Thursday, December 08, 2005

Eli’s Birthday

Today, a fanciful game of “Connections” about the fate of American marketing and advertising.

Eli Whitney was born on this date in 1765 in Westboro, MA.
Whitney invented the cotton gin and developed the concept of mass production of interchangeable parts. We can blame the cotton gin for a lot of problems, but the idea of interchangeable parts – that’s the springboard of the Industrial Revolution and the start of today’s game.

Of those Americans who might be able to answer the question, “Who invented the automobile?”, most would say Henry Ford. But Henry Ford didn’t invent the automobile – he married the already-invented motor car to the techniques of the assembly line.

Mass production demands mass consumption. How to get you the masses to consume? Advertising…eventually. His concept of mass production put American on wheels, his advertising urged Americans to buy cars, and the Ford Motor Company became one of America’s industrial behemoths.

As early as 1928, Herbert Hoover was campaigning for President with the slogan, “A chicken in every pot and and a car in every garage.”

Along with the readily available automobile, Henry Ford is also credited with inventing the American middle class. Last week, one portion of the middle class, in the form of the American Family Association, seems to have “forced” Ford to stop some of its advertising, for the Jaguar and Land Rover marks, in gay magazines.

A number of people are writing about market forces and their effects on advertising – like Alan Murray in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal (page A2).

So today, the anniversary of Whitney’s birth, serves as a reasonable occasion to look at how advertisers and advertising agencies respond to public pressure. Our American freedoms give every group an opportunity to persuade corporations to behave the way the group wishes. It’s part of our way of life.

In the wake of our industry’s craven response to the apparent furor of non-smokers over the success of the Joe Camel advertising campaign, I’ve been looking for a chance to tell our industry, “Grow a spine.” Today’s the day.

These connections are a real stretch – I admit it. This is a blog after all and only rarely splenetic.
But happy birthday anyway, Eli Whitney.

Whitney engraving from with thanks.

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