My Grandpa’s Dirty Secret to a Clean Kitchen (and My Life in Advertising: Chapter 4)


Check out this totally fantastic photo from 1989. My family was just moving into our new home.

I had just turned 10 years old. The shorts say it all.

I was looking for a photo of the kitchen carpet in this kitchen from when my grandpa owned the house. I couldn’t have hoped to find a gem like that photo above.

Back to the kitchen carpet. Yes, it existed; it’s barely visible in my photo above. It was patterned in food words. “Onion” was printed in white, for example, and “pepper” printed in green. The words were all different sizes, colors, fonts, and orientations. In fact, those white printed “onion” words on the carpet were the only thing my grandpa actually scrubbed on that carpeted kitchen floor! Only the white sections. Totally gross, right!

When my grandpa owned this house, rather than clean the entire carpet, he relied on his Bissell Carpet Sweeper. I remember when he got a new one in the mid-1980s. Wood grain plastic, the newest model. It was a big deal.

Claude C Hopkins made that happen.

Bissell has successfully marketed Floor Sweepers for nearly a century. Image “Bissell sweepers 1949” by Nesster, Flcikr, By-CC-2.0

In Chapter Four of My Life in Advertising, Hopkins is hired by Bissell and is making $75 per month as the head bookkeeper. That’s a big jump from his previous $6 per week!

Hopkins advises us that “real men judge us by our love of work, the basis of their success. They employ us for work, and our capacity for work accounts above all else.”

But Hopkins reasoned that he is an expense, and will only be paid as such. If he wants to earn more money, he needs to produce money for the company. In his words, he resolved to graduate from the debit class.

His first opportunity came when Bissell had an example advertisement for their floor sweepers. The floor sweepers were notoriously difficult to sell. Nobody really wanted them. The example ad was written by the famous ad man John Powers. Hopkins thought it was a poor ad and asked for a chance to write a better one. Hopkins’ ad won out.

Soon, Hopkins was expanding his advertising efforts at Bissell. He wrote to dealers with a promise of a display stand and gift cards, all in service, if the dealers ordered enough cleaners to fill the display. This netted the company a thousand mail orders, which they never had before.

Then Hopkins designed the sweepers in a dozen exotic woods, giving the dealers the opportunity to sell these limited edition sweepers. Hopkins employed the technique of scarcity. The exclusive wood finish models flew off the shelf.

Hopkins tells us, “I offered a privilege, not an inducement. I appeared as a benefactor, not as a salesman.” Tweet This He repeats this exclusive-finish scheme for the next 3 years before moving on from Bissell.

Hopkins reassures us that no item is more difficult to sell than the floor sweeper, and that every industry has similar opportunities to differentiate your product and carve out a market. Tweet This

Because of Claude C Hopkins, Bissell is still the #1 Selling Brand of Floor Sweepers in the United States.

I’ve been surprised by the increase in fancy men’s underwear over the last few years. Outside of carpet cleaners and underwear, what markets surprise you to see a brand name carve out a market? Reply in the comments below!

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