On Selling Soap (Meet My New Friend, Duke Cannon)

I made a new friend this past Christmas, thanks to my wife. His name is Duke Cannon. Duke sells soap, about which we’ll talk more in just a bit.

250px-Pears_New_ShapeDid you know that Soap-selling has a storied history? Andrew Pears (b. 1770) is credited with inventing the world’s first transparent soap.  The soaps of his day often contained arsenic or lead and were harsh on the skin. Pears’ experiments with glycerine and other natural products led to the development of his signature transparent bar soap, to which he added fragrance “reminiscent of an English garden.”  His soap became an immediate success in England and found a large market in the United States as well.

Fast-forward a couple of generations. The founder’s grandson, Francis, and great-grandson, Andrew, are now running a well-established family business.  In 1864, an enterprising 23-year-old named Thomas J. Barratt joins the firm as bookkeeper, and the following year marries Mary Pears, eldest daughter of Francis, becoming a full-fledged partner in the firm.

He takes over the firm’s advertising, increasing their annual ad budget from £80 in 1865 to as much as £130,000.  According to adman Faris Yakob,

Barratt is on record as saying “Any fool can make soap. It takes a clever man to sell it.” When he finally took over control of Pears he raised his expenditure on advertising to between £100,000 and £130,000. In justification he never tired of pointing out that he was enabled to sell soap 30 per cent more cheaply than if he had not advertised it.

Did you catch that?  He was “enabled to sell soap 30 per cent more cheaply” because of the increased volume of sales that followed the increase in his ad budget.

Barratt, sometimes called “the father of modern advertising,” recognized the value of a good slogan and created one for his product: “Good morning. Have you used Pears’ soap?”   That little ditty remained in use well into the twentieth century.

Eager to establish the Pears brand as the embodiment of quality and good taste, Thomas procured the rights to a number of works of art to repurpose as advertisements for Pears Soap.  One220px-Bubbles_by_John_Everett_Millais220px-Pears_Soap_1900 of the most famous, a painting by John Everett Millais entitled “Bubbles,” (far left) was turned into a memorable advertisement simply “…by adding a bar of Pears soap in the foreground. Millais was said to be unhappy about the alteration, but could do nothing since Barratt had acquired the copyright. Barratt followed this with a series of adverts inspired by Millais’ painting, portraying cute children in idealised middle-class homes, associating Pears with social aspiration and domestic comfort.  Barratt also made effective use of testimonials, recruiting both scientists and glamorous high society figures. He also established Pears Annual in 1891, in which he promoted contemporary illustration and colour printing. In 1897 he added Pears Cyclopedia, a single volume encyclopedia.”  (Wikipedia)

Thomas Barratt died in April 1914. Afterwards, Lever Brothers took an interest in the company.  Today Pears Soap is made by Hindustan Unilever in India, and is sold in supermarkets and drug stores worldwide.

So, back to Duke Cannon.  From the moment we were introduced, I could tell that Duke prides himself in being a “man’s man.” As he put it, in his time:

…men pursued meaningful endeavors.  They worked with their hands.  They took pride in the things they built, not the things they bought.  And the mindset was simple: men wanted to win, not find the “win-win.”

And then the whole metrosexual trend came and screwed men up even worse.

Now exists a generation of men who have spent more time in a Pottery Barn store than a hardware store.  Hell no.

Duke Cannon’s signature product is, and I quote: A Big Ass Brick of Soap.  It’s three times the size of a regular bar of soap, modeled after the rough cut, “brick” style of soap used by GIs during the Korean War and is manufactured in the same plant that was the primary supplier of military soap for over 20 years.  (And, the company says, a portion of the proceeds of each product sold benefits U.S. veterans.)

Furthermore, it’s designed to meet the high standards of hard working men who want to get clean & smell good without using feminine shower gels and accessories.

My wife gave me two bricks of Duke Cannon soap for Christmas.  The first one I opened was a blue box that reads: “BIG ASS BRICK OF SOAP – Smells Like Naval Supremacy.”

10_oz._big_ass_brick_naval_supremacy

 

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The second brick came in a white and green box and proudly proclaimed that it “Smells Like Productivity.”  It further explained that this was soap “for the early rising man who leads a life of productivity.”  That sounded so promising, I immediately opened the box and put that big ass brick of soap in the shower, where “with a hint of menthol to cool the skin” it would wake me up so I could get things done.  I was pleased to learn that it also has a fresh mint smell and contains steel cut grains for maximum grip. And that’s important, ’cause if you drop this sucker on your foot, your next stop will be the Emergency Room to repair crushed metatarsals and phalanges.

So, I have to admit, I like Duke.  I like the fact that he stands for something and isn’t afraid to say so.  He doesn’t care to be all things to all people, because he knows that that road leads to mediocrity and a flaccid brand.  He’s also quick to tell you what he doesn’t care for, and in so doing etches his brand in sharper relief on the tablet of your mind.

DUKE CANNON ISN’T FOR EVERYONE.  AND QUITE FRANKLY, HE PREFERS IT THAT WAY.

AFTER ALL, DUKE CANNON DOESN’T DINE WITH VEGANS AND HE COULD GIVE A DAMN ABOUT YOUR NEW IPAD.

DUKE CANNON COMES FROM A DIFFERENT ERA-AN ERA WHEN MEN HAD A GREATER PURPOSE THAN BUILDING SPREADSHEETS AND SPENDING THEIR SATURDAYS AT BANANA REPUBLIC.

A brand is defined both by what it includes and what it excludes.  So, if you were to visit Duke’s Facebook page (yes, he really has one), you’d read that Duke Cannon products are proudly made in the USA “for hard-working men.”  On the surface, you’d think he’s just written off the female half of the population.  And you’d be wrong.  Even though he’s not selling to women for themselves, he most certainly is selling to women for their men. Remember, Duke wasn’t on my radar until my wife gave me two bricks of his soap. (Pressing her for details as to how this came about, she explained that a magazine she reads, REAL SIMPLE, had put online some suggestions on Gifts for Guys.  She went, she saw, she bought.

Now you might get the idea that Duke generally dismisses shopping as a stupid waste of time. Au contraire. Not all shopping is stupid, only shopping that doesn’t involve buying his products.  He wants you to come back for more.  So, Duke has created a rewards program for his best customers. In his words:

HERE’S THE DEAL:  

IF YOU BUY LOTS OF DUKE CANNON SUPPLY COMPANY PRODUCTS, YOU GET FREE STUFF. NOT STUPID CRAP YOU DON’T NEED.

INSTEAD, WE OFFER ITEMS THAT ARE DUKE CANNON CERTIFIED ACTUAL THINGS HE LIKES AND USES. SO SAVE YOUR UPCS, AND WHEN YOU HAVE ENOUGH, EMAIL US AT THE ADDRESS BELOW, TELL US WHAT YOU WANT, AND WE’LL SEND YOU SOME USEFUL STUFF.

When you visit his rewards page, you’ll find a variety of manly choices, including:   1986 Topps baseball cards, duct tape, sandpaper, an extension cord, spark plug, flat head wood screws, Kingsford charcoal, Weber grills, even a 21″ Viper black steel expandable military baton for dealing with hardheads.  Does this guy understand promotion or what?

I believe there are big things in store for Duke Cannon.  As of now, you can only find his products online.  I’m lobbying my friends at Pullman and Moscow Building Supply to make a full-court press to become exclusive local retailers for Duke Cannon Supply Co. products, mainly because I think they’ll find it a profitable addition to their offerings, and I’m so taken by the brand, I want to help spread the word. (OK, I wouldn’t mind saving the cost of shipping and handling, either.)

Duke Cannon’s Big Ass Bricks of Soap have so far exceeded my expectations, I’d be proud to shill for them.

Hey, Duke.  Need some radio ads?  I’m your guy.  Let’s sell some soap!

About Rod Schwartz

Rod Schwartz backed into a lifelong career in radio advertising in 1973 in Springfield, Illinois. He became sales manager for the Pullman Radio Group in 1979 and served in that position until 2006. He continues to serve clients in the region as the stations’ senior account executive. Since 1991, Rod and his family have operated Grace Broadcast Sales, providing short-form syndicated radio features to radio and TV stations across the U.S. and Canada. An avid photographer, Rod shares some of his favorite images of the Palouse at PalousePics.com.
This entry was posted in Advertising (General), Branding, Business, Communication, Consumer behavior, Copy, Copywriting, Internet, Jingles, life lessons, Madison Avenue, Magazine, Newspaper, Positioning, Problem-solving, Productivity, Radio Advertising, Sales, Slogans and taglines, Storytelling, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to On Selling Soap (Meet My New Friend, Duke Cannon)

  1. chris clark says:

    Rod, As always, I am impressed!!

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