[Paleopsych] TLS: Unquenchable thirst
checker at panix.com
Fri Apr 1 20:34:59 UTC 2005
09 July 2004
BIRTH OF A SALESMAN. The transformation of selling in America. Walter
A. Friedman. 334pp. Harvard University Press. $27.95. - 0 674 01298 4.
A CENTURY OF AMERICAN ICONS. 100 products and slogans from the
twentieth century consumer culture. Mary Cross, editor. 256pp.
Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. $49.95. - 0 313 31481 0.
POP. Truth and power at the Coca-Cola company. Constance Hays. 399pp.
Hutchinson. £18.99. - 0 09 179968 6.
David Ricardo believed that production was the engine of the economy
and, with J.
B. Say, that half the goods in the market bought the other half, so
that producers did not have to worry about consumer demand. T. R.
Malthus, on the other hand, believed that consumption was the
mainspring and that demand, notably that of the idle rich, called
forth production. Ever since, most economists have agreed with
Ricardo, holding that the supply side would evoke sufficient demand to
clear the market. Strangely enough, however, most big businessmen,
while kowtowing to Ricardo's free market, have followed Malthus. By
and large, they have distrusted the market to buy their goods without
massive efforts to stimulate consumer demand. Hence the importance of
salesmanship, public relations and advertising.
The three books under review preach the significance of consumption in
the rise of the American economy and its spread across the globe. In
Birth of a Salesman Walter A. Friedman traces the evolution of the
modern salesman from the peddlers, hawkers and canvassers of
pre-industrial America. They bought their wares - tin utensils,
scissors, clocks and watches, lace, sewing materials, even lightning
conductors - from workshops and wholesalers at their own risk, unlike
the modern commercial traveller, working for a large corporation and
controlled by a marketing manager. The first pioneers, some of whom
were women, included the sellers of devotional literature, bibles and
prayer books. But for the most part, salesmen have been thoroughly
masculine, a brotherhood who faced the travails of a peripatetic
trade, and the comradeship of the saloon and cheap hotel.
The early salesmen had a reputation for conmanship and chicanery.
Henry Thoreau in 1854 thought them an unnatural, wasteful force, and
Herman Melville, in The Confidence Man (1857), saw them as satanic
sellers of false promises, fake medicines, useless stocks and shares,
and nonexistent charities. Later in their evolution they were
epitomized by Arthur Miller's womanizing, self-pitying, worn-out Willy
Most of the travelling salesmen worked for wholesalers, but soon the
modern giant corporations and public-relations firms set up their own
marketing departments and turned them into well-respected heralds of
free enterprise. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, large
corporations with national or even worldwide ambitions, like Singer's
sewing machines, Burroughs's typewriters, Candler's Coca-Cola, Heinz's
fifty-seven varieties of canned foods, and Patterson's National Cash
Register, began to treat marketing as a science, after the pattern of
F. W. Taylor's scientific management. They raised the status of their
agents, formulated guides to their conduct and approach to the
shopkeeper or housewife, and backed them up with large-scale
Magazines and books sprang up, like Printer's Ink (1888), The Science
of Successful Salesmanship (1904) and Scientific Sales Management: A
practical application of the principles of scientific sales management
to selling (1913).
They invented "salesology" with its own magazine in the 1910s and 20s.
By 1920 there were 220 sales-management books in the Library of
The salesmen, backed by mass advertising, helped to create the icons
of American consumerism. The contributors to Mary Cross's symposium, A
Century of American Icons, have produced 100 micro-histories of the
logos, trade marks, slogans and jingles which have become part of the
American psyche, many of them reaching out to most of the countries of
the world. They include Coca-Cola, Heinz Baked Beans, Campbell's Soup,
Kellogg's Cornflakes, Kodak cameras, Marlboro Man with his dangling
cigarette, Cadillac luxury cars, Ronald McDonald, Gillette razors,
Levi's Jeans, down to Absolut Vodka, Victoria's Secret lingerie, the
AppleMac "Big Brother" television ad and the Yahoo internet search
engine. They also cover icons that have swamped America but are rarely
seen on the other side of the Atlantic: Morton's Salt, Burma-Shave,
A&P (the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company), Lydia Pinkham's
Vegetable Compound, Uneeda Biscuit and RCA Radio have failed to
The collection is a potted history of consumerism in the most
insatiable consuming nation in the world. It demonstrates not only how
the demand for mass-produced goods and services has been stimulated,
but also how mass consumption has created the biggest international
corporations and largest fortunes for their top executives on the
planet. What the book does not show is the way in which the
corporations owning the icons have used their muscle to outcompete and
marginalize their rivals, by stealthy marketing ploys such as
exclusive deals with supermarkets and fast-food outlets, and mergers
with or purchases of smaller competitors. This aspect of corporate
business is best illustrated by the icon which dominates the cover of
the collection, Coca Cola.
Constance Hays's story of how Coca-Cola - "a beverage with no
nutritional value sold variously as a remedy, a tonic and a
refreshment" - reflects the history of American consumer society and
the rise of the global economy. It begins with a veteran Civil War
ex-cavalryman, John Pemberton, who began to sell home-brewed medicines
and mixtures in Atlanta in 1869. He invented a "French Wine Cola" made
from a secret syrup containing alcohol, the mildly narcotic coca leaf
and cola nut - hence the name - which, when diluted with carbonated
water, the locals took to as a refreshment in the yet to be
air-conditioned South. Eventually he left out the alcohol and from
1886 developed the first Coca-Cola. He sold it direct to the customers
of his growing chain of drugstores and then others from what he called
a soda fountain. In 1888, he sold the recipe and rights of manufacture
to a brilliant entrepreneur, Asa Candler, whose genius for selling it
through soda fountains created a nation of Coca-Cola drinkers and made
the logo, sketched in his own cursive handwriting, a household name.
By 1899, he was selling over 200,000 gallons of syrup, each gallon
making with added soda water nearly 400 Colas, and slaking the thirst
of Americans over 80 million times a year. At this point, he had not
thought of making the drink available outside his own and other
retailers' soda fountains, where it was sold as in ice-cream parlours.
No one had thought of bottling it, until a couple of entrepreneurs,
Benjamin Thomas and Joseph Whitehead, approached and pestered him to
give them a contract.
Candler, who thought that bottling would be too expensive but welcomed
a further outlet for his syrup, then made the biggest mistake of his
career. He signed an unlimited contract to supply Thomas and Whitehead
with the syrup at a fixed price, to be raised only with the price of
sugar, the main ingredient. Very soon the Coca-Cola bottle, moulded
like the hourglass-shaped lady of the period, took off and carried the
logo to the ends of the earth. It also gave a name to all carbonated
beverages: "Pop", giving the title of Hays's book, came from the
characteristic noise when the wired ceramic cap was released.
It took the Coca-Cola company many years, and a bit of chicanery by
substituting corn syrup or artificial sweeteners (in Diet Coke) for
sugar, to get control of the distribution system again. That involved
setting up its own bottling subsidiary and buying out as many of the
local bottlers as could be persuaded or bullied to sell. This policy
exposed what happened when a powerful, by now international
corporation, operating in over 200 countries, set out to compete in
the free market. Coca-Cola consciously tried to outcompete its rivals,
Pepsi Cola, Royal Crown, Dr Pepper, and so on, and to drive them into
a shrinking share of the market. The unstated end of competition is
monopoly. Coca-Cola used every device it could muster to marginalize
its competitors - exclusive deals with supermarkets, fast-food chains,
college campuses, hotels and the like - or to persuade stores to give
the most prominent shelf space to their products. It was backed by
massive advertising in all forms of media, costing millions of
dollars, beyond the reach of all but the richest of rivals.
The company, it argued, did not sell the actual drink - that was the
role of the bottlers, including their own Coca-Cola Enterprises - but
only the syrup. That meant it could control the price at both ends,
the sum charged to the bottlers and, through the advertised price, to
the customer. The price squeeze with its guaranteed profits led not
only to conflict and lawsuits with the bottlers but eventually to
greater conflict with the government over misleading tax reporting.
The issue was the relation between the Coca-Cola company and its
dominant bottling subsidiary. The lawsuit argued that the two
corporations were interlocked - in 1998 the parent company subsidized
the bottlers by $1.2 billion in marketing support and other transfers
- and were essentially the same enterprise, thus misleading the
shareholders and Federal Treasury.
Nonetheless, the fizzy drink and its offshoots, 7-Up, Orangina, Fanta
and Dasani (filtered tap water), had built a vast international
enterprise which in 1997 employed 29,000 people and was worth billions
of dollars, its sales more than the GDP of most countries in the
world. It had also made vast fortunes for a series of brilliant
executives: Asa Candler, Robert Woodruff, Donald Keough, Roberto
Goizueta, Douglas Ivester, Doug Daft and Warren Buffet. Goizueta, the
"little Cuban exile" who climbed the heights of corporate wealth and
power by his financial genius - though he was also responsible for the
fiasco of the unpopular "New Coke" which nearly ruined the brand in
1985 - left over $1 billion when he died in 1997.
Since his death, Coca-Cola has suffered a slump in its sales and share
price, but it will be a long time dying, if it ever does. His chosen
jingle, "I'd like to buy the world a Coke . . .", still rings around
the world as the greatest icon of American capitalism. Constance
Hays's Pop is a paradigm of the rise and rise of American global
dominion. Together, these three books demonstrate how American tastes
and culture have come to dominate the world.
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