The Top Four Marketing Geniuses of All Time

I’m not going to waste your time introducing these individuals — their stories speak for themselves.

John R. Brinkley, Inventor of Broadcast Advertising

Hard to believe it now, but radio was once originally considered akin to a public library — a cultural asset free of commercials.

radio broadcastAll of that changed when quack Physician, John Brinkley, built his own radio station in 1923 to hype his cure for male impotence, which consisted of implanting goat testicles in the human body.

Brinkley combined entertainment (booking some of the great country music acts of his day), Bible readings, and a strong sense for the memorable turn of phrase.  Perhaps the most memorable one being: “You’ll be a ram-what-am… with every lamb.”

Now THAT’s infotainment!

Mary Kay Ash, Inventor of Network Marketing

Network marketing (recruiting independent-agents to serve as distributors of goods and services, and then encouraging them to build and manage their own sales force) had been around for several decades when Mary Kay Ash founded her world famous cosmetics firm in 1963.

But older companies, like Amway and Wachters, failed to what Mary Kay did: turn the network marketing concept from something on the fringe into an integral part of America’s middle-class culture.

She did this by tapping a great underutilized workforce: the housewives who were sick of the June Cleaver act, but didn’t want a traditional 9 to 5 job.

Her most brilliant move was awarding top sellers with pink Cadillacs, thereby transforming them into mobile advertisements for the company’s products.  Beautiful.

BillboardsAndre Citroen, Inventor of the Electric Billboard

The founder of the Citroen automobile firm was always somewhat of a marketing genius.

He was one of the first auto execs to sponsor car races, and promoted his car plant to tourists as “the most beautiful in Europe.”

However, his real masterwork was renting the Eiffel Tower in 1925 and having the Citroen brand name emblazoned with 125,000 incandescent lights. The sign remained in place until the company went bankrupt in 1934, partly because of the incredibly high electricity bills.  (The first thing the new owners did was flip the off switch).

The lesson here: no matter how brilliant the marketing, it’s got to pay for itself somehow.

Conrad Gessner, Inventor of Viral Marketing

Viral marketing consists of creating a trend that carries along by word of mouth, creating demand for a product that previously wasn’t on anybody’s radar screen.

People tend to think of it as an internet phenomenon, but it’s actually far older.  Some scholars believe it began way back in 1559, when the Swiss naturalist Conrad Gessner, was lyrical about the beauties of the tulip — a flower then not well known in Europe.

Eventually (in 1634… things move a bit slower without the Web), his remarks spawned what’s now known as “Tulipmania”.  During the craze, some bulbs sold for the contemporary equivalent of several million dollars.

One tulip fancier actually murdered his manservant for eating a particularly prized bulb, believing it to be an onion.

Now, that’s brand loyalty with a vengeance!

Lily Langtry, Inventor of the Celebrity Endorsement

The best way to think of Lily is as the Madonna of her era (the singer, not the saint).

makeup celebrityFor decades, Lily acted, sang and conducted highly-publicized escapades (including an affair with the future King of England), creating an image of glamour that was ripe to be exploited.

And exploit it she did, adding her famous name to a line of cosmetics.  She charged the cosmetic firm her body weight in gold… pound per pound.

Charles Ponzi, Inventor of CEO-Centric Marketing

It’s easy to vilify Ponzi as a conman, but what he did right was promote his company by promoting himself.  It’s a technique that CEO’s have been imitating ever since.

Ponzi may have intended to pay off all his investors eventually, but his marketing -based upon a lifestyle of conspicuous consumption- created so much interest that it all got out of hand.

At one point, Ponzi was taking in so much money that his offices in Boston were said to look as if a hurricane had hit a bank.

Today, of course, Ponzi schemes are illegal.

Julius Ceasar, Inventor of the Advertorial

In advertorial, of course, is a published article that appears to be news, but which is secretly intended to promote a product.  It’s a common way for companies to try to get their message across without being forced to cope with pesky concepts like accuracy and honesty.

When Julius Caesar was away in Gaul (now France), his enemies in Rome were busy trashing his reputation. So he invented the advertorial.

He started sending Rome reports on his progress, ostensibly to keep people informed, but really to make sure that everyone knew about his victories.

When Caesar finally crossed the Rubicon, he had a reputation to “die” for.

goalsMany of these now-infamous marketing gurus were initially told their ideas were impossible, improbable, and unachievable – but they didn’t let that stop them. Do you have an idea which could be the next big step in shaping the face of marketing in the upcoming years? Then take a chance, and take the steps to make it a reality, you might be on the next edition of this list!

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