Friday, April 02, 2010

A Viral Advertising Campaign 76 Years In The Making

While doing research for our Passover Seders, I came across this excellent chronology of the Haggadah - the handbook we use to run this Passover ceremony. And while the facts were all quiet interesting (the 7th century marks the creation of the first Haggadah, 1590 Chad Gadya is added to the text, etc.) I found the story of the Maxwell House Haggadah to be just remarkable.

As explained, the Maxwell House story begins with a business challenge:

The story begins with Jewish people of Ashkenazi descent (Ashkenazi Jews are Jews whose ancestors came from either Central, Northwestern, and/or Eastern Europe) following a traditional custom not to drink coffee during the Passover festival on the mistaken belief that the coffee bean was an actual bean that therefore fell into the category of legumes, and any food which fell into this category was religiously forbidden to be consumed during Passover

So there you have it, Jews from Eastern Europe didn't drink coffee on Passover. What does Maxwell house do? Well, to make a long story short, they coordinate with an Orthodox Rabbi to no only get Coffee recategorized as Kosher, but to publicize the new status, they publishing their very own Haggadah. That was back in 1934.

And talk about a successful move:

Since the Maxwell House Haggadah, noted for its simplicity, was given away at no cost, it became one of the most popular Haggadahs not only among American Jewry, but also among Canadian-Jewry. In fact, the Joseph Jacobs Advertising Agency still produces the Maxwell House Haggadah as of this writing in 2008 and as such, it is now the longest running sales promotion in advertising history, with over 50 million Maxwell House Haggadahs having been printed, making it the most widely used Haggadah in the world, and the most widely circulated Judaica item in the world. The result of this advertising campaign was that Maxwell House coffee became the preferred coffee in Jewish households.

Heck, it was used at the Presidential seder last year.

In the age of instant results, and people always looking for shortcuts to the next big thing, I find this example to be a refreshing one. Maxwell didn't try to fool anyone into buying their product - instead they offered a genuinely useful service, and in return, earned a place in Jewish history.

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