Throwback Thursday: Wrigley Still Gives Advertisers Food for Thought

It’s hard to spend much time in the city of Chicago and be unaware of the name “Wrigley.” For some the name may just bring to mind the Cubs or your favorite type of gum, but it’s important to remember the man behind the name. William Wrigley Jr. is often thought to be one of the advertising industry’s greatest legends, an innovative leader who pioneered many techniques still successful today.

Wrigley’s legacy did not begin with gum, however. It began with soap and baking powder. After creating his own factory in Chicago in 1915, he experimented with giving freebies to clients and customers. First, baking powder was given out with a purchase of soap, and then baking powder became the more popular product. Wrigley tried his luck again and gave out free gum with the baking powder, and this time he hit the jackpot. People began to demand the gum, and just like that, a brand was born.

After it was born, it transformed into a nationwide phenomenon thanks to Wrigley’s gutsy ideas. He constructed billboards lining cross-country railway lines. He aimed ads towards children, workers and stay-at-home mothers, selling gum as a “perfect break in the day.” He even sent free gum to every address in the United States phonebook.

As many ads and promotions that we come across every day, it’s difficult to even think of a company that has done what Wrigley’s has: implement an advertising strategy that completely switches the product focus. When Wrigley gave away gum along with his baking powder, he probably didn’t predict that it would become his claim to fame. Few companies have pulled a stunt like this.

Some companies have, however, capitalized on the fact that people love free things. We have all been tempted by the buy one get one free deals at supermarkets or department stores, which may explain why McDonalds’ “Teenie Beanie” toys were so popular. Admit it: you or someone you know still has a mini Beanie Baby from a McDonald’s happy meal. I remember my friends having competitions about how many of each kind they had and if they managed to claim the elusive ones. There were even stories of people throwing away full Happy Meals because they only wanted the toy!

Another such advertising strategy has been used by cosmetics companies for years. Estee Lauder and Clinique offer free gifts to shoppers who make a purchase of a certain amount, typically fifty dollars or more. Indeed, the prospect of a lipstick, mini toner, mini mascara, makeup bag and other goodies in addition to a purchase is often too much for a shopper to resist, resulting in a hike in sales for the company.

Obviously, these campaigns were a lot different from Wrigley’s baking powder one, but they point to the effectiveness of free goods. Wrigley hit on an important technique; who knows what we might discover when we throw in a little something on the side.

Cover Photo Source: Max Herman / Shutterstock.com

Tess is a Consulting and Account Services Junior Executive at SJG. She is currently pursuing her undergraduate degree at Emory University in Atlanta, GA, and in her free time she enjoys volunteering, spending time with friends and family and staying active by swimming and running. She might also be found watching Spanish and Latin American movies, reading a classic novel or listening to the Les Miserables soundtrack on repeat.