Uncle Ralph Teaches A Lesson in Advertising
''Here should be," my country-store Uncle Ralph would say, "happiness and a smile in advertising." So I think of him every morning as I hear the news on my little radio. The uninspired interspersings of sales opportunities make life seem grim and hurried, and I am urged to "act now!" and even "right now!" and to call today, and to hasten to respond and don't wait. I know not what others may do, but I sit on my sales resistance to keep it warm and eat my cornflakes to taste them again, ha-ha, for the first time.
When Uncle Ralph bought the store he was to operate for so many years, he found the previous owner had been generous to farmers who brought in butter to trade for groceries. The big cold box (then using ice) was half-full of country butter bartered over a long time, and a good part of it had exceeded the limits of time. It had no value over the counter, but its humor was intact. He tore a bit of wrapping paper from his grocer's roll and wrote his first newspaper advertisement as the new owner.
He offered strong butter in a folksy way and at a price of a few cents a pound. You won't like it, he said, but don't bother to return it. Just set it outdoors, and it is strong enough to walk back. But as an afterthought he added that he also had a good supply of high-quality butter offered at a fair price and ready to please one and all. He learned (as if he hadn't known) that people like to talk about strong butter and laugh about it, and his advertisement prompted many jolly remarks over the counter that created a good feeling and made friends for the store.
And best of all, it caused a man to come in and ask to buy five pounds of the strong butter. He told Uncle Ralph that his second wife had two booby boys who sat up to table and wolfed biscuits with great chunks of expensive butter. He thought if he could get the butter he wanted he could make the boys stand back and refrain. Uncle Ralph gave him some.
I consider Uncle Ralph's Dollar Day participation his major triumph. Dollar Days was a gimmick of the old days when all the merchants in town would get together and build a local celebration around the dollar bill. So many of this for $1, and so many of that for $1. It was a big thing for the struggling local newspaper, because it was the one time a year that most of the storekeepers bought any space. Then, to get their money's worth, they would crowd all they could into three big inches, causing the compositor grief and usually rendering the effort ineffective.
As you no doubt suppose, my Uncle Ralph was not dearly beloved by his fellow tradesmen. There had to be witchcraft in a man who could sell rancid butter. So when the merchants began planning for Dollar Days, they left Uncle Ralph out. He was scheming to sell ice to the Eskimos and didn't know anything about Dollar Days.
Then a customer asked, "What are you planning for Dollar Days, Mr. Gould?" and Uncle Ralph realized his honored contemporaries had counted him out. To be ready for Dollar Days called for day-and-night preparations, and Uncle Ralph went through his inventory to find what he could offer. His principal specialty was a paper bag of assorted canned foods worth a total of 89 cents, which was marked ALL FOR ONE DOLLAR! Uncle Ralph had a high school girl come in to mark the bags with a small brush and black ink. Then he filled the big front window with bags that said, "Two Dollar Value, All For One Dollar! Pick your own!" These did contain canned goods worth $2.17 and were meant to be the come-on for all the other bags.
Uncle Ralph had a bunch of keys on a ring. They belonged to a summer hotel at Embden Pond that burned in 1899, and the keys didn't fit anything. Over the years he had developed a custom of jingling those keys in his pocket when he was happy and his affairs were exuberant. He now wended his way to the sanctum of the Bulletin, the local weekly newspaper, and after congratulating the editor on the high quality of his recent editorials, he said, "I been so busy, I haven't had time to step in and reserve my Dollar Day space. Can you save me a full page?"
To the weekly editor in bygone times, a full page was better than finding gold at Sutter's Mill, and the rejoicing editor said he certainly could. Thus my uncle found out when Dollar Days were due, and he jingled his keys in his pocket all the way back to the store.
BUT on the Wednesday of the week when the big Dollar Days newspaper was due to appear on Thursday, no copy for that full-page advertisement had been brought in, and the compositor kept waiting. He had visions of a typical Dollar Day effort to get everything up to the kitchen sink into one shot, and he was jittery. Press time is an on-the-dot occasion. The editor walked over to the store and found my uncle jingling keys as he thrust canned goods into paper bags. My uncle said, "I'll get right at it."
Which he did. Just before the newspaper office closed he came in, still jingling, and handed over a piece of wrapping paper off the roll, his copy written with a small brush and black ink.
And it was effective, for it had the one ingredient Uncle Ralph considered most important. The one ingredient so much whoop-'em-up and call-right-now advertising lacks. The one ingredient, come to think of it, that almost everything lacks. I refer to a smile, a chuckle, and a laugh. The whole town got a laugh when that Dollar Days weekly Bulletin appeared. Except for the competition. The full page said: