Monday, December 28, 2009

The first guerrilla marketing campaign was elephantine

Edison: inventor of light bulbs, electrocutor of elephants.

The above film is perhaps the first guerrilla marketing/propaganda/publicity stunt/viral video of all time, courtesy of the world-famous inventor, renowned genius, and, er, torturer of animals, Thomas Edison.

AC versus DC

In the late 1800s, in an attempt to discredit competitor Nikola Tesla and Westinghouse's "alternating current" technology, Edison launched a shameless PR campaign to prove that the technology was much more dangerous than his "direct current" approach.

His efforts included paying neighborhood kids 25 cents a pop to round up stray cats and dogs; once they did, he held news conferences where he'd electrocute the animals using "dangerous alternating currents" to the horror of the invited guests. 

Zzzzap. "See how dangerous this AC technology is, my friends?" Zzzzzap.

It's not known whether there was ample parking, refreshments were served, or anyone used the expression, "a win-win scenario." 

As part of his campaign, Edison also commissioned one of his employees, Harold Brown, to invent the electric chair - powered by dangerous AC - so he could say that the condemned men on whom it was used had been "Westinghoused." 

Sending Topsy turvy

But Edison's true piece de resistance happened in 1903, when he volunteered to kill Topsy, the "rogue Coney Island elephant" using - you guessed it - 6,600 volts of AC. Later, he released the above film under the sensitive title, "Electrocuting an Elephant."

Despite Edison's electric PR efforts, AC eventually won out as the best way to deliver power. And AC/DC made millions of dollars touring the world as a rock and roll band. 

Edison, of course, went down in history as one of the world's greatest inventors, a kind and grandfatherly figure we can thank every time we turn on a light switch and watch a YouTube video showing what happens to an elephant when it's electrocuted. 



  1. This is just like the time Toshiba killed Knut the Polar Bear to promote HD DVD. But here we are on the cusp of 2010, enjoying Uncle Buck on Blu-ray.

  2. I just can't get over this. Mostly about how society has changed...I can't imagine any individual, company, etc, thinking it'd be a good idea to fry animals in an attempt to draw attention to an issue.

  3. Yeah, it's pretty crazy.

    What's even crazier is that none of this hurt his image - short- or long-term.

    In grade four, I actually went out for Halloween as Thomas Edison! I'm looking for the photo, but I'm secretly hoping I can't find it. Ha, ha!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.