A tribute to and a lament for Marshall McLuhan.  Five days a week, Tuesday through Saturday, I present one of McLuhan’s observations and talk about its relevance today.  300 ideas. 300 days.  300 posts.

Isn’t that amazing! (How it all began)

Marshall McLuhan (March 31, 1956, age 44).  We’re in the money!

The deal is signed!  Bill Hagon, Murray Paulin, and Marshall McLuhan are now, officially, a consulting partnership named Idea Consultants.  We’ve got a letter head. And we’ve got ideas, boy do we have ideas.  For instance: see-through diapers – no more sniff, pull, and peek; a hose you hook up to the exhaust of the family car to kill pesky front-lawn rodents while you eat your dinner; or, my personal favourite –  how to sell beer to dentists – tell them it’s better for the teeth than soft drinks.  All we need now is a client.  And unless tight-fingered Toronto University gives me a raise, it’s clients we need.  The last time I counted Corinne and I’ve had acquired six kids to feed.  Poetry is fun, but it’s not paying the bills.

Me (January 2010, age 57).  Pitching the impractically practical.

Idea Consultants was a business disaster.  They unsuccessfully pitched lunch-sized beer cartons to the J.Walter Thompson advertizing agency.  They advised a vice president of Colgate Palmolive that the company needed to develop products that in the age of conformism appeal to the individual.  (The principle of reversal.)  He may have been interested but now that they had told him the idea didn’t think he needed to pay them for it.  Life and Holiday magazines both rejected Idea Consultants’ pitch of some kind of in-store display case to promote their magazines.  Life just said no.  Holiday added the idea was an old one, but not a good one.

As a business Idea Consultants is most remarkable for two things:  (1) the number of remarkably creative ideas the partners generated; (2) their failure to sell any of them.  The true mark of an Idea Consultants’ idea is its impractical practicality.  For example, their notion that underwear should be dyed a delicate shade of urine yellow, the establishment of a summer holiday retreat for hay fever sufferers, head lights for lawn mowers, and a gasoline-motor powered pencil sharpener.

And yet ideas do emerge that anticipate products that would appear 20 to 30 years in the future: devices such as: the video-cassette and DVD, aluminum soft drink cans, and pre-recorded audio guided tours.  Who knows, perhaps there is a future for urine-coloured underwear.  Boomers of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your dignity.

Which of these Idea Consultants ideas do you think is the best of the worst?  Who else in business history was as creative and as unsuccessful as Marshall McLuhan was with Idea Consultants?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

W. Terrence GordonMarshall McLuhan: Escape into Understanding, 1997, pp. 168-171.

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Michael Hinton Friday, January 29th, 2010
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Business, Vol. 1 No Comments

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