Wanamaker’s Marketing Effectiveness is as Relevant today as Yesterday

Wanamaker’s Marketing Effectiveness is as Relevant today as Yesterday

Some things just don’t change; and at the turn of the century, the tactics and marketing practices of John Wanamaker were revolutionary. Now as old as Edison’s light bulb, one of Wanamaker’s biggest marketing success stories his practices and observations are as effective and relevant today as they were back then. We can learn a lot from this trailblazer.

Are you asking yourself the same questions over and over again when it comes to your marketing plan and strategy just like John? Well, the answers that J.W. strove to answer are at your fingertips and can be easily ascertained today.

If you are a marketer and you don’t know the name John Wanamaker you probably know a quote he’s been credited with – “I know half my marketing is wasted, I just don’t know which half!

Wanamaker’s Innovations in Marketing Effectiveness

What you might not know about Wanamaker is that he was a department store owner around the turn of the century (Wanamaker’s)and earned a reputation as a creative & innovative marketer in his day, building his empire from a single store in Philadelphia to a chain of 16 stores that dominated many of the markets he had entered – including a prominent store in New York at Broadway and Ninth. The New York store was an impressive building covering an entire city block, which still stands today, housing a K-Mart. Wanamaker’s legacy is noted by the renaming of 9th Street to ‘Wanamaker Place’ between Broadway and Lafayette.

John back in his day was a proponent of improving and increasing the effectiveness of his marketing and went to great lengths to discover better and better ways to engage the consumer. He was the guy who instituted a money-back return policy, and while not a fan of unionization, he did provide a liberal work environment for his employees that included free medical care, educational opportunity, pensions and profit sharing. He was the first marketer to place large format advertisements in newspapers, writing his own copy until in 1880, when he hired what was then the world’s first full-time copywriter – the legendary John Emory Powers – under whom, the firm’s revenues went from $4 million to over $8 million a year in just 6 years (for the reason of perspective, this equates to growing revenues from $95,000,000 to $204,000,000 in today’s dollars – in just 6 years).

Thomas Edison and the Electric Light

Around the time that John was making history in marketing efficiency, Thomas Edison was opening first electric lamp factory and in the first year, producing over 50,000 incandescent bulbs. While not the brilliant marketer that Wanamaker was, Edison did pioneer much of the media we take for granted today – the kinescope and the phonograph made video and audio available to consumers for the first time. The world we know today, with over 24 hours of video uploaded ever hour to YouTube and billions of songs available for immediate play via online streaming, was made possible by Edison and his compatriots.

What would the world of marketing look like though if Wanamaker had looked to the new industries to help further promote his department store empire? Would he have seen the value of product placement in an Edison kinescope? Would he have sponsored gramophone cylinders and put an ad at the beginning and end of each recording? I think he would have. He adopted new technology as quickly as it came out – in 1922 he broadcast on WOO-AM, his own radio station, organ concerts played on the huge pipe-organ in the Philadelphia store. I would have to believe, for sure, those broadcast would have prominently featured the store name and specifics on the current sales in the stores.

Those of us in marketing today owe a lot to John and his methods, but we also owe him a creative and exploratory mindset that pushes the edges of marketing effectiveness.  I’ve heard dozens of marketers at many levels of responsibility recite Wanamaker’s quote as if it were gospel and unassailable.
We here at ProRelevant do not see it as a truth for the ages and certainly not one we believe should be taken at face value. Wanamaker said those words when modern advertising and marketing was evolving and in its infancy. Radio and television we’re not invented. Word of mouth, print newspapers and catalogs were the popular tactics and those were still evolving. Wanamaker’s 1879 “House Furnishing” Catalog featured 54 pages of textual descriptions and not a single image. The 1892 women’s wear catalog “Conditions of Success” had 22 pages of images and was shaped like a woman’s blouse! Very creative and very likely, expensive for Wanamaker to develop and produce.

Marketing Innovation – is it still with us?

If we, as marketers, were presented with the same environment, would we see the same opportunities around us? Would we venture into the market, content with deploying the company’s resources and expecting only half the investment to pay off?

The short and incredulous answer is “Yes”. We see it every day in organizations who are nurturing ever decreasing budgets and trying to gain maximum effect using dated tools and tactics that might give answers about what we did do, but nothing at all about what we should do moving forward. This is where we see a big difference in what marketer have available to them today and how those tools are being used.

Agent-Based Modeling (ABM) is the marketing modeling technology of the future, but less than 1% of the CPG and FMCG companies out there have an ABM model to reference as they do their media planning.  Fewer than a dozen brand marketing consultants exist in the world that have adopted ABM as a tool to help clients get answers for complex questions entailing the brand category, how distribution impacts a brand launch and the actual behavior of the consumer. Those that have, do see improvements in profit with no greater investment in marketing – a true shift in the minds of the executive suite and CMOs in general.


If you’re tired of the old saw about wasting half the marketing budget, contact us or one of our ProTool Partners – we can show a path to more profit and revenue. Stop Guessing about your marketing. Know where you’ll get the best effect, Act to pursue those options and Win the day when it comes to marketing effectiveness.

Stop Guessing.  Know.  Act.  Win.