Sometimes, simply having a good idea is not enough.
Innovation comes in many forms, but it’s one thing to come up with a great idea, and another to generate awareness and excitement over it. In the words of Elina Berglund Scherwitzl, creator of the birth control app Natural Cycles, “…I thought that if I just create a product that’s really good, it will sell itself and everyone will trust it. I realize that that’s not at all the case.”
Unfortunately, simply having a great idea or talent is not always enough to sell a product. Hence, where marketing comes into play. Creating enough hype and awareness is a necessity to set an invention or idea into motion, sometimes to the benefit of societal and economic growth. And sometimes, having good marketing skills doesn’t always come with having high moral standards.
In observing the power of good marketing skills, we decided to look at a few less-than-honorable examples and how they were able to mobilize an entire industry with their remarkable marketing skills – ignoring their character flaws in the process.
Thomas Edison and Electricity
There isn’t a lot of known history contradicting the importance of Thomas Edison’s work – unless you ask any Nicola Tesla fan. Edison has been credited with creating our standard direct current electrical current and lighting our homes for centuries. But what’s less discussed is how Tesla discovered a more efficient alternative current that runs longer and on less energy at the same time of Edison’s DC discovery. And so the War of the Currents began, one that still wages on even.
But if AC is more efficient than DC, then why was Edison’s method mass produced? According to some, Edison had stronger connections to wealthy investors, and these ties outbid Tesla’s humble knowledge and lack of funding. The extent of Edison’s competitive edge has even lead some historians to believe the first electrical execution was a PR tactic to frighten the public away from the “too-powerful” and “uncontrollable” power of AC current.
However, even if these events and motivations were true, the overall societal growth and improvement to our daily lives is undeniable. And we can’t really blame Edison for having the marketing skills to set his invention in motion while Tesla had less interest in marketing and more in invention.
Ray Kroc and the Fast Food Industry
Played by Michael Keaton in the recent film “The Founder,” Ray Kroc was first a struggling salesman selling too-expensive milkshake machines to drive-ins across the country. Then, when Mac and Dick McDonald ordered eight machines at once, he decided to travel to their San Bernandino location where he discovered their revolutionary and extremely efficient walk-up burger-and-fry joint.
It was Kroc’s idea to franchise their method and spread their Gold Arches across the country. Unfortunately, the McDonald brothers didn’t fair well in the end. By establishing so many successful chains, Kroc was able to buy out of his originally strict contract and keep the name for himself. Even the McDonald’s website cites Kroc buying the rights to the name.
While it wasn’t Ray Kroc who created the Ford-like assembly line production of food, we do have his drive and persistence to thank for the mass awareness and easy access to delicious burgers in under five minutes for pennies on the dollar.
Walter Keane and 21st Century Art
Walter Keane is most famously known for claiming and spreading his wife’s wide-eyed children paintings as his own. “By the early 1960s, Keane prints and postcards were selling in the millions. You couldn’t walk into a Woolworths without seeing racks of them. Luminaries including Natalie Wood, Joan Crawford, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis and Kim Novak were buying the originals.” (Jon Ronson, TheGaurdian.com, October 2014).
It wasn’t until their 1970 trial that Margaret proved herself the artist behind the art, when the judge ordered both to produce a painting and Walter declined due to an “arm injury” while Margaret finished hers in under an hour. In Tim Burton’s movie “Big Eyes,” however, the character of Margaret Keane did give Walter credit for having the charisma to sell the paintings when she was too timid to promote her work herself.
William Shakespeare and Theater
While unproven, many literary and theater critics believe that not all of William Shakespeare’s plays were written by the man himself. In fact, it wouldn’t have been uncommon for many if not all the plays to be a result of a group compilation, with multiple parts written by various actors.
But whether or not there’s any truth to the speculation – believing if he did or did not write them all – it’s undeniable the historical cultural impact the famous author has had. If these plays were written by a lesser known author or a variety of authors, would we as a society be studying and deciphering each act? Would we still reenact these plays year after year, century after century, if they weren’t so well-known because they were written by none other than Shakespeare himself? Maybe we would. But then again, how many Christopher Marlowe plays did you study in high school?
Some artists and inventors just want to enjoy the pure satisfaction of creating something they believe will benefit humankind. But if you do have a great idea, it’s essential to market it yourself (or, at the very least, license it) before someone else does it for you.