CUSTOMERS MUST BE PERSUADED TO BUY
By FRED ELDEAN, Assistant Director of Public Relations, General Motors Corporation
Delivered Before the New York Press Association, Syracuse, New York, February 11, 1944
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. X, pp. 335-337.
A SLIGHTLY inebriated fellow came in to a train, carefully unfolded a newspaper and proceeded to look at it upside down. He seemed to be struggling quite a bit as he turned from page to page. Finally, one of the fellow passengers went over to him and said, "Do you realize that you are trying to read that paper upside down?" He replied, "Do I realize it? It's one of the damnedest hardest things I ever tried to do."
One of the hardest things in the world to do is to get perspective. All of us are too close to the trees in our own work and do not get off far enough to see the forest. We are apt to discount the importance of our own work. We are apt to see an advertisement as just so much copy, occupying so much space and paid for at such and such a rate. Suppose we look beyond the advertisement to the important part advertising played in developing America into a strong nation.
Here, for example, is an advertisement that appeared in a Syracuse paper a long time ago. It had a profound effect on the war. You will notice that this is a product advertisement. It is about an automobile and since the subject of this talk is advertising, it may be all right to do a little advertising and say it is a General Motors car. It is the first Cadillac advertisement in Syracuse. It appeared in 1909. But, you say, what has that got to do with the war?
This advertisement is symbolical of many advertisements for many products that appeared over a period of years. These played an important part in the selling process, creating large volume demand for goods. This expanded factories. This made possible bettered techniques of mass or quantity production. This process went all over America. Newspapers carried advertisements that brought a vision to the American people of more and better things that make up a high standard of living. Beyond the vision, the advertisements persuaded people to buy these things. All over America people bought vacuum cleaners and other products. All over America factories and technology were expanded to satisfy these demands. This developed a tremendous plant, skilled workmen, know-how and management that produced top quality things in enormous volume. Now in the war, abroad and at home, they are saying, "Thank God for America's industrial facilities." Where would we have been in this war without the great productive mechanism we created? Behind this were the advertisements and the boys who sold the vacuum cleaners. Thank God for them too.
It is no mere coincidence that the nation which has had the highest per capita advertising is the nation which has had the highest standard of living in the world.
During the war, advertising has served in another direction. Advertising has sold bonds and mobilized the nation for the war, recruited men and women for the Army, Navy and Marines, collected scrap, combated inflation; it has fought for our security and welfare in a hundred different ways. But the whole story of advertising in war has yet to be told. Advertising will continue to do a big job throughout the war. We all recognize that winning the war is our number one job.
One reason we have been so scrupulously careful in General Motors not to talk about post-war plans is that we think it hazardous to give the American people any false impression of an early victory. I doubt that many people not directly in the war realize what a tremendous effort it is to wage a global war at scattered points so distant from our shores—that before we even land one man in uniform overseas we must have sent on ahead seven and one-half ship tons of provisions. Then beyond that it requires another ship ton of provisions each month to keep him in service overseas. Perhaps that will give you a rough idea of what is required in war production just to supply one boy fighting for us across the water.
In peacetime, we try to deliver to the Customer what he wants, where he wants it and when he wants it. Our Charles F. Kettering in referring to this contrasts it with what wedo in dealing with the enemy in war. Then we deliver to them what they do not want, where they do not want it and where they least expect it. We make things to repel rather man attract. When this war is over, we will have to reverse this procedure as we will then be manufacturing things to attract the customer.
After the war, advertising has a big job ahead of it. All of us are conscious of the necessity of jobs for millions in the post-war peacetime pursuits. Jobs do not come out of the air; they cannot be manufactured. No factory or industry has any mysterious power to give employment. Jobs are a result of a process. Ultimately, they depend upon the consumer. In this free country, we cannot force the consumer to buy anything. He has to be persuaded that it is in his interest to buy. We have to cater to the customer. We have a customer-controlled economy. The customer is the boss. We know that when we say, "The customer is always right." The customer has to want to buy; it is a job of advertising to help him to want to buy. Incidentally, it is going to be a happy day when the war is over and the customer gets to be boss again.
If we are to attain a level of national income of one-hundred billion or more a year, which is the goal to be reached if we are to have a high level of employment, we have to sell a lot of goods. We aren't going to get that income by sitting on our hands and waiting for the customers to come in and buy what we have to sell. We are going to have the biggest selling job that this great selling nation has ever had. We are going to have to sell goods for a long time to come. We know we can't sell goods without advertising.
During the war, we have been exhausting goods at a terrific rate. No one has ever been able to calculate with any reasonable degree of accuracy the normal exhaustion of wealth that goes on day by day and which has to be replaced. Every day roofs are wearing out, paint is eroding, carpets are wearing down, upholstery is getting more threadbare, household appliances are being stretched to the limit of their reasonable lives. Electric irons, toasters, refrigerators, ranges, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, furnaces, automobiles, trucks, trains, and the countless other things that make up our life are steadily wearing out. In addition, acts of God, such as fire, storms, high winds, floods, all take a heavy toll. In these days of big figures, it is no longer fashionable to talk in terms of millions. Millions would be inadequate to express the replacement market that will exist after the war.
At times, if the needs grow too heavy, we may have demands which would threaten us with inflation, and we may need cautionary advertising to establish a balance between demands and goods available. On the other hand, we will have to create large demands if we are going to maintain a one-hundred billion dollars a year or better national income, in order to keep from having widespread unemployment. After the war, the sales will go to that producer who is the most aggressive in his advertising and selling program.
Many concerns which have only been established in the war will have products for peace. They will need advertising to help them and their products get identified in the public mind. Old concerns and formerly well-known products, which the war has subordinated, will need advertising to refresh the public's recollection of them.
All of this adds up to one thing—advertising has before it in the post-war era the biggest job it has ever had. By the same token, it will be the biggest opportunity advertising has ever had.
In the institutional advertising field, many concerns which never before the war had advertised their institutions now recognize the necessity of keeping their names before the public. These concerns having learned the value of institutional advertising are not likely to forget that value in the peace to come. There will be a carry-over of additional institutional advertisers, and this will supplement product advertising.
You would be doing the institutional advertiser or prospect a good turn if you were to say to him: "This is how to key into the public in this market in institutional advertising." You might render the advertiser a greater service in this way than with the customary presentation of the media, circulation, etc. The story that institutional advertising can tell profitably in your territory would be eagerly received. What does the public want to know and what does it need to know.
As in other things, institutional advertising begins at home. Your local companies and institutions constitute a substantial market; that is, if they view institutional advertising as something vastly more important than merely keeping their names before the public. The potential is great if they recognize they do have something to say. If they understand they can sell their institution as they sell a product, they will expand their use of institutional advertising.
You will, I know, be interested in the consideration that now is being given not only to the resumption, as soon as possible, of product advertising in the rural and small-town markets, but also, from an institutional viewpoint, I believe there is more interest now than ever before in discovering how best to reach this large section of the population. I believe that you should be highly encouraged over the future potential of advertising in the small-town and rural press. This is deservedly so, as more than half the population in the United States resides in farm areas and communities up to 10,000 population.
In places of 5,000-10,000 there are 6,681,894 people
In places of 2,500- 5,000 there are 5,025,911 people
In rural places and on farms there are 57,245,573 people
Total 68,953,378 people
The advertising in the rural press need not be at the expense of the metropolitan press. Each represents a separate market potential that ought to be tapped.
Advertising tomorrow can help bring what one boy at the front said he wanted more than anything else. In response to a questionnaire as to what things he would like for Christmas, he said "I want a better tomorrow." In expressing this, he voiced, I am sure, the desires of the several million boys in service. Advertising can be of tremendous importance in making possible that better tomorrow.
During the last war, the men came out of the service with certain habits which they continued in civilian life. In the army, they had become accustomed to having two-piece suits of underwear. As a result, a pre-war manufacturer of single-suit underwear found out that he could never get back his old market; the veterans wanted the separate garments. The men in the service got used to collar-attached shirts. A collar manufacturer lost both sales volume and income trying to restore his market for collars.
Before the last war, a fellow who wore a wrist watch was called a "sissy." The war made wrist watches not only a convenience, but a necessity. Cigarette sales jumped in the war and continued thereafter.
We do not know what changes in habits and preferences may result from this war. But a manufacturer will need to be on the alert to detect these changes. Advertising will be needed to re-introduce the returning soldiers to products and institutions.
We do know some things already about the boys in thiswar. The men in service are on the average an inch taller and ten pounds heavier than in the last war. The boys universally speak in high terms of the food they are getting. They are getting balanced diets. This may affect their postwar eating habits. They are wearing garments of top quality. Maybe, they will not be satisfied with the $22.50 suit. They are handling a lot of mechanical equipment, as this is a highly mechanized war. Boys whose fathers would not allow them to run the tractor on the farm are today piloting bombers costing three to four hundred thousand dollars.
Today's combat is not mass action. It calls for great individual initiative. Men are trained to take advantage of varied circumstances, to use their heads—for failure to do so may mean their lives.
Millions of these American boys will be returning tomorrow. They will constitute a virile, dynamic section of our population. I have great faith in tomorrow for I have faith in the contribution this vast powerhouse of youthful energy can make in the post-war period. The men and women in the armed services constitute one thirteenth of our entire population; they are one fifth of our adult working population. They are our hope for the future.