Mid Summer Bombardment
( Originally Published 1902 )
The following appeared in Printer's Ink in September, 1895—conditions are now naturally changed.
When I joined forces with Hayden Bros., Omaha, Neb., about a year ago, I thought I saw a glorious opportunity to hypnotize the ordinary dead summer trade into something then unknown to Nebraska merchants.
And the result somewhat astonished the natives of this prairie-swept State, as well as the tenderfoot from the classic advertising fields of the Hub. Prom handling the advertising of the mighty house of Jordan, Marsh & Co., of Boston, to writing and placing Hayden Bros.' bargain stories, was quite a leap. But health conditions and physicians' orders sometimes turn our lives topsy-turvy, and, well, at any rate, I found myself one June morning of last year out in Omaha, under contract to do Hayden Bros. advertising.
But how was I to start in? Where was I to begin?
This, the biggest department house in Omaha, never had an advertising manager. And I was the first one to come along and try to evolve a well oiled advertising department out of what appeared to me to be dismal chaos.
A most peculiar order of things existed at the time of my arrival, and I was told the same conditions were to be found in the other Omaha stores. This was the situation. As they had never had an advertising head, the various heads of departments (about forty in all) would each get up whatever he saw fit to advertise his special department, and personally take or send down his contribution to the newspaper offices. This contribution was left to the tender mercies of a foreman in the composing room, to be dovetailed somewhere in the general Sunday or other ad belonging to Hayden Bros. Thus the Omaha Sunday Bee would be a couple or three days gathering in the bargain announcements of this house, and when the whole thing was brought together it was a weird and wonderful mosaic of forty different individualities. It is proverbial that the smartest department heads—the men who are keenest in driving bargains and making dollars appear on the right side of the department ledgers—are frequently the poorest ad writers.
The situation was quickly realized. In the first place, I picked up the Omaha Bee and studied it. I noticed that the display advertising of the local houses for this particular day (it happened to be on a Monday) did not amount to a row of pins. The Nebraska Clothing Company's ad was about the only display one. On the last page was an eruption of poorly written, poorly arranged and very loose-jointed "locals," or in other words, a lot of items and prices arranged in single column, in ordinary type, without regard to display. An old-fashioned head-line or two, after "the tremendous bargain" order, headed these attempts.
The other daily, The World-Herald, told about the same story. The Boston Store, Ferguson's, the Morse Dry Goods Co., in fact, all the dry goods stores in town, seemed to be satisfied with these " locals."
The suggestion occurred to me, why wouldn't it be a good idea for some department house to take advantage of this general business lassitude and begin a bombardment of mid-summer advertising. Such a house would have a clear field to itself. I thought the scheme worthy of trial, and so started in to carry out this idea.
A contract was soon made with the Omaha Bee and World-Herald wherewith one-half a page space was to be taken Mon days, Wednesdays and Fridays and one-third page space Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, while on Sundays full page spaces would be taken. These spaces were to be occupied by regular display advertisements. In the display line, at any rate, they certainly had the whole field to themselves.
Newspaper space out there is quite reasonable. The annual summer languor had crept over trade and the Omaha merchants were doing as they always did at that season of the year, namely: resting on their oars.
I started in to work on a Monday morning. The next day Hayden Bros. had a third page display announcement in the morning and evening papers Wednesday saw a half page, Thursday, a third page, Friday, a half page; Saturday, one third page, and—and—Sunday a full page !
Great Christopher! The other merchants didn't know what came over Hayden Bros.
Had that heretofore eminently sensible house suddenly developed a streak of insanity? Were they buying up newspaper space simply for the sake of filling the newspapers and seeing their name in print
A visit to their store showed considerable method in their madness. Yardsticks were flying in the dress goods and calicoes. The head of the silk department said he never saw anything like it before. Scales were busy in the groceries. Household goods were melting away in the furniture, carpet, crockery and kitchen departments, while in the other stores there was the usual mid-summer, graveyard silence. The Bee, the World Herald, Hayden Bros., and MacDonald—as well as a variety of other interested ones—were feeling quite happy at this remarkable increase of business all around.
The success of this dog-day advertising was most pronounced. It aroused torpid trade—it stimulated general interest amongst Omaha's female population as to Hayden's wonderful bargains—and it "set the other fellows a-guessing." The other merchants thought it wise to imitate Hayden Bros.' method, but that enterprising house had all the wind in its sails and the proprietors were well pleased with this unlooked for trade at this season of the year.
In Omaha, or any of these far Western cities, the advertiser should blow his horn long and loud. The concern that makes the most noise out there (other things in proportion) is the one that "gets there." Modesty there is a drug in the advertising market. It is the general character of the climate and people not to be over-afflicted with a sense of their small importance. When the pioneer real estate and general business men began to advertise some score or more years ago in the West, they spoke with such emphasis that they were heard all over the world, and as aggressive, progressive advance-guards, they understood their business and built the West up to be the point where she is to-day; consequently, as the West is to-day aggressive, her advertising should be so, to be successful.