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The Entertainment Empire

The Rise of the Talking Machine
Advertising/Victrola

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"Mr. Douglass was one of the ablest and most brilliant men of his time in the advertising and selling fields, and from the outset of is connection insisted on spending thousands of dollars per month for advertising. Although his policy in this respect was at first somewhat startling to me...the rapid and continued results obtained proved the soundness of these expenditures."

-Eldridge R. Johnson


Victor was on its way to becoming the premier company in the business. Just as Johnson's Talking Machines topped the quality bracket, so too the Victor artist catalog began to outshine its competitors. Johnson now turned to General Manager Leon Douglass to spearhead the next great phase of his company's strategy. Douglass pioneered an advertising campaign that emphasized the prestige of the Victor artists, and paired this high-class image with the visibility of popular publications like the Saturday Evening Post.

Vibrant, full page, color ads (at an enormous expense) were a gamble that Johnson and Douglas wer willing to take for the distinguishing notoriety. These risks paid almost immediate dividends, as sales began to steadily increase.

As Victor's advertising campaign expanded, Johnson diversified his product line to reflect the company's upscale image. He released updated machines like the "Victor the First" through the "Victor the Sixth", lending a regal image to the newer models.

Though the heart of the consumer market was in the smaller, less expensive machines, the upscale image, Douglass and Johnson concluded, would go a long way toward furthering the Victor reputation.

Tying the company's entire branding strategy together was the ever present "His Master's Voice" logo. "Nipper" appeared on every Victor product, and soon became synonymous with quality. Johnson always gave Douglass credit for envisioning this remarkable brand strategy, and for putting the Victor company on the map with a bold advertising campaign. Yet it was just the beginning of the company's success. In 1906, Johnson unveiled the biggest boon to the Victor Company since its incorporation: the Victrola.

While they are celebrated for their grace and beauty today, the Victor Talking Machines, and their enormous playback horns, were considered an eyesore to many at the turn of the century. Wealthy customers complained that the design stood out like a sore thumb next to their antique furniture, and the less wealthy struggled to find adequate storage space for the horns when not in use. The Victor company set to work to find a way to make the talking machines into acceptable household furniture. The result was the Victrola.

Designed with an internal horn, the Victrola was a stately alternative to the early Talking Machines. But the public did not initially pick up on the new product. Soon enough, however, the Victrola would become a household name.

Within a few years, Victrola sales began to climb. In the next decade, the company would sell millions, and again revolutionize the industry. Today, many people still use the term Victrola to describe any Talking Machine, no matter who was the manufacturer!

The machines were designed in many different styles, from the simplest table top models, like the Victrola IV, to ornate period pieces like the Louis XVI. Some had hand painted scenes on the gold, Vernis-Martin finish. Volume was adjusted by simply opening and closing the cabinet doors, and storage space for records, needles and spare parts were built into the design. Victrola Prices ranged from a handful of dollars to hundreds, again reflecting the wide-ranging market that the company sought to court.

Victrola Cabinets were originally built by the Pooley Furniture Company of Philadelphia, but by 1907, Johnson built a cabinet factory in Camden, and produced Victrolas on site.

 

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