The Personal Reminiscences Of Albert Lasker


“Simply change the name of Wheat Berries to Puffed Wheat.”

Thus Puffed Wheat and Puffed Rice were born.

Then we said to them, “You haven’t margin enough.”

“Oh,” they said, “but look. We give 22 ounces of Quaker Oats for ten cents. We only give eight ounces of Puffed Wheat and Puffed Rice. It’s a very big package, but there’s so much air in it that it isn’t heavy. We couldn’t give more, because with the bulk it takes, the transportation charges would be too big. The stores wouldn’t handle it. Our overhead is such that for ten cents we can give them only eight ounces. We couldn’t charge more.”

We said, “Look, anyone who buys this knows he’s buying a luxury. Eight ounces for ten cents is no more out of line than is eight ounces for twelve cents. No one is being fooled, and you haven’t enough money to educate the public.”

We got them to raise the price. That became the campaign. Very quickly Puffed Wheat and Puffed Rice became very large money earners, almost comparable to Quaker Oats itself.

I’m not speaking as one who is looking to the past, but there comes a time when you have to survey and return to fundamentals. Advertising today is done on the production line—synthetically. Several men will work on one copy. There’s a lot of research, but they haven’t the inspirational writers like Hopkins.

I’m not speaking in bitterness or with the thought of the “good old days.” I am saying that it’s largely because advertising appropriations are so great and that they are spending so much that they are getting results. There are certain techniques out of salesmanship-in-print that are fundamentally known—that you can get in as techniques and which will give you results as against general publicity or “keeping the name before the people.” But it’s lacking that added thing—the “food shot from guns”—which you can’t get through technique. You have to be a creative artist with imagination.

We had done some work for the American Tobacco Company back in 1910 or 1912, but it was too much for me to come to New York. I had closed the large New York office and had only a small office.

The big cigarette companies had started some time between 1912 and 1923 to make the present type of cigarettes, domestic Virginia and Turkish tobaccos mixed. I think the first two to make it were Camels and Chesterfields. The American Tobacco Company was late in starting. Up to 1923, or even 1925, the American Tobacco Company must have had over fifty brands, and those fifty brands would be pushed and advertised—each with a little appropriation.

Those fifty-odd brands not only included cigarettes, but also included smoking tobaccos, plug tobaccos, and so forth. The new type of cigarette—the new mixture—caught on very quickly. Belatedly, after Camel and Chesterfield got going, the American Tobacco Company put out a cigarette under the name of Lucky Strike.

Mr. Percival Hill was the president of the American Tobacco Company, and he asked me if I would see him and his son. I did see them at lunch at the Vanderbilt Hotel. At the end of our interview he offered me the Lucky Strike account, which was their biggest account and which, at that time, was spending perhaps from $600,000 to $800,000 a year.

Present at the lunch, besides him and myself, was Hill’s son, George Washington Hill. I do not think he was the vice-president of the company at that time. I think he was just the advertising manager, although he may have just been made a vice-president.

I said to Mr. Percival Hill, “Do you handle this advertising yourself? Do we deal with you? Whom do we deal with—because if we deal with you, and you feel that confidence in us, I’ll be very glad to do your advertising, but before I’d want to say that we’d do the advertising, I would have to know with whom we would deal and be sure that he had the confidence to cooperate with us. There’s nothing that is more distressing than to have a client who isn’t sympathetic.”

Mr. Hill answered, “My son George, here, looks after the advertising, but I make the decisions. It’s time enough for him to make the decisions when I’m dead.”

I said, “That’s fine, Mr. Hill, but I’ve got to deal with your son George, and I wouldn’t want to accept. But I’ll tell you what I’ll do. If he’ll come out to Chicago for a week and see how we work and talk to clients about us, and if he asks me to take it, then we will do it.”

That program was agreed to, and he came to Chicago. The net result was that we took the Lucky Strike advertising. They represented to me at that time that they were making some 35 billion cigarettes a year, I think, but many, many years later I learned that it was little more than half of that. They were really on the way out !

We tried several different ideas, and none of our first ideas went in a great way. However, they all did better than they had done before.

”…I do not want to represent that we made the American Tobacco Company. I do represent…”

During the test period Mr. Percival died, and his son George became president. I said to his son, “Now look, you’re spending $600,000 or $800,000 a year. I’m going to work with you on certain ideas, and if in two or three years I can’t have this account to $5,000,000, it can’t live. We’ll have to agree to do certain things, but when we do $5,000,000, I never want to hear from you how much our commissions amount to. You won’t be paying them to us. We will have earned them ourselves.”