The Personal Reminiscences Of Albert Lasker


By 1909 the Quaker Oats Company was a large advertising spender, although they had done business through their own agency. They were selling two prepared breakfast foods, which they advertised with a very small appropriation—about $75,000 for each of the two items. One of them was called Wheat Berries, the other. Puffed Rice.

In the advertising for Puffed Rice they showed Japanese people and had Japanese figures. They showed that the rice was large, and they said that it was very delicious. They related it to the Japanese—here was something of a Japanese nature and therefore different—a novelty. The Wheat Berries they advertised as a delicious new wheat food enlarged. They showed dishes of fruit with the Wheat Berries. There was no story—no argument. They merely offered the merchandise.

They were not successful in introducing the goods and, I think, had lost considerable money.

They told us their problem. They charged, if I remember, ten cents a package. They disclosed to us their margin when we said that we had to know it in order to advise them, although they were very hesitant to do it. The margin seemed to us too small to educate the public, for the public must always pay for its education.

I won’t go into the economics, the ethics, or the social implications of advertising—whether it is a good or a bad thing. The only thing is this: if the public is to be educated to the use of goods, it must pay the cost of its education. However, that comes back to the public in time, because the volume increases so much that the goods are sold at decreasing prices, and the public is always sure of the quality.

Here is the story they had told us of how they got these goods. There was a Professor Anderson at the University of Minnesota who was making research experiments in dextrinizing starch—separating starch. That experiment never came to a successful conclusion. I do not know whether they have ever solved the problem.

One day in his test tube, where he had grains of wheat, he noticed a phenomenon. The wheat, without being destroyed, rose to eight times its normal size. He tried it with other grains with the same result. He at once realized that even though he had not discovered anything which would be of aid in the research he was doing, he had discovered something which might be worth while commercially.

The professor then made an arrangement with the Quaker Oats Company to pay him so much royalty a case. He became a very rich man—a millionaire—but at the time we came in, the process had not worked out very well.

”…We’ll advertise the food shot from guns…We’ll show the grains hitting the ceiling…”

The Quaker Oats people figured out how to make this commercially. They built in their plant, at Davenport, Iowa, a two- or three-story room with a platform. Then they built what looked like a wooden gun. Into this gun, they put the wheat or the rice. The room itself may have been a hundred feet long. This gun was really a drum which they subjected to great heat. The mouth was covered. Then, automatically, when it had reached this great heat, the covering of the gun was removed by means of a pulley. From the pressure, the grains came out and went up to the ceiling—all over the room—and expanded to eight times their size.

The first day Mr. Hopkins told me, “I know how they should advertise that. They should advertise the process, because they have something unique there. They have an exclusive thing.” He disclosed to me the first night that he would advertise, “The food shot from guns.” He said: “We’ll advertise the food shot from guns. We’ll show pictures—or drawings—of these guns. We’ll show the grains hitting the ceiling.”

We did this subsequently. It was so dramatic that business multiplied within six weeks—multiplied! The imaginations of the women of the whole country were captured.

Hopkins and I agreed that it was foolish to advertise the two cereals separately. We asked the Quaker Oats people, “Why do you advertise them separately?”

They said, “We want to build up two foods. People don’t use the same breakfast food every day. They use some of Kellogg’s one day, some of Post’s the next. We want them to use two of ours.”

We said, “We’d like to talk first about your present copy before we tell you what we’re going to do. Certainly advertising to the American people that you’re going to ‘Japanify’ them is not an appeal. They will not respond to an allure for a lower standard of living. You could do nothing worse than to associate your merchandise with that. That has been one of the big things that has held you back.”

They quickly saw that. One may wonder, with a concern as large and well-run as they were—for they were a large concern for those days—that that had not occurred to them. But they weren’t trained advertising minds. Psychologically it didn’t occur to them. They immediately conceded that point.

“All right,” we said, “who are you going to fool? These goods are processed goods. If you advertise these two things separately, you haven’t enough appropriation. We’ve got to combine those appropriations to get an impact. What we must do is advertise the process . We will say in terms that the public can understand that in order not to have sameness, they can vary it between wheat and rice. No matter how separately you advertise it, the public will know that it’s just wheat and rice processed the same way when they eat it. They’ll know that, and you won’t fool them.”

They said, “But what will we call them?”