Academic journal article Journalism History

Promoting Hershey: The Chocolate Bar, the Chocolate Town, the Chocolate King

Academic journal article Journalism History

Promoting Hershey: The Chocolate Bar, the Chocolate Town, the Chocolate King

Article excerpt

Before the Hershey's Milk Chocolate Bar debuted in 1900 at five cents, chocolate bars had been a luxury known only to those Americans who could afford imported "eating chocolate" from Europe. By 1906 Hershey's chocolate bars were so popular, Milton Hershey prockimed that Hershey dominated the market and redirected his promotional efforts away from consumer advertising. Raised in the Mennonite faith, Hershey identified with Mennonite principles that, in part, taught their followers to help others and to abhor self-promotion and obvious signs of commercial wealth. Thus, he focused on promotional strategies that conveyed deeper and more complex ideas to employees, consumers, and visitors about the value of quality, community, harmony, purity, and social compassion, which, in turn, reflected back upon the company, the brand, the town, and the man.

In 2011, Advertising Age reported that The Hershey Company, 111 years old, was ranked among the top 100 advertisers in the United States, having increased worldwide ad spending by $62.2 million over the previous year for total expenditures of $440.5 million, the bulk of which was devoted to television advertising.1 Yet some sixty- four years earlier, the same magazine ran a lengthy piece about how Hershey had no need for advertising. Between products sold directly to consumers and those sold to other businesses, such as creameries and confectioners, Hershey was producing "about one-diird of all chocolate and cocoa products consumed in the United States" while the United States as a whole accounted for about 40 percent of the consumption of all such products worldwide.2 With an estimated combined value of more than $100 million at the time of this December 1947 story, thenchairman Percy Staples said the company was "no closer than ever to becoming an advertiser."3

When the Hershey's Milk Chocolate Bar was introduced in America in 1900, the chocolate industry was concentrated on baking chocolate, with Boston-based Baker's Chocolate Company the strong leader in this product line since 1780.4 Hershey was unique in that it was built on the business of, as W Greg Rothman put it, "democratizing chocolate."5 Until the Hershey's Milk Chocolate Bar debuted in 1900 at a price of five cents, chocolate bars were a luxury known only to those Americans who could afford imported "eating chocolate" from Europe. By 1906 Milton Hershey proclaimed that Hershey's chocolate dominated the eating chocolate market.6 The next year marked the debut of Hershey's Kisses, followed a year later by Hershey's Milk Chocolate with Almonds Bar. The company's next big product launches of Mr. Goodbar and Hershey's Syrup would not occur until 1925 and 1926, respectively, followed by Krackel (1938), Miniatures Chocolates (1939), and "more than a billion" ration bars for soldiers (19411945), according to The Hershey Company timeline.7 "If you were in a mile race," Milton Hershey was quoted as saying, "and you were in good health and feeling (ine and going good, if a fellow didn't start till you were three quarters of a mile round the track, it would not matter how fast he was, he could not beat you."8

With no need for brand differentiation, then, Hershey concluded early on that money spent on consumer advertising could be put to better use in developing the product, the company, and the town in Pennsylvania.'' The product, Milton Hershey and his managers often said, sold itself. This strategic focus on the brand coupled with a rejection of consumer-based paid placement ads continued for more than sixty years.

Although on the face of it, redirecting monies from consumer advertising and into the company's workplace and lifestyle infrastructure might appear to be simply a sound business move, Hershey had another, more personal reason for rejecting paid placement advertising. A grandson of a Mennonite bishop and son of a practicing Mennonite, Hershey identified with Mennonite principles that, in part, teach their followers to work for the good of others and to abhor self-promotion and obvious signs of commercial wealth. …

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