The art of the sale, then and now

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

There’s nothing new about a marketing or ad campaign “going viral.”

Back in the 1930s and 1940s, a woman named Josephine Mentzer built a beauty empire through viral tactics. You know her as Estée Lauder.

As a peddler of youth and friend to the rich and famous, she knew how to create intimacy and buzz to build her brand, long before YouTube and Twitter.

“Telegraph, telephone, tell a woman” was her mantra for word-of-mouth brand building. She also knew that by giving out free samples or “gifts with purchase,” as they came to be known, she would create intimacy with customers. In that way, the saleswoman extraordinaire built an empire.

Such viral marketing tactics, called “whispering campaigns,” were rampant in the 1930s. They worked like this: A company would hire women to, say, ride up and down an office elevator, talking about a great department store sale, just loudly enough to be overheard. Actors on subways might accidentally run into one another, then talk about tires. Word got around.

These days, companies like Nike use viral marketing to build excitement around their brand. When Nike had a new three-minute video spot ready to release, it shared the goods first with its Facebook fans. Result: nearly 8 million views in the first week of the campaign.

Everything old is, in fact, new again.

— Adapted from The Art of the Sale, Philip Delves Broughton; “Undercover Selling: 1930s Whispering Campaigns,” Carrie McLaren, Stay Free.

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