How Alexander Untied the Knot

October 03, 2011  |   Advertising and Marketing   |     |   0 Comment

Another classic short story about advertising from The Clock that Had no Hands And Nineteen Other Essays About Advertising By Herbert Kaufman

Alexander the Great was being shown the Gordian Knot. “It can’t be untied,” they told him; “every man who tried to do so, failed.”

But Alexander was not discouraged because the rest had flunked. He simply realized that he would have to go at it in a different way. And instead of wasting time with his fingers, he drew his sword and slashed it apart.

Every day a great business general is shown some knot which has proven too much for his competitors, and he succeeds, because he finds a way to cut it. The fumbler has no show so long as there is a brother merchant who doesn’t waste time trying to accomplish the impossible—who takes lessons from the failures about him and avoids the methods which were their downfall.

The knottiest problems in trade are:

  • 1—The problem of location.
  • 2—The problem of getting the crowds.
  • 3—The problem of keeping the crowds.
  • 4—The problem of minimizing fixed expenses.
  • 5—The problem of creating a valuable good will.

None of these knots is going to be untied by fumbling fingers. They are too complicated. They’re all inextricably involved—so twisted and entangled that they can’t be solved singly—like the Gordian knot they must be cut through at one stroke. And you can’t cut the knot with anything but advertising—because:

  • 1—A store that is constantly before the people makes its own neighborhood.
  • 2—Crowds can be brought from anywhere by daily advertising.
  • 3—Customers can always be held by inducements.
  • 4—Fixed expenses can only be reduced by increasing the volume of sales.
  • 5—Good will can only be created through publicity.

Advertising is breeding new giants every year and making them more powerful every hour. Publicity is the sustaining food of a powerful store and the only strengthening nourishment for a weak one. The retailer who delays his entry into advertising must pay the penalty of his procrastination by facing more giant competitors as each month of opportunity slips by.

Personal ability as a close purchaser and as a clever seller, doesn’t count for a hang, so long as other men are equally well posted and wear the sword of publicity to boot. They are able to tie your business into constantly closer knots, while you cannot retaliate, because there is no knot which their advertising cannot cut for them.

Yesterday you lost a customer—today they took one—tomorrow they’ll get another. You cannot cope with their competition because you haven’t the weapon 48with which to oppose it. You can’t untie your Gordian knot because it can’t be untied—you’ve got to cut it.

You must become an advertiser or you must pay the penalty of incompetence.

You not only require the newspaper to fight for a more hopeful tomorrow, but to keep today’s situation from becoming hopeless.

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