Commentary

Digging Dirt

At the Mediapost office a couple of weeks ago, we were discussing XMOS. I wondered what it was, though I thought I knew. I asked for more info because it sounded like it should be something more than I imagined, which is just an attempt to name a phenomenon the IAB wished would actually happen -- namely that brand advertisers would put more money into the Internet. Turns out, it's nothing more than I imagined. But, the staff cautioned that the IAB had actual research that proved that adding the Internet to a primarily TV schedule had improved reach and frequency of some representative campaigns.

It reminded me of a story from my youth.

My Dad was a branch manager for Electrolux in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, where I grew up. He used to like to say he was a "vacuum sweeper salesman." For years after I left home, I was embarrassed to tell anyone what he did. (In Oshkosh it didn't seem to matter.) One summer during college, since I had no summer job, he said: "Why don't you sell for Electrolux?" I've always been one to take up a challenge, even when I do not actually particularly believe in my abilities in a given area. I've found that a lot of challengers back down when you throw it back at them. But, my Dad wasn't backing off. He wanted me to do something useful rather than just sit around the house all summer.

Soon I was in training with several other otherwise unemployed recruits at the small branch office in Oshkosh. I didn't realize it at the time, but these were all people who did not seem to be able to get any other job, so they turned to door-to-door sales on straight commission as a way to get a toehold on the American Dream. At least, they saw it as a way to pay for their next meal or next bar tab.

It's how my Dad had gotten his start during the Depression when there were no other jobs available. With a vacuum cleaner in hand and his own hard work and pluck he had managed to keep his family fed in the worst economic circumstances ever in this country. No-one had much cash in those days so, in order to make the sale, he would take monthly payments instead or, sometimes, take things in trade. It's how we ended up with horses, chickens, old cars and other great stuff.

The core technique of an Electrolux vacuum cleaner salesman is "digging dirt." You show the housewife that the Electrolux can pick up more dirt than her current machine. The process was to thoroughly vacuum an area of her rug with her current machine, then go over the exact same area with the Electrolux with a special clean white filter in the air stream to show whether it picked up dirt that the old machine had missed. It always did. On that first day in training at my Dad's office, we all learned how to dig more dirt with the Electrolux.

Then we were set loose on the unsuspecting citizens of Oshkosh, new vacuums and clean white filters in hand, to reap the rewards of our own hard work, this amazing machine and door-to-door shoe leather.

It wasn't so easy to talk your way into the customer's house and, being raised to be polite to strangers, I had a hard time getting past the myriad objections. I did get in some houses, gave a few demonstrations and actually made some sales (mostly replacement bags to kindhearted existing Electrolux customers). My commission checks were small. But, I was absolutely convinced of the superiority of my product, after all, I had seen the proof, hadn't I?

One day in the office with my Dad I got to thinking about the demonstration itself. And I began to wonder about something. What if the process was reversed and the Electrolux went first and the old machine last? Would the old machine be able to get dirt the Electrolux has missed? I had to ask.

"Dad, would the old machine pick up dirt after the Electrolux?"

He smiled at me a kind of wry smile, looked me in the eye and said: "Son, there's always more dirt in the rug."

I think in all media planning and buying there is always more target audience to be added for every campaign by adding additional media. So, it all gets back to digging as much dirt as economically as is feasible, doesn't it?

Next story loading loading..