Scott Libby must have had a nutritious breakfast when he put together his marketing plan. Metaphorically, at least.
Mr. Libby, owner of Royal River Heat Pumps in Freeport, credits the jingle he broadcasts on Portland radio with more than doubling the sales of his Maine small business in just one year.
Little did Mr. Libby know, his advertising strategy comes right out of the history books of America’s most famous cereal brand.
Wheaties, a breakfast table perennial, was created by accident in 1922 by a clinician at the Washburn Crosby Company in Minneapolis. The company would later become General Mills.
According to a General Mills historian, the clinician inadvertently spilled a wheat-bran mixture on a hot stove. The result was a tasty flake that could withstand the rugged process of packaging and shipping.
The original name of the accidental product was Washburn’s Gold Medal Whole Wheat Flakes. In 1924, thankfully, the name was changed to Wheaties. This new moniker was a product of an employee contest won by Jane Bausman, the wife of a company export manager.
Sales of Wheaties, however, failed to fulfill the company’s expectations. In 1929, the company was on the precipice of not only killing-off the brand, but withdrawing from the breakfast cereal market completely.
Radio To The Rescue
As both Mr. Libby and the folks at Wheaties would discover, radio advertising jingles work.
Just before the Washburn Crosby Company pulled the plug, however, a brand champion came to the rescue at the last minute. Samuel Chester Gale of the company’s advertising department pointed out that their was a single territory where Wheaties sales were surging: Minneapolis.
It turns out a year or so earlier, Washurn and Crosby commissioned a musical composition about Wheaties. The short song, named “Have You Tried Wheaties” was to be played on the Minneapolis radio station owned by the company, WCCO. The call letters were chosen to reflect the company’s name Washurn Crosby COmpany.
The advertising jingle, believed to be the first ever, was written by the radio station’s publicity man, Earl Gammons. To perform the song on the radio, Washburn Crosby enlisted a quartet consisting of undertaker, a court bailiff, a printer and a businessman.
According to a General Mills blog, Mr. Gale said, “I believe that if the use of radio were extended to other territories, these figures would be duplicated and that Wheaties need not be dropped.” The company agreed. Sales soared and Wheaties became one of the strongest selling breakfast cereals of all time.
Mr. Libby’s tells a similar story about propelling his Maine small business forward by using Portland radio and a jingle.
When you ask Mr. Libby what he does for a living, he won’t say he sells heat pumps. He tells anyone who asks, though, “I am a marketer. My company sells and installs heat pumps, but it’s my job to make the phone ring,”
To market Royal River Heat Pumps, the company started using print advertising with some success. “But,” says Mr. Libby, “Every time I would turn on the radio I would hear one of my competitors. So, I decided, reluctantly, that I would try it, too. According to Mr. Libby, he began to see results immediately.
Radio Ad Recall Was Immediate
“Twice in the same week,” says Mr. Libby, “I showed up at new-home construction sites. When the builders, who I never met before, introduced me to their crews, the workers immediately began singing my radio jingle. I knew right then radio was working.”
Contractors and builders have contributed greatly to the success of Royal River Heat Pumps. Mr. Libby says, “They are a strong source for referrals and repeat business. When a contractor recommends us to a homeowner, that comes with a huge amount credibility. Our [radio ads] keeps us top of mind when it comes time for them to refer us.”
As important as contractors are to Mr. Libby’s success, the majority of his sales comes directly from homeowners. His radio advertising is working there, too.
Customers Remember Radio Ad Word-For Word
“I went on one sales call to meet a married couple at their home,” say Mr. Libby. “The husband told me about how he and his wife sing the radio jingle together when it comes on. I offered them a small discount if they would sing it for me right then, which they did. To my surprise, with the exception of a few words here-and-there, they got it right.”
As the husband and wife were singing Mr. Libby knew, his ad recall among radio listeners was high. “Our radio advertising makes us more than just a service provider. It makes us fun and memorable.”
To measure the effect Portland radio has on his sales, Mr. Libby allows his cash register keep score. Noting that his sales doubled during his first year of advertising, he proclaimed, “Radio is second to none.”
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