September 13, 2004

Great Moments in Marketing (con't)

Demonstrating the benefits of your product is one way to do good marketing. But demonstrating the inherent large scale life threatening risks of your competitors products is much, much more fun.
The second development was a growing rivalry between the two giants of the young electrical utility industry. Thomas Edison was the first person to establish himself in the industry with DC service. Westinghouse, developers of the newer AC technology, challenged Edison's dominance of the utility industry. At the same time, copper prices were beginning to rise and DC depended on thick copper electrical cables. Rising copper prices made the DC service more costly and DC had other disadvantages, it could not provide services beyond a few miles of each generator.

Edison reacted to the competition by starting a smear campaign against Westinghouse, claiming AC technology was unsafe to use. In 1887, Edison held a public demonstration in West Orange, New Jersey, supporting his accusations. Edison set up a 1,000 volt Westinghouse AC generator attached to a metal plate and executed a dozen innocent animals.

Here's one such animal
Topsy offered an opportunity that Edison couldn't resist. What better way to demonstrate the horrible consequences of alternating current than to roast a full-grown elephant?

Edison sent over a crack team of technicians — and a film crew. Topsy was led to a special platform, the cameras were set rolling, the switch was thrown. It took only ten seconds. Edison later showed the film to audiences across the country to prove his point.

and talk about negative branding
On January 1, 1889, the world's first electrical execution law went into full effect. Westinghouse protested and refused to sell any AC generators directly to the New York State prison authorities. Edison and Brown found a way around Westinghouse and provided the AC generators needed for the first working electric chairs. Westinghouse funded the appeals for those first few souls sentenced to death by electrocution, the appeals were made on the grounds that "electrocution was cruel and unusual punishment." Edison and Brown both testified for the state that execution was a quick and painless form of death. The State of New York won the appeals. For many years people referred to the process of being electrocuted in the chair as being "Westinghoused