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Lesson #1: Market Your Product as a One of a Kind
When Kellogg and his brother first came up with their idea for toasted corn flakes, it was a novel one. But at the same time, there were another 40 companies in Battle Creek, Michigan producing cold cereals. Corn flakes might have been unique, but the breakfast food industry was rapidly growing, and Kellogg knew he had to find a way to make his product stand out from the rest. He found that way through marketing.
Today, the Kellogg name might be known for the boxes of tasty, nutritious corn flakes on which it is printed, but in the business world, the name represents that of a master marketer. What helped set Kellogg apart from the rest was not so much his product, but the way in which he portrayed that product – as the “original” corn flake.
At the time of Kellogg’s rise, advertising was a relatively new phenomenon. Only the most progressive of businessmen had begun to seize its potential. Kellogg was one of those men.
In one of Kellogg’s first ads, he began, “This announcement violates all the rules of good advertising.” Why? Because readers were not able to by his product from any grocers at the time; none of them carried the product. Instead, Kellogg gave out coupons for free samples and asked people to urge their grocers to carry the product so they could redeem their coupons.
Kellogg promoted corn flakes as not only nutritious, but great tasting too. He also began to market the product as the “original” corn flake, especially in the face of increasing competition from his own brother. In 1906, Kellogg ran his ads in 17 magazines with more than six million readers. By the end of that year, grocers were lining up to buy his product; he had shipped out over 180,000 cases of the cereal.
When skeptics told Kellogg that his product would never become national until he conquered the New York market, Kellogg decided to make that his next challenge. He launched an ad that read, “Wednesday is ‘Wink Day’ in New York,” promising every housewife in the city who winked at her grocer on Wednesday that she would receive a free box of corn flakes. “This advertising will arouse the curiosity of the entire city,” he thought to himself. He sent New York grocers word of his promotion, warning them, “Don’t give out samples before then. If anybody winks on Monday or Tuesday, tell them to wink on Wednesday.” Kellogg’s promotion worked. The Wink Day campaign pushed Kellogg’s sales up from two carloads a month to over 30.
Kellogg’s willingness to produce daring and risqué ads helped make him become a household name. Even when Wall Street collapsed in 1929, Kellogg continued to double his advertising budget because he knew people would still be in need of low-cost breakfast foods. With each electric billboard that lit up across the nation, more and more people flocked to their grocery stores to claim their corn flakes. By adopting unique promotional strategies, Kellogg had not only set himself apart from his brother, but from the rest of the industry as a whole. He staked everything on advertising and in the end, it paid off.
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