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DURING the World War, Mr. Julian R. Tinkham, of Upper Montclair, New Jersey, inserted a series of advertisements in the New York Evening Post which called attention to the absurdity of permitting advertisers to induce the people to increase the consumption of foods and other essentials while the government was at the same time urgently advocating their conservation. Mr. Tinkham said "Advertising is NonEssential--Tax it!" At the very time that the government was, as a war measure, striving to curtail all the non-essential activities of the nation and concentrate its man-power upon the essential industries, the volume of advertising increased by leaps and bounds. Thousands and thousands of men rushed into the advertising--supported industries because of the "easy money" flowing in golden streams into advertising to escape the excess-profits taxes.
In attempting to justify the diversion of so much man-power into advertising, Printer's Ink published a reply to criticisms like Mr. Tinkham's which it entitled "Advertising Keeps the World from Starving."
Poor old world! It has had its years of plenty and its years of want, but it has somehow or other managed, in spite of lean years and famine spots, to keep itself alive during all the ages before advertising was invented. But now we are told, it is dependent upon advertising!
In precisely the same way, we are told by all the advocates of high pressure marketing that each and every one of their inventions is essential to the existence of civilized society. We are dependent upon high pressure distribution; we are dependent upon high pressure salesmanship; we are dependent upon high pressure credit. Without manufacturer domination of wholesaling and retailing, there would be no convenient stores to supply what the manufacturers want us to want when and where we desire it. Without the instructions of manufacturer demonstrators and canvassers and salesmen we would not be able to use the products which they have developed. Without installments, presumably, we would be not only without pianos, furniture, and automobiles, but we would also be without clothes-which we are told must be also sold on installments if they are to survive in the face of the competition of the many products which are sold on credit.
Is high pressure marketing really essential to our present existence and future progress? Has it really helped us in any way?
We have seen that, while the cost of producing things has gone down year by year, the price we have had to pay for them has gone up. We have seen the manufacturers of these products spending millions and millions yearly in national advertising. We have unravelled the process by which the high pressure marketing has enabled them to get out of the way of competition and to secure the highest prices for their products that the traffic would bear. We have seen how they have capitalized their profits, and created millions in "good will" by levying a pickpocket's petty tribute upon the unsuspecting public. We have seen how they have raised prices by arbitrarily reducing from time to time the quantity packed in their cartons and cans. We have exposed the fact that they create superiorities for their products which are non-existent, and that when they do exist that they used them for the purpose of grossly overcharging for their goods.
The number of articles and commodities which are being marketed in this way increases every year.
Prices rise as competition changes in one line after another from a "price and quality" basis to an advertising created "consumer demand" basis.
It is getting increasingly difficult for people to think of living at all except in terms of trademarked goods.
The whole economy of our lives has been revolutionized by national advertising.
What are we to do?
When Alexander came to ancient Gordium, the future conqueror of Asia was told that, according to the ancient oracle, whoever succeeded in untying the knot of cornel bark which bound the yoke to the pole of the cart of Gordius should reign over all Asia. Instead of assuming that the oracle required the unravelling of the famous Gordian knot, he cut the knot by a stroke of his sword.
Instead of assuming, in the face of the situation with which consumers are confronted, that Congress must pass some law to tax manufacturers, or to regulate distribution, consumers should simply ignore the manufacturers' propaganda and stop buying high priced goods whenever it is possible to buy equally as good products for less money.
If the consumer is purchasing for an average size family, he can, by consistently buying merchandise which is economically marketed, buy precisely the same qualities and quantities of food, clothing, and sundries, and yet save from ten to twenty-five cents out of every dollar he spends.
There is only one rule which consumers must follow.
When an article is nationally advertised, or offered on any other basis than grade, style, and price------stop, look, and listen!
Consumers should give it the "third degree." First degree: What is the real cost?
Not what is the cost of the package, but what is the cost of the amount of goods in the package, is the question. A three and a half ounce glass of chipped dried beef which sells for twenty cents may seem like twenty cents' worth of goods, but if the consumer finds out that he is paying over ninety cents per pound for the meat, (which his grandmother thought worth about ten cents a pound), he may decide that he can save himself a whole lot of money by buying his meat in some other form. To determine the real value, he must first learn the cost per pound, per ounce, per quart, per pint, and then compare the cost of the proposed purchase with the price he would have to pay for the same quantity of some other product which could be used with equal satisfaction.
Second degree: Of what does the product consist?
This question may seem like an inquiry as to whether a hungry man ought to eat. So long, however, as manufacturers like to masquerade their product under names that have nothing to do with the goods to which they are attached, it is really a liberal education to learn about the ingredients of which they are composed.
The name of a baking powder tells very little about the ingredients of which it is composed. If a housewife asks for baking powder, and the grocer offers her the choice of three or four brands, isn't it natural for her to buy the baking powder with the most familiar name? But if she asks for a cream of tartar baking powder, and is offered her choice of three or four brands of cream of tartar powders, she is in position to buy the brand which offers her the best value for her money. She then knows that the ingredients in all the cans being substantially the same, the lowest price powder is the best value. Knowledge of what the product consists is essential if she is to buy a similar product in bulk or packed under some other name.
Third degree: What can be used as an alternative to the extravagantly marketed article, everything considered?
When the consumer buys any article, it is bought for the service which can be secured from it. If the same service can be secured from two different articles, and one article costs less money than the other, the consumer ought to buy the less costly article if only to be able to spend the difference for something that could otherwise not be purchased.
A nationally advertised fat is recommended "For Frying, For Shortening, For Cake Making." These are the services for which the housewife would buy it, but if she can purchase an equally good fat that will render her the same service for less money, why should she pay the "few extra pennies" which the manufacturers admit in their advertising she has to pay every time she buys the nationally advertised fat. The nationally advertised fat is a chemically hardened cotton seed oil. If the manufacturer asks more for it than is asked for old-fashioned lard, just because he spends a fortune yearly in advertising, there is no good reason for the consumer to blindly accept his own claims about its superiority as a good enough reason to pay higher prices for cooking fat. Why buy one of the cheapest vegetable oils at an excessive price just because the manufacturer has managed to make a passable imitation of lard from it--when it is possible to buy the genuine lard made without the aid of the artificialities of inorganic chemistry? If it is possible to secure the same service from butter, oleomargarine, or lard, and these products are less expensive than the advertised fat, why buy the nationally advertised fat?
This matter of finding substitutes for extravagantly marketed and nationally advertised articles is the real difficulty which meets those who would like to apply the common-sense, which a business man applies to buying for his business, to the buying of things for consumption. Fortunately, when the price of a nationally advertised article is excessive, it is nearly always possible to use an alternative article with equal satisfaction. If one lacks knowledge of a suitable substitute, and has the old American hatred of being "played for a sucker," one can always do without until something that is really either "just as good" or a little better is found.
Locating an alternative article is doubly important when considering the purchase of a newly advertised product. It is a good plan to let the "easy marks" and the spendthrifts who can afford it, do the experimenting with such products. National advertising is often, it is true, used very effectively for the purpose of educating the public to the uses of some new product. But today it performs this educational function at too high a price. If all national advertising consisted of this sort of educational advertising, the cost of introducing a new article would be greatly reduced. The advertising of new articles would then have the field to itself and would not have to compete for attention with the vast volume of advertising now devoted to "boosting" staple articles.
An army of American housewives applying a judicious skepticism toward nationally advertised articles would promptly shrink the volume of advertising until what remained might perform a useful educational function at a lower cost than the work could be done in any other way.
That the cost of living of any family buying along these lines would be reduced by the amounts saved in buying, is obvious. Suppose, however, that hundreds of thousands of families were to follow the policy I have advocated. What would happen?
There would be a sharp drop in the price of articles now advertised and a sudden increase in the size of their packages. The national advertisers would be forced to meet the competition of the unadvertised articles on the basis of price and quality or see their brands swept off the markets. No increase in the amount of their advertising would help them to dodge the brutal necessity of honestly meeting the question of "What is your product worth, and how much are you asking for it?" On the contrary, as the advertising would be the very thing which would warn consumers to "Stop, look, and listen," any increase in the amount of their advertising would merely make buyers more cautious and more intent upon locating "the nigger in the woodpile."
Faced with the necessity of reducing the prices on their merchandise, the manufacturers would have to reduce their expenditures for high pressure marketing. There would be a great shrinkage in the amounts appropriated by them for advertising. With the reduction in the volume of advertising, there would be fewer billboards to disfigure our landscapes, while our newspapers and magazines would shrink to convenient sizes. Magazine--monstrosities which, despite the postal regulations, are circulated principally f r advertising purposes, would collapse like toy-balloons which had been pricked with a pin. The magazines which desired to survive the change would be forced to improve the quality, rather than as now to increase continually the quantity, of their stories and articles, since they would be forced to rely upon their readers instead of their advertisers for support. They would naturally devote most of their attention to the interests of the consumers of the country, instead of as now coloring what they print in the interests of their advertisers. "Whose food I eat, his song I sing," is true of our present periodical press. If the food they lived upon came from readers instead of from advertisers, they would find writers who would strikes notes entirely different from prevailing tunes.
With the reduction in the demand for paper to be used for printing magazines and newspapers, our forests would not be sacrificed so rapidly to make paper pulp now being converted into advertising space at the rate of trainloads daily. The conservation of our forests would furnish us lumber for building houses and for furnishing them. What the advertisers and publishers would lose, the consumers of the nation would gain in lower costs of everything into which lumber entered.
The fungus-like publishing and advertising industry would be deflated.
But the biggest deflation would come in the reduction of the terrible price paid by the consumers of the nation for the support of our vast armies of salesmen. Thousands and thousands of salesmen have been recruited over a period of many years from the most aggressive types of manhood produced on our farms and in our factories. For many years energy and constructive thought, which should have been devoted to production and transportation, has been devoted to selling and salesmanship.
The salesman is an essential cog in our present machinery of distribution, but we have come to look upon what is merely a cog in the machine as the motive power of the whole process of production and consumption. The salesman who is called a "producer," the man who can get the orders, is considered a more important person in many businesses than the man who can make the goods or the customer for whom they are made. The occupation of the salesman--it is important to bear in mind that all advertising men are fundamentally merely salesmen--has been exalted until in the estimation of the young man of today, selling and advertising rank with engineering, teaching, medicine, and law.
Selling should be an economical method of bringing production and consumption in touch with one another. But national advertising, by increasing the number of brands, and the number of salesmen required to sell the brands, and what is worse, creating army after army of salesmen who have things to sell which are supposed to help the grand army of all salesmen to sell, has added to the cost of distributing merchandise one item after another until the cost of selling exceeds the cost of making the merchandise itself.
The army of salesmen, specialty salesmen, demonstrators, and salesmanagers; the army of advertising men; of salesmen selling magazine, newspaper, and billboard space; of salesmen selling advertising agency service, and salesmen selling art-work, engraving, electrotypes, printing, and paper, is badly in need of demobilization.
What a healthier and happier nation ours would be if the number of artists, physicians, farmers, and mechanics were increased, and the number of salesmen and clerks decreased! We need lower priced food and less expensive machinery and buildings. We desperately need a more beautiful environment. If that portion of our national man-power which is most adaptable and aggressive, which is now engaged in diverting more and more of the national income into the sterile field of selling, were to be drafted into the arts and crafts and into production and transportation, the whole current of our economic stream would be changed. It would move more slowly, but it would be a deeper stream. What production might lose in speed, would be made up by the increase in its thoroughness, and the quality and durability of the products.
We in this country have overestimated the efficiency of laws as measures of reform, and have underestimated the power of direct action. During the American revolution the efforts of Great Britain to tax our tea were defeated not by the passage of laws in the various colonies, but by the simple expedient of our refusing to buy the tea. Parliament passed laws which, by means of rebates and drawbacks, actually made tea cheaper in the Colonies than in Great Britain. Yet so effective was the direct action of the colonists that the tea merchants of Great Britain begged Parliament to revoke the taxes long before a single important battle had been fought in the Colonies.
Instead of looking to a law to save us from the economic burden imposed by high pressure marketing, we can save ourselves.
We can simply mark off of our buying lists every product whose maker refuses to sell upon the basis of price, quality, and style in competition with the products of all other manufacturers. Self-interest dictates that we buy in this way. As in almost all cases, enlightened self-interest and the truest public spirit are one and the same.
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