The Invention of Direct Marketing

William Wrigley Jr. is credited to the invention of direct marketing with his first mass mailing of Wrigley’s chewing gum. The story is intriguing in its own right, and it can provide valuable information that is still relevant today.

Seizing an Idea

Wrigley didn’t start out thinking about gum, as his first idea was soap. William Wrigley Jr.’s father had a company that made scouring soaps where he worked. He started off as a production worker later moving on to a salesman. The profit margins were low and Wrigley included free items to entice merchants to buy, such as baking powder. His sales went well, but he moved on from soap to baking powder.

Now that Wrigley was selling baking powder, he decided to add a freebie to it as well. This time it was two packs of chewing gum for every purchase of baking powder. Soon he completely moved away from baking powder and focused entirely on chewing gum. He developed his own brand and developed the idea of selling the gum beside the checkout counter as he recognized it was an impulse buy.

Change in Strategy

With an economical crisis at the turn of the century. Chewing gum was viewed as a non-necessity, luxury item. Wrigley didn’t give up though. Instead, he bought more advertising and touted his gum as an after-dinner product to help clean teeth and soothe the throat. He also used the strategy that if someone could afford to have a telephone, they could buy a pack of gum.

Once Wrigley hit upon this idea, he mailed a pack of his gum to every home listed in the phone directory at that time – the first direct mailing campaign. He continued to follow this plan and ended up mailing the gum to around seven million homes.

His motto was simple: Keep looking for ideas and “tell ‘em quick and tell ‘em often.” His answer to a magazine who asked about his secret is still as relevant today for marketers. 

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