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A tough bird who believed in his product

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Baby boomers knew Frank Perdue by his advertising slogan: “It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken.” The guy even looked like a chicken.

While it’s true that Perdue employed a New York City ad agency and even started using marketing terms like “unique selling proposition” (USP), it’s also true that Perdue chicken became a valued brand because Frank Perdue really believed his chickens were better than anybody else’s.

And he made sure they were.

In the late ’60s, Perdue spent half a year on the road talking with butchers about what they wanted in a chicken. He then identified their 25 top priorities.

They liked yellow chickens, so Perdue’s chicken feed gave them a golden tinge. They didn’t like feather stubble on plucked chickens, so Perdue’s engineers developed a torch to singe them off. They wanted more white meat, so Perdue bred a heavy-breasted bird. And they didn’t want to see bruises, so Perdue set strict protocols for handling.

He obsessed about quality.

As a result, Perdue could charge more than competitors and still sell more chickens. But that didn’t happen because his ads were funny and quirky or because he ginned up a USP. It happened because he believed his birds were the best.

—Adapted from “The Lives They Lived: Chicken Hawker,” Joseph Nocera, The New New York Times Magazine.

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