Serendipity Fosters Inspiration

Antique Cigar Wrapper - Early Marketing While searching for something in the back of an antique cabinet, I discovered a branded sheet of retail wrapping paper from England, probably from late 19th century.

I chuckled as I read its oh-so-sincere and romantic pitch:

OVER THE CIGAR 
THE GENTLEMAN OF STUDY AND LEISURE LUXURIATES;
THE MAN OF BUSINESS THINKS!
THE AFFLICTED ARE SOOTHED!

The Literary Men of all ages, from the Great Spencer, the time of its introduction, who was wont to call it the “Divine-weed,” wading nearly through three centuries, have all been a party to the fascinating habit.

POOR BYRON in the absence of other Pleasures, said
GIVE ME A CIGAR,
And many of his FINEST THOUGHTS have been excited under its influence.

JOHN SHAW,
FISHING TACKLE MANUFACTURER,
BIRD AND ANIMAL PRESERVER,
No. 6, WYLE COP, (Near the Lion Hotel,) SHREWSBURY

Has constantly on Sale a choice Selection of Foreign and British Cigars, which he can with confidence recommend to the Connoisseurs, – Also, a large Stock of real Meerschaum Bowls, Stems, and other articles connected with smoking.

Then my marketing instincts took over and I re-examined the sheet with a new fascination. John Shaw had crafted a concise, targeted pitch to his customer base, delivered with the right content and layout to get and hold their attention.

He clearly defines his target customers. He suggests a few types of people that need the product, states what it does for them, and then lets his customer make their own association. Do they classify themselves as a gentleman of study and leisure, a man of business, or just another one of the afflicted (a rather all-encompassing category in those days)? Or maybe they were attracted by the aspirational option to join the ranks of “Literary Men of all ages”. The door is open for them to be “a party to the fascinating habit”.

Mr. Shaw weaves a story that provides his customers with some interesting bits of information. And, for good measure, the rakish Lord Byron provides an appropriate celebrity attribution and quote.

We can only guess what these customers might have done with all of these factoids. Dropped them on friends and associates at their next smoking occasion? Quote Byron as they asked their host to “Give me a cigar”?

The simple layout uses quite a mix of large and fanciful fonts. Perhaps a collaborative effort with his printer down the street to choose an attention-getting combination of then-popular hand set typefaces. A budgetary decision probably drove the lack of an illustration. This was just wrapping paper after all.

John Shaw’s combination of business services first struck me as a bit unusual. Commercial fishermen used tackle, but not animal preservation. It became clear that his actual customers were leisure sportsmen. His “choice selection of Foreign and British Cigars” enabled both his tackle and taxidermy customers to complete their sporting experience. They would most certainly enjoy cigars with friends while admiring their mounted trophies hanging on the walls of their dark wood-paneled library.

Last, but not least, he included a clear product offering statement of what is “constantly on Sale” at his shop. Maybe he even had a few different versions of the paper so a customer received a slightly different message with his next purchase.

My late father-in-law claimed that his career as an ad man, and then cultural anthropologist taught him, “There are only five original ideas in the world”. This may be a bit of a stretch, but this quaint example of Victorian era merchandising is a reminder that the best ways to connect with customers really haven’t changed much in the last 150 years. Don’t forget the basics as you craft your next marketing program for today’s audience.

Posted by Kevin Marks    |    June 4, 2013