Book Excerpt: Steal These Ideas! Marketing Secrets That Will Make You a Star

What marketing trick bought Pan Am Airlines another ten years in business? How did Rolling Stones magazine keep more subscribers by issuing a threat? Learn these and other marketing tactics in this excerpt from Steal These Ideas! by marketing expert Steve Cone.

Book Excerpt
Steal These Ideas! Marketing Secrets That Will Make You a Star
by Steve Cone
Published by Bloomberg;
September 2005;
1-57660-191-9 Copyright © 2005 Steve Cone

Continued from Page 1

Other Quick Airline Stories about Creating Customer Excitement

American Airlines — When you joined the Admirals Club in the early ’70s, you received an oversized certificate done in calligraphy and beautifully framed, asserting your club membership. These were hung in offices with pride and were real status symbols.

Continental Airlines — In the ’60s and ’70s, the legendary chairman, Robert Six, wrote a letter to the airline’s best customers once or twice a year, a letter that often went on for pages. It was so personal, so beautifully written, so candid, that customers not only saved these letters as keepsakes, but they also continued to fly Continental just to stay on the VIP mailing list.

Braniff International — In the late ’60s and throughout the ’70s, Braniff attracted attention with brightly colored planes, leather seats in all classes, fine dining on bone china, and flight attendants dressed in fashionable Halston outfits. People actually looked forward to boarding a Braniff plane — amazing.

One for the Gipper

In 1983, the Republican Senatorial Committee wanted to end the year with a big fund-raising push to their top 200,000 contributors. At the time, they regularly spent 50 cents a piece on highly personalized computer letters to their donor base. Given their desire to top previous fund-raising efforts, I convinced them to try something totally different for the year-end appeal: a single but very special letter that would cost roughly $7 in the mail. They agreed, and the end result was a one-letter appeal that raised more net dollars (over $2 million) than their archrival, the Democratic Senatorial Committee, raised in an entire year.

Here’s what went into that $7 letter:

a) A mailing envelope made to look like a FedEx overnight package but actually sent express mail via the U.S. Postal Service b) A two-page fund-raising letter with an embossed gold senatorial seal c) An 8″x10″, four-color, signed photograph of President Ronald Reagan with a personalized message: “Stephen, thanks for all your continuing support. Ronald Reagan”

Yes, that’s right — we had 200,000 signed photographs, with a handwritten note to each recipient. President Reagan was otherwise engaged, so the task fell to a group of women at a mail production company in Massachusetts who earned extra money for the job. They were each given a sample of the president’s handwriting to copy and executed a very credible facsimile.

What could be more exciting to the Party faithful than to receive a personally signed photograph from the President? They loved the attention and the response rate to this package was over 40 percent, as opposed to a typical response rate of 5 to 10 percent.

Don’t Leave Home Without It

Karl Malden served as the public face of American Express Travelers Cheques for twenty-five years — an amazing run for any spokesperson. His Travelers Cheques television ads were a perfect combination of excitement, news, and a compelling call to action. First you would see a thief stealing money from some poor unsuspecting tourist’s wallet or beach bag or hotel room. Then Karl would arrive on the scene looking like the cop he played in the famous television series Streets of San Francisco. He would look you in the television eye and say, “This could happen to you!” And then the call to action: “Don’t let a thief spoil your vacation. Get American Express Travelers Cheques.” Little wonder American Express became the leader in this category with 75 percent market share.

Mean Joe Greene

Sometimes simple visuals can create excitement on their own. Coca-Cola came up with an ad juxtaposing a sweet 10-year-old fan with the very large and, on the field purportedly very mean, Joe Greene, defensive tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Tired after a long game, and with an intimidating scowl on his face, Joe approaches the small boy who holds a large bottle of Coke in his little hand. Joe peers down at the boy who, ignoring the scowl, looks up admiringly. A true fan, he offers Joe his Coke. Joe hesitates for a second, then takes the bottle and guzzles it down in one complete, thirst-quenching act. He hands the bottle back and says with a slow smile, “Thanks, kid.” The essence of “Have a Coke and a Smile.”

Mr. Whipple

Toilet paper is just not exciting. Yet Charmin managed to create a quirky character plagued by supermarket customers who was instantly memorable.

Pity poor Mr. Whipple, guardian of the Charmin display, who worked so hard to keep the product at its peak. Your attention was grabbed and you watched intently as Mr. Whipple caught the next culprit who squeezed the Charmin.

Mr. Whipple made Charmin seem so soft and enticingly squeezable, you felt as if you had to try some yourself. In the privacy of your own home, without being stalked by Mr. Whipple. Great call to action. A top-rate example of making one product stand out in its category.

Peter Lynch, Lily Tomlin, and Don Rickles

As an industry, financial services relies on the same old stereotypical images year after year in its advertising. We all want financial information and financial security for our families, but we are bored with the lame attempts to gain our attention.

Financial services also suffers from being a low-interest category. If you can’t eat it, wear it, drive it, apply it, or play with it, it is of low interest. You never actually see or touch most forms of money and that cash in your pocket really has no character or emotional bond.

If you want further proof of how tough it is to wow consumers with financial services advertising, consider that no financial services company has ever made it into the Advertising Age Top 50 Ad Campaigns of All Time list.

As Fidelity Investments head of retail marketing in the late ’90s, I was determined to walk away from the usual nondescript industry ad approach and inject large doses of personality into a campaign that would really shake up the business.

Anyone with a dime in the stock market knows who Peter Lynch is. And Peter has always been a major advocate of consumers understanding how to invest wisely. So early in my days at Fidelity, I decided Peter would be the perfect spokesperson for a new campaign. He had never been in any form of advertising before. And Fidelity had never considered using a real person to promote their brand.

But I didn’t want Peter to be just another talking head, although there are plenty of creative ways to make one person a powerful spokesman. I decided to go into uncharted territory. Take a serious subject, money management, and create a campaign that would be as entertaining as it would be informative on issues like retirement, portfolio management, and the value of long-term investing.

Enter two terrific actors, both world-class entertainers, Lily Tomlin and Don Rickles, whom I paired one-on-one with Peter in a series of TV spots in 1998 and 1999.

The net effect was immediate. Employees loved this breakthrough approach. They were thrilled that Peter had “gone public” to represent the company and that he had two fascinating personalities to interact with. And of course customers and potential customers loved these ads as well. They were just so different. They were even fun to watch and listen to. People responded in huge numbers on the phone and online every time one of these ads ran.

Copyright © 2005 Steve Cone

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Steve Cone is managing director and head of advertising and brand management at Citigroup Global Wealth Management. Along with five other senior executives, he coordinates worldwide brand management for all of Citigroup’s business in more than one hundred countries, encompassing 200 million customers. For more information, visit

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