Mark Twain once said,

“There is no such thing as a new idea. We simply take a lot of old ideas … give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations.”

Well, I’m in the idea business, so I really don’t want to believe that. But lately I’ve been making some interesting historical connections to some of today’s “new ideas” and I realize there may be more truth in Mr. Twain’s statement than we want to admit. Consider the following:

The Social Media Pioneers: Grateful Dead Concerts
grateful dead marketing idea Think about it. Grateful Dead concerts have always been more than just a show. They are a social experience. This dates all the way back to their 1960’s roots in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. People arrived for Dead concerts days ahead, forming deadhead communities that were basically self-contained travelling cottage industries. In what now seems like the ultimate social networking idea, the Dead allowed fans to record and freely distribute their concerts. They bucked the accepted practice of not allowing recordings and in fact encouraged it. Give it away for free and people will talk about you and come back for more. The original content marketers! The Grateful Dead understood that they had more to gain than to lose. And in the process, they created one of the greatest “tribes” of all time. Wow. Talk about ahead of their time.

Bill Veeck started giving away stuff at baseball games in the 1940’s and the concept of the ballpark promotional giveaway was born. Veeck saw the potential for boosting attendance by appealing to “non-traditional” audiences, e.g. women and minorities, and he tailored many of his promotions to drawing these groups to the ballpark. His first freebies – ready for this? – were chickens and goats. He gave away orchids on Mother’s Day. Lobsters for “lucky chair” winners. Fans received pies, bottles of root beer, cupcakes and restaurant dinners. “After a month or so in St. Louis, we were looking around desperately for a way to draw a few people into the ballpark,” Veeck once said. “It had become perfectly clear that the ball club wasn’t going to do it unaided.”

The earliest reference to “experiential marketing” was by futurist Alvin Toffler in his book Future Shock. He talked about the upcoming “experiential industry”, in which people in the “future” would be willing to pay a lot of money for amazing experiences. The term Experience Economy was first described in 1998 by Joseph Pine and James Gilmore when they argued that businesses must orchestrate memorable events for their customers, and that memory itself becomes the product – the “experience”.

But here’s an example from a century earlier that did more than just talk about it. How about circus trains for an early form of experiential marketing? These travelling shows on wheels have always been enjoyed by people because of their unusual nature and entertaining qualities. “Brand loyalist” groups such as Railfans closely monitor the movements of circus trains and people in every town along the route show up to greet the arriving trains and experience the scene. It has become a experiential product extension that adds a whole new and different dimension to the core “three ring” circus show.

The Street Team Pioneers: Kiss Fan Clubbers
kiss army marketing idea In 1975, two teenage KISS devotees from Indiana created the KISS ARMY, a group of fans dedicated to promoting the band. Members of the KISS ARMY worked outside their homes talking the band up to friends and at school. It was such a good idea that soon the band itself took the KISS ARMY under its own wing, encouraging them and offering them limited edition merchandise and preferred seating. Voila! The concept for organized promotion teams in the music business was born.

The Brand Pioneers: Livestock Breeders
branding marketing idea Livestock branding – the act of marking livestock with fire-heated symbols to identify ownership – dates back to the ancient Egyptians. The ancient Romans used brand symbols as part of a magic spell aimed at protecting animals from harm. By the European Middle Ages, branding commonly identified the process of burning a mark into stock animals to identify ownership. More recently, in the American West, cowboys used heated “branding irons” to burn a unique mark into the hide of cattle, allowing animals owned by multiple ranches to graze freely together on the open range. Brands became so numerous that it became necessary to record them in books that the ranchers could carry in their pockets. Laws were eventually passed requiring the registration of brands and the inspection of cattle driven through various territories.

I’m sure we can prove Mark Twain wrong. There are new ideas waiting to be developed. I’m sure of it. But in between, as we’re trying like hell to come up with them, giving those old ideas a twist and turning them into “new and curious combinations” isn’t always such a bad way to go.

Sources:
Veeck: Jim Owczarski, onmilwaukee.com, 5/11/12; Veeck as in Wreck
Street Team, Experiential Marketing, Brand: Wikipedia