company put out an ad that seemingly implied that STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) careers are superior to those in the arts.


Predictably, folks lost their collective cool and took to their twitters to give a thorough helping of what-for.

It seems folks don’t care for being insulted by a group that wants their money!

Setting aside the vital social need for fine and preforming artists, businesses need artists as well. “Creative Types” are the people who spread the word and garner interest for products and services in the form of web and graphic design, copy writers, advertising, package design and display creation. Artists are designing greeting cards, wrapping paper, fabrics and housegoods! I know somebody whose job is to design the carpet for hotels and casinos.

Furthermore, we need to set aside this idea that creative work doesn’t pay. I have numerous friends who support themselves by their artistic talents including work in fine arts, comic books, music and clothing design as well as teaching. Last time I checked, their money bought craft beer and brownies too.

I must also add that it seems a little wrong for them to be ripping on actors since there is an entire song about Wells Fargo Wagon in a famous play! Didn’t think about how’d that looked, did ya, W.F?

It appears that Wells Fargo has moved on to a bigger mess (in the form of allegations of customer fraud) so the least of their worries is a botched PR campaign. I sure hope someone comes up with a creative idea to help them!


Torches of Freedom – Easter Parades and Cigarettes

Aunt Mary’s good friend and founder of modern Public Relations, Edward Bernays, was approached by cigarette makers who asked for help in expanding their brand to women. At the time it was considered unseemly for woman to smoke but manufacturers desperately wanted to target this untapped market.

Bernays hired the most glamorous and fashionable women to smoke while walking in the 1929 New York Easter Parade. The parade was a huge deal at the time and photos from it where published all over the county. Women, excited to check out the latest fashions from NYC, were also treated to an eyeful of the contemporary glitterati smoking.

Bernays described cigarettes to the press as “Torches of Freedom” the women could carry in order to show their equality to men.

Within months the market share of cigarettes to women exploded.

During this same time, the image of the modern woman had been given a makeover. The 1920’s woman was daring, lighthearted and eager to join in the fun with the boys. Young flappers were looking for a thin and flat chested physique that would allow them to play sports, dance, sneak into speakeasies and be free like never before. They also needed a symbol that would separate them from the generations before.

But, how was all this to be achieved? Well, with a cigarette of course!

Cigarette advertising began encouraging ladies to smoke instead of eat. The fat shaming “Instead of reaching for a sweet, reach for a Lucky Strike” campaign came out.

Kind of gross there, old timey folks.



How to (tooth) Pick Your Target Market

Let us consider the humble toothpick. Transporter of cheese cubes. Martini olive anchors.  Tester of brownie doneness. Surely these three inch soldiers keeping guard over restaurant hostess stands have long been a staple of the hospitality industry.

But no!

While people have been using toothpicks since cavemen had to dig mammoth meat from their maws, it took Charles Foster of Boston to put a disposable toothpick in the mouths of Americans.  In the 1870’s Foster acquired the patent on technology for toothpick making. His factory could manufacture millions of toothpicks each day, but he found no market for his wares, so he went out and made a market, dang gum it.

Fine gentlemen enjoying a fine toothpick
Fine gentlemen enjoying a fine toothpick

Foster hired students from Harvard University to have dinner at the best restaurants in town. After the meal they would ask for toothpicks and would make a stink when told the restaurant didn’t have any.

This is how I see the grift happening:

Student: “Garson! We require toothpicks! Fetch us some post haste!”

Waiter: “But sir, we have no toothpicks!”

Student: “No toothpicks! I thought this was an establishment of quality and refinement. We were obviously mistaken. Perhaps we should take our business to Applebee’s! Good day!”

A few days later, Foster would stop into the same establishment selling the hottest item for the most fashionable restaurants…wooden toothpicks! Nice, but this is what tips his plan into ad story material; soon after the sale the same shill students would again dine at the same restaurant and praise them for getting with the times. Smooth man!

ideal_toothpickBefore long, folks began walking around with wooden toothpicks between their lips as a sign that they were rich enough to dine at the fanciest of restaurants. It even got to the point where young men would hang around in the vicinity of the expensive eateries with toothpicks in their mouths to give the appearance of largess, even if they were far too poor to have actually dined there.

Take Two Hot Dogs and Call Me in the Morning

In 1916 Nathan Handwerker opened his stand on Coney Island selling hot dogs for just 5 cents each. It might not be surprising that folks were a little uneasy about munching cheap street meat. Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle,” an expose of the meat processing industry, had been published only 2 years earlier and people were jumpy about the contents of their sausages.
What’s a savvy street sausage seller supposed to do? (I’m going for the alliteration likes here!)

This is how I dress to enjoy weiners at the park.
This is how I dress to enjoy weiners at the park.

Nathan spread the word that local doctors and nurses could get free hot dogs from his stand as long as they ate them while in their uniforms. Folks arriving at Coney Island would see medical workers enjoying the cut-rate hot dogs and assume they were healthy, thus securing his position as the king of Coney Island’s hot dogs.
Nathan’s Famous now hosts a yearly hot dog eating contest every 4th of July. Yay?