To what extent laughter can be combined with business has long been a point of contention — -with the majority apparently vetoing all thought of official gaiety between the hours of nine and five on weekdays.
Of course there is the professional booming noise made by the “hearty” type of salesman; but on the whole the prevailing tone in offices is one of intensity or gravity, and the general feeling that such is the manner both proper and becoming for the man of “affairs” may be one reason for the widely spread doubt as to the commercial value of laughter in advertising. In some fields humor has been used in advertisements with a success that even its most unyielding opponents admit; but on the whole it is still suspect.
It is, therefore, of interest that that dangerous quality should have been interjected into an industrial advertising campaign; one selling Smith Multiplex Pressure Jacks.
A case study
The Smith Multiplex Pressure Jack is used in parting the piston rod from the cross head on a railway loco- motive. With it one man can handle in from three to fifteen minutes a job which formerly took several men hours and even days to accomplish. Its good features were almost self-evident, and since to advertise it properly raised a number of difficult problems, it remained undistinguished by noteworthy publicity until by chance a salesman mentioned the fact to the president of the Clark Manufacturing Company, the makers of the jacks.
He was a salesman of printed advertising who, in feeling around for some business, happened to ask why no advertising was being done on the Smith Multiplex Jack. The president replied that he had long wanted to advertise the tool but had so far been unable to find a man who knew railway men and railway operation well enough to write advertising in language which railway men could read and understand, and which would appeal to them as coming from someone who knew what he was talking about. IN fact, the president did not feel that he himself knew the intricacies of railway operation well enough to pass judgment on such advertising as might be written.
He could sell the jack by personal demonstration, and there were several men in the organization who could do the same thing; but he felt that to write the advertising for a product bought and used by railway men would require the touch of one who had worked with railways for years and knew all about them with intimacy. The salesman left, saying that he would try to find a suitable copy- writer. He did try to find one, but without success.
He had to report that such a writer did not seem to be available. Fortunately, however, in the course of his contacts with the Clark Manufacturing Company he had talked with a man who was demonstrating the jack on railroads all over the country, and he had seen some of the correspondence written by him. The demonstrator, being a mechanic and not a student of the humanities, wrote and talked in a style that was entirely his own.
The most common words were misspelled in the most extraordinary manner. In his conversation his grammar was outrageous. The salesman knew, moreover, that when the demonstrator was talking with the railway man his style was not more polished than that which he used when he was in the office. In spite of his faulty English — or possibly because of it — the demonstrator-salesman was very well liked by railway men.
He was known throughout the country, in every railway shop and round-house, as “George.” George had a personality which won him warm friendships among railway men wherever he went. He knew railway operation thoroughly; he talked with the men as one of them, and he was extremely successful in his contacts.
Pondering over his problem and thinking of this popular character, the advertising man found the idea for “George’s High Pressure Monthly.” “We haven’t anyone who could write seriously to these railway men,” he said to himself. “So why wouldn’t it be a good idea to send to our prospects, at regular intervals, an advertising piece written just as George might write it, and signed by him? It is well known that all of the railway men who would have anything to do with the purchase of such a piece of equipment are flooded with advertising literature of the serious sort.
It would, therefore, seem possible that a piece of advertising written in a humorous way would get over our story even more effectively than a serious piece would.” The advertising man wrote some sample copy for the first issue of the proposed advertising pamphlet and handed it without comment to the president of the company. As he read it the latter’s grin grew broader and broader. “That’s good,” he said when he had finished it. “How soon can we have the issue ready to mail’?” Four issues of “George’s High Pressure Monthly” have now been distributed and the fifth is ready to be mailed.
Already railway men have expressed their interest in the novel publication. George’s errors in grammar, punctuation, and spelling, along with the generally amateurish appearance of his monthly, are laughed over in many railway shops. But the company that puts the pamphlet out is very far from being disturbed by the chuckles caused by its literature. Beneath the coating of humor there lies a serious and pertinent message; and the man who is looking forward to the sugar is not going to miss the sales talk underneath. THE irreconcilable opponents of humor in advertising have many a well tried rule to quote.
But one suspects that at times they are discussing abstract principles and are forgetting the specific case at hand. It must be granted that because something is merely funny it will not necessarily sell any- thing. But the fault is not in the presence of humor but in the lack of skill with which it has been employed. The first page of George’s publication remarks playfully, “Read, but not edited, by The Clark Manufacturing Co.,” which sets the tempo for the text. But the last page is straight selling copy with two half-tones.
People like to be entertained; as modern journalism is rapidly showing. And it is not impossible to be amused and even amusing while one is conducting the weighty affairs of business. That readers of industrial advertising are as willing to be entertained as are readers of fashionable publications is a novel thought, but one that is really obvious.
They must read the advertising directed at them, and if the mass of that literature is solemn and dull, how much more striking must be the occasional cheery note — and how much more likely to be carefully read.