Honesty As A Factor In Advertising
( Originally Published 1902 )
Barnum once said " The public likes to be humbugged." I question very much as to whether that absurd humbugging era ever existed—if it did it has been relegated with a lot of other things to the dim and misty past. In this age the man who humbugs people does it once-if he is very clever he may be able to do it a second or possibly a third time—but then he finds his humbugging race is run, and he begins to wish he had tried honest methods, and given a full dollar's worth for every dollar he received. I went around the other evening to Madison Square Garden to see Barnum's Circus. After firing a quart of peanuts in the beautiful mouth of the hippopotamus and watching the camel "get a hump " on himself as he rose in his majesty to look upon the crowds about him—after gazing upon the zebra, tapir, lions and other animate affairs, and after watching Roman chariot races, bareback riders, trapeze performers, tumblers and clowns for a good two and a half hours, I departed with the rest of the crowd highly satisfied I got my dollar's worth of entertainment and instruction from " The Greatest Show on Earth." There was no humbug there, and when Barnum's show opens up in Madison Square Garden next year I will go around again and see it some more. Why?
Because I was satisfied with it. Because I came away feeling that I received my dollar's worth. And that is the secret of successful retailing nowadays—the sending away people from your store highly satisfied with themselves in patronising you. You cannot do it by humbugging methods. Competition is too active and keen nowadays to allow a man to give otherwise than honest values. Now the true secret of successful advertising, is to accurately mirror the daily or weekly happenings in your store. It is simply a reflex of your business methods—a big plate glass window through which the great buying public can note your goods, various prices and business methods. And when the advertising becomes "highfalutin " or exaggerated, it is a magnifying glass that multiplies faults which visitors speedily discover to your after regret.
There was a time, we all know, when exaggerated and outrageous advertising was the order of the day. That was during the dark ages of advertising, when advertising was new and people had not become fully acquainted with it. Then it was an easy matter to gull people, but "a burned child dreads the fire;" and once the people were gulled they rather looked upon all advertising with suspicion. But the bright advertisers soon found that honest, straightforward advertising won customers' attention and retained it, and by persistently being honest and straightforward in their methods and advertising they built up for themselves big businesses. And today the list of honest advertisers are longer than ever before—for the simple reason that it is best business policy to be honest.
The advance of popular knowledge regarding advertising has quite kept pace with the ability of the advertiser to satisfy this knowledge. The public scent the lie or hyperbole in an ad now as quick as they look at the print, and once a man or firm gets a reputation for gross exaggeration it sticks like a poor relation. A hundred good, honest ads cannot wash away the mischief done by a lying one. Therefore, be careful in your newspaper talk. Write and edit your advertising with due regard for the popular demand for honesty, candor and common sense.