Interesting Facts

What is the story behind Wrigley chewing gum?

Wrigley's was originally a soap company that gifted baking powder with their soap. The baking powder became more popular than the soap so they switched to selling baking powder with chewing gum as a gift. The gum became more popular than the baking powder so the company switched to selling gum.

Robinson chronicles the marketing journey of the gum giant as it expanded. He contends that its advantage stemmed from its location at the nexus of popular culture and business. The company’s founder, William Wrigley, Jr., was a soap salesman and something of a consumerist kid prodigy. He began making a name for himself at the age of 13 by selling soap for his father all over New England. Eventually, he found himself in Chicago, making sales pitches for soap, newspapers, and rubber stamps. His diverse experience, particularly in the rubber stamp sector, taught him the value of advertising in a mass media landscape that is undergoing fast change.

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(via Flickr/Steve Snodgrass)

As a traveling “drummer,” Robinson claims that Wrigley took on the image of an itinerant mystic who lived on the periphery of socially acceptable behavior. He was well-prepared for his career in advertising by that almost legendary presence.

What a bright future it is. When his premium baking powder started to outsell his own soap in the early 1890s, Wrigley first turned to chewing gum to draw attention to it. He would package gum as a sort of low-cost, portable, attractive premium with the baking powder.

Wrigley may not have invented gum, but he gave the product a salesman’s knowledge. He was aware that he would need to hook dealers in order to distribute gum to customers. Before long, the gum itself became his main draw, accompanied by complimentary gifts like coffee grinders or display cases that helped retailers close more deals. Robinson claims that Wrigley’s background as a drummer was reflected in the emphasis placed on retailers rather than customers. Even though his gum had potential, unfortunate events like a factory fire and significant advertising losses almost put an end to its success.

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Wrigley’s ad, 1941 (via Flickr/Classic Film)

That all changed in 1907 when advertising rates abruptly dropped due to a financial panic. Wrigley moved in for the kill, doubling the reach of his advertisement. His spearmint gum quickly became the most popular gum worldwide. He promised claims of physical and mental health, two things we might not think of as particularly related to gum, but they kept the product moving.

Gummi could calm anxious minds as well as tense stomachs, according to Wrigley, making it more of a patent medicine than a confection. Wrigley won out by persuading Americans that they were anxious and ill and giving them a stick of relief, despite the widespread belief that chewing gum was impolite. It worked, and there’s a good chance that you still have gum in your pocket or handbag as a result of Wrigley’s persistent marketing.

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