by Jim Harris
Throughout human civilization, enterprising individuals and businesses with products or services to sell have relentlessly pursued customers. For example, I know a guy who’s addicted to selling brake fluid . . . but he insists that he can stop at any time.
Every now and then, though, a new commodity is so brilliantly conceived, promoted and subsequently desired by the masses that they queue up for miles just to be the first to buy it. For example, a friend told me one of the greatest marketing successes ever was for Velcro , but I think it was just a rip off!
Another one was the first drive-in restaurant for people who wanted to curb their appetites. And the greatest marketing job ever for a Broadway musical was for the famous musical about a train conductor: “My Fare, Lady.” In the following vignettes, I will attempt to recreate what I believe to be a few of the other greatest moments in marketing history:
•Cupertino, California. Oct. 23, 2012:
“Good morning everyone. I stayed up all night to see where the sun went. Then it dawned on me. But seriously, folks, welcome to our corporate headquarters. I’m Apple CEO Tom Cook. I started out as a taxi driver, but I just could not hack it. Then I had a career as a transplant surgeon, but my heart just wasn’t in it. So now I am selling this amazing product instead. Ladies and gentlemen, the iPad Mini!
“It’s 2.2 millimeters thick, thinner than a pencil (remember that broken pencils are pointless) and weighs only three ounces. You can hold it in one hand and consume media anytime, anywhere — mowing the lawn, shaving, changing the kitty litter, in Times Square or the Gobi Desert. You are free to move about the world without ever being out of touch. And it comes with 275,000 applications. Truly, this changes everything!
“I’m being told that the line should begin to move shortly, so have your credit cards ready. Meanwhile, please direct your attention to the mega-screen behind me, and enjoy Bono performing his new hit, “All I want is an iPad.”
•East Equatorial Africa. Two million years BC:
“Greetings, fellow Hominids. Welcome to Cave-Mart. Did you hear about the cannibal who was late for dinner? He got the cold shoulder. But seriously, thank you all for waiting in line so patiently. My condolences to the friends and families of those who were eaten by saber-toothed tigers overnight, but for everyone who survived, we have an amazing new product to unveil. I give you… the iSpear!
“We call it the iSpear because in the preliminary product testing, our researchers kept putting each other’s eyes out, but it can do much, much more. You can pretty much plunge it into any body part you choose. Notice the pointy end, very effective, and the whole thing only weighs 12 pounds. And get this; if your enemy tries to run away, you can THROW it at him! I gotta tell ya folks. This changes everything.
“To keep the line moving, have your barter items ready when you reach the sales chamber. We accept skins, furs, livestock, wives and able-bodied children. No refunds. OK, I see that some of you who have already gotten your iSpears are turning around and killing the folks in line behind you. This is slowing everything down. Please, be respectful of your neighbors. We want everyone to have their iSpears and be out of the cave before any killing begins. Thanks for your cooperation.
•Western Peru, 900 BC:
Blessings upon you, my people. It is good to see you all here at the Temple of Huántar. I am Shaman Ernie. Sorry I’m late. I tried to catch some fog, but I mist. I was having a religious experience, and I lost track of time. I bring you a sacred gift from the Oracle. Behold, the iPotato! And not only does it have eyes, but it speaks! It says “Mash me, boil me, bake me, plant me. Build your villages around me, and no longer will you have to hunt and gather to survive.
“Now I know that you Indians were here first because you had reservations, and I know a lot of you young guys are not too thrilled with the idea of settling down in one place, but trust me, you can build a nice hut, get fat, make babies and retire at 20. You might even learn to read and write. This changes everything!
“Please proceed in single file to the altar of Palin to pick up your sack of iPotatoes. Have your precious beads and stones ready; exact change only. In my visions I see many more gifts coming from the gods, including something wondrous named for an apple. We have much to look forward to.”
So, gentle reader, those are my picks for the greatest moments in marketing history. Personally, my favorite piece of new technology is still the free football-phone that I received with my subscription to Sports Illustrated in 1991. I mean, c’mon, a phone shaped like a football; what could be cooler than that? The only thing cooler than that is a book about gravity that I am currently reading. I just can’t put it down.