June 6, 2011

"Selling Talk"

I came across another little gem in the Kellogg Switchboard & Supply Company publication, "Telephone Facts" of 1915.  Remember, this is a journal the company sent out to its business customers (telephone companies) who were in the market for telephones, switchboards, and sundry accessories.

Strategically positioned on the first inside page is a short sales pitch that salesmen can use to market the telephone to potential subscribers.  What is interesting is that the piece does not focus at all on the technical aspects of the telephone apparatus, its durability, technological features, innovation and such like.  Instead, the only selling point the salesman should emphasise is talk.  This is the commodity that the telephone man deals in.  Even more surprising (to me, at least) is the fact that the writer mentions that it doesn't matter if the talk is important or trivial, it is still significant.

Ads such as these link to Claude Fischer's discussion about how American telephone companies suddenly discovered sociability and how, surprise surprise, encouraging people to be sociable was good for business.  We then see a gradual turnaround in telephone companies' attitudes: they ceased promoting the telephone purely for 'serious' business use and stopped berating women who insisted on abusing the telephone for mere trivia.  Now gossip was good.

Everyone involved in the telephone business, from lineman, contract man to operator, was reminded: "you sell talk."

This is all well and good and highly interesting, but what happened in Britain?  It is well known that the telephone service in Britain was grossly under-developed (and dare I even say, backward?) in comparison.  Certainly, in 1915 there was no massive, national advertising campaign undertaken by the General Post Office.  War concerns were more pressing, but even after the war, it would be a long time before any concerted efforts were made to promote the service.  

How the GPO promoted the telephone service is one huge area still awaiting intensive research.  I can't wait to get started!!


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Digital Telephone Book by Elizabeth Chairopoulou is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.