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Meet the Pied Pipers of Marketing

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We are all familiar with Wrigley’s Chewing Gum brand but the story behind the Wrigley legend is well worth chewing on. I don’t have to hand the original so I fall back on memory.

The Wrigley legend like most had humble beginnings and quite by an accident of fate I, and no doubt others, can identify with the story behind the world’s most successful brand.

William Wrigley Jnr., when just 13-years of age worked as a salesman for his father’s company. Founded in 1891 the Chicago firm was a manufacturer of household soap and baking powder. As a sales incentive, the younger Wrigley offered free packs of chewing gum with every purchase.

It soon dawned on William that the gum was more popular than the baking powder he was pushing. Hey Ho! The young entrepreneur changed course and in doing so William Wrigley Jr. changed history.

A natural at marketing he continued to give his product away as a lure to buy more. Such was his success that every business in the United States and indeed Europe fell in behind the Pied Piper of Marketing.

By the 1930s, and remember this was generations before the onset of the internet, social media and websites, his company’s product was in every American home.

No couch potato, the American merry marketeer had Wrigley’s Chewing Gum advertisements in every Greyhound bus from Seattle to Louisiana. If you suffered from a toothache you went to the dentist in Boulder, Colorado, New York or Los Angeles or any such practice wherever you could find one.

The Dust Bowl, the swamp communities of Louisiana, suburban Boston, the docklands of Portland in Oregon, cowboy country and the prairies. Your dentist had displayed in the waiting room huge posters with tips on mouth hygiene. These were supplied free of charge by Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum which was advertised on each display.

Start as you mean to go on. Every American child has a birthday every year. Again, of course, every American child received a birthday card from Wrigley’s Spearmint Chewing gum with strips of the company’s product attached to the birthday card.

This is what you call opportunism and all business is based on opportunism. The ability to see an opportunity, perceive a need and fill that need. The first rule of selling (actually there are many first rules of selling) is to discover what the customer wants and sell it to him.

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I became redundant in 1983. I learnt that W. H. Smiths the national chain of newsagents were disposing of hundreds of unsold books of interest to those inclined towards outdoor activity. Grabbing the lot for a song, I rented a shop and named it Rucksack n’ Rifle I hired a till put them on display and then realised why the books were unsold; no one wanted them.

As I peered into the financial abyss where many bright ideas end up, a customer strolled in with a powerful air rifle in his mitt. He asked if I could sell it for him. Helpfully, I agreed to display the weapon but having no idea of the value of such guns I asked for my visitor’s advice.

‘Give me £30 and put a £60 price tag on it.’

Placing the air rifle in the window it sold within the hour and I pocketed thirty sobs in my back pocket. There was a demand for hunting and sports knives and guns. I used my last pennies to buy new and second-hand guns, hunting and fighting knives. To cut a long story short, I became one of Britain’s biggest importers and sellers of such products. Buyers came from all over Britain. I was doing well.

Again, a victim of fate, a couple of gun incidents and savage headlines changed the laws and public perception of outdoor hunting, sports and suchlike. My booming business went from boom to bust or bang to dust. Being an opportunist, I survived.

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