Monday, August 18, 2014

What Philip Morris Can Teach Us About Basic Shopkeeping



If you follow my Tumblr, you may have seen Philip Morris’s awesomely atrocious instructional video from 1987, which features a space lady singing alternate, cigarette-centric lyrics to the Pointer Sisters’ “Jump.”

Just try and get it out of your head.

Sample lyrics: “Yes, I know how you do / Want to make more profits than you do / So I’m gonna show you / It’s that never-ending story / About moving inventory / To push your cigarette dollars higher! / I’ll show you how, I’ll show you how / to make your sales and profits soar! / Yes, you’ll sell more, more more!”

On one hand, this woman is truly giving it her all. She’s sporting Marlboro colors like a trooper. She’s a decent dancer. And you can’t say she’s not trying to convince you that she truly is a space traveler who landed on earth to impart valuable cigarette-selling information. In a way, this little production fits in line with a long-standing tradition of industrial musicals, which for decades had professional singers and songwriters selling out in an effort to sell products.

On the other, more honest hand, no. Just no. “Jump” was four years old when this video was made, and it hardly seems worth the trouble of ripping off an aging hit if the big take-away is that you should keep in stock the things your customers like to buy. (“Stock! To match demand / Stock up! All the top brands / You keep your loyal customers happy! / Stock, stock, stock on up!”) Doesn’t that seem like a fairly straightforward shopkeeping principle? To sell people what they want? Isn’t that a foundational aspect of capitalism?

However, it turns out the YouTube posting was only part of a longer video that Philip Morris screened for people who might have reason to sell cigarettes. The full, 16:25-length video exists at UC San Francisco’s archive of tobacco industry videos.

Wondering if Philip Morris had more to say beyond basic retail principles, I watched the whole thing. Here is the collected flavor country wisdom I can share with you.

There’s some tragic irony in the space lady, presumably an aspiring actress-singer-dancer, telling the audience that selling cigarettes is more important than show business. She does exactly this, following it up with “You’re in business to make money, and nothing increases profits like cigarettes!” If that’s true, she probably should have quit her dancing career and just sold cigarettes in a liquor store.

Someone on the creative side of the video thought it sensible that the space lady should narrate the entire video in an echoing “space voice.” And everyone else involved apparently responded with, “Yeah, that doesn’t seem like it would get annoying at all. Good idea, Bruce.”

On skipping over the obvious answer, which is “because they’re addictive,” this questionable factoid: “Why are cigarettes so profitable? The value of a carton of cigarettes sold as either a pack or as cartons far exceeds the average price of items found at retail.”

The space lady really hammers home the idea that you should continue to sell the things that customers like, and also that those things are exclusively cigarettes — Philip Morris-brand cigarettes in particular, obviously. One of the ways she conveys this is with synonyms, which is a rhetorical technique of questionable effectiveness. “Cigarettes are a proven profit producer for your store. They are an above average — above average! exceptional! superior! — product for your store, so you see why it’s important — important! vital! key! — to keep them in store.”

“Use the appropriately sized merchandizer to display cigarettes and stock them with sufficient brand packagings to satisfy customers’ wide range of preferences.” So… put the cigarettes on a shelf where people can reach them, and don’t instead put zero cigarettes on said shelf? Don’t, like, put the cigarettes in a hole in the ground? Or in an angry bear’s mouth?

“Take Marlboro. Everyone does! In fact, people buy more Marlboros than Cokes every year. ‘What? You’re kidding!’ ‘Coke? No!’ Yes! Marlboro is the number one-selling consumer packaged product in the world.” This I can’t quite believe, even considering how many more people were smoking back in 1987. Can this be true? Or did the writer fudge the math my counting individual cigarettes instead of packs? Would I put that past the same person who wrote the dialogue “Take Marlboro. Everyone does!”? No. No, I wouldn’t.

“Stock according to demand and out-of-stock situations disappear. Customers smile and sales and profits soar. And everybody’s happy!” Well, until cancer.

“Cigarette-smokers are some of the most fiercely loyal creatures on the fact of the planet.” Yes, because they’re addicted. And again, they’re happy only until the cancer sets in.

And finally, a retail strategy that I can’t imagine seemed high-tech, even by the standards of 1987: “Space Command, a computerized space-management system which simulates retail store environment, which also improves planogramming capabilities.”

So what have we learned? Nothing, unless you weren’t aware that Philip Morris was creepy and that it’s easier to sell products when you have them to sell, as opposed to selling things you can’t physically sell. Oh, and if you want to get an ad jingle stuck in someone’s head, just re-write the lyrics to a Pointer Sisters song. Because that shit will not leave your head.

And what happened to the space lady? You may be surprised to learn that she grew up to me Emily Deschanel, start of TV’s Bones.

No, that’s not true.

I made that up just now.

I really wanted to find out who she is but could not. I would like to believe that someone who later went on to legitimate fame has this silver-and-red skeleton hanging in her closet. Space lady, if you’re out there an no longer zipping from planet to planet, hit me up. I have some questions for you.

Can’t fault your dance moves, though.

It’s funny because it’s old, previously:

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