One of the first places I was introduced to when I moved to Chicago 30 years ago was the Maxwell Street Market. The place was an open-air flea market, with vendors lining the streets in a few square blocks of the South Side. It was raw and exotic, compared to what I was used to in Boston. And it was colorful, too, with blues musicians performing in vacant lots, greasy food touching flames in 55 gallon steel drums, and a United-Nations cast of characters roaming the streets. You may have seen a glimpse of this in the “Blues Brothers” movie.
With all of that raw commerce and entertainment, one thing I remember quite clearly, and often, is a chant that permeated every visit. It turns out to be one of my first lessons in marketing, and it came from a very unlikely source.
Wandering among the throng, there were several “independent operators” who hauled loads of almost anything saleable, approaching buyers with lines like “need a watch?” and “Tube socks here.” Some were shy, others brazen, but one tall black man had his whole act together. Over his shoulders was a load of bright white cloth, and in both hands he hand he held aloft a full-size draw-string heavy-duty brand-new laundry bag.
With a gleaming smile he called out, over and over, the one line which still shapes my copywriting: “You KNOW you NEED a LAUNDRY BAG!”
The line is pure music. It is direct, and speaks to a hungry crowd. It asks a question, but it’s a command which makes you think. Every time I heard him, I wondered, “Do I? Could I use one of those?” and then realized that he was selling those things all day long because everyone else was wondering if they needed a bag, too!
The experience stuck with me, and yesterday I remembered it as I was writing headlines for some new ads. You KNOW you NEED a NEW BUSINESS!