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#023: Dr. Brinkley – Way ahead of his time or complete quack?

Dr. Brinkley went to amazing lengths to market his business. It made him a multimillionaire in the 1920s. Today empire builders are doing the same thing. Only now they call it content marketing with lead magnets, tripwires and a funnel. 

Dave Young:

Welcome to the Empire Builders podcast, teaching business owners the not so secret techniques that took famous business from mom and pop to major brands. Stephen Semple is a marketing consultant, story collector and storyteller. I’m Stephen’s sidekick and business partner, Dave Young.

Dave Young:

Before we get into today’s episode a word from our sponsor, which is… Well, it’s us, but we’re highlighting ads we’ve written and produced for our clients, so here’s one of those.

[Summers & Zims Ad]

Dave Young:

So, Stephen, when you said that we were going to be talking about Dr. Brinkley and you asked if I had heard of Brinkley, the only Brinkley that sprang to mind was Christie Brinkley, the Uptown Girl that Billy Joel sang about years ago. Any relation?

Stephen Semple:

Well, maybe distant. He was born in 1885.

Dave Young:

Oh, so… Yeah, not so much.

Stephen Semple:

Not so much. I want to say I purposely didn’t share anything with you ahead of time because there’s a couple of fun twists and turns in this story and I really wanted your unedited reaction, so what I’m assuming here is you’ve actually never heard of Dr. John R. Brinkley?

Dave Young:

I have not. No.

Stephen Semple:

You have not? Okay. Well, he was born, like I mentioned, in 1885, and most of what we’re going to talk about happened between 1914 and 1940, so from the end of World War I, through the great depression, and into the start of World War II. First of all, he was doctor back in 1920s and 1930s, and during that time he built a business where he made a million dollars a year, in 1920.

Dave Young:

Not to shabby.

Stephen Semple:

Here’s the other interesting thing with this guy. He ran for governor of Kansas as an Independent and he was so popular that he almost won on a write-in ballot. So that’s a ballot where your name is not on the ballot. People have to write your name in. He got 29-1/2% of the vote on a write-in ballot. He was also a major driving force in the creation of the American Medical Association. So there’s a lot that we can learn about him.

Dave Young:

I’ve heard about the American Medical Association.

Stephen Semple:

Heard of the American Medical Association? Of course. Now the Empire Builders podcast is about reverse engineering business success, so what we’re going to talk about today is how he promoted himself.

Stephen Semple:

The thing that’s really interesting about it is we’re going to look back, and a lot of people will say, “Oh, well that worked in the 1920s and it won’t work today,” or, “That was on radio and we’re doing online advertising,” and what we know is that one of the most popular marketing areas today is the internet and one of the most sophisticated techniques is content marketing.

Stephen Semple:

Guys like Ryan Deiss have made a fortune on content marketing. Ryan runs DigitalMarketer, the info summits, one of the biggest people in the internet. Ryan is also a chair at the Wizard Academy. Dave, what’s your new role at the Wizard Academy?

Dave Young:

Vice-chancellor at the Wizard Academy.

Stephen Semple:

Yeah, and Dave’s vice-chancellor. But back to content marketing, so content marketing is this idea of offering a piece of content to attract people. The consumer reads or watches the content that brings them into your world, and then if you’re smart like Ryan you’d have a process, today’s it’s email, et cetera, to continue to communicate.

Dave Young:

I would add they listen to it too. I mean a podcast is definitely content marketing.

Stephen Semple:

It’s content marketing, and the idea is then you’ve got an ascension program, there’s a next step that they take. And of course the best type of content marketing is that if you can get somebody to pay for a little piece of the content, and this is called… And if it pays for the marketing it’s ideal. That’s called the self-liquidating offer.

Stephen Semple:

So here’s why we’re talking about Dr. Brinkley. The thing is internet marketers today think they invented content marketing, and guess what? It ain’t new. It’s not a new idea. Here’s what I’m going to share with you. I want to share with you, Dave, a snippet of a radio advertisement that happened over a hundred years ago from Dr. Brinkley. So you ready?

Dave Young:

Right.

Dr. John R. Brinkley:

Now before I proceed with my talk there is a thought that I want to leave with you, and that is this. These books, these doctor books discussing our work, discussing your health, discussing your disease, are limited in number and they are going fast. When the present supply is exhausted I will not have any more to give away. I’m asking you to get your order in at once for your free copy of this book containing questions for men to answer, questions for women to answer.

Stephen Semple:

And guess what it was for?

Dave Young:

Questions for men to answer? Uh-

Stephen Semple:

Yes. This book was for solving the problem of male erectile dysfunction. There is nothing new out there.

Dave Young:

Here I thought Bob Dole was the first guy to advertise products for that. No?

Stephen Semple:

No. Dr. Brinkley. The reason why I wanted to share this, this whole Empire Builders podcast is the idea of reverse engineering success and looking at things in the past and really proving it still works today. Content marketing works today. Advertising a book works today. There’s nothing new.

Stephen Semple:

Now the one thing that is new… That was actually a fairly long advertisement, and if you remember back when we talked about Pat Weaver back in the 1920s, radio wasn’t done were radio stations created shows. We know what happened was Dr. Brinkley created an entire show and then inserted his ads in it, because that’s the way advertising used to be done.

Stephen Semple:

If people want to learn a little bit more about that, they can go back to the podcast on Pat Weaver. Pat Weaver is really the one who changed that.

Dave Young:

But that’s also… I mean that fits the model, doesn’t it? You’re creating the program and you’re sliding in a little promo for you, so I think we do that in the middle of the Empire Builders podcast, if I’m not mistaken.

Stephen Semple:

We kind of do. So back to Brinkley, so he created a show and he sponsored it. It was a variety show and it was a massive success, but why have we never heard about this guy? He’s done all these things. How is it that there’s not monuments to him?

Stephen Semple:

Well, this is where social media is kind of going to hate me. Guys, please sit down. He was a complete fraud. Want to know what his solution was for male erectile dysfunction?

Dave Young:

Stay tuned. We’re going to wrap up this story and tell you how to apply this lesson to your business right after this.

Stephen Semple:

Brought to you by the least full of shit Marketers Association of America. Yes, that’s a low bar, but we clear it mightily. We’re also the largest pay per performance branding group in North America, and that part’s for real.

Stephen Semple:

If you’re looking for advertising advice geared towards local owner operated companies this is your podcast. Now you can pick the brains of these advertising geniuses over lunch without having to pay for lunch or even leave your office.

[Empire Builders Ad]

Dave Young:

Let’s pick up our story where we left off, and trust me, you haven’t missed a thing. Want to know what his solution was for male erectile dysfunction?

Dave Young:

Send him money.

Stephen Semple:

Actually you sent him money and he actually did do a procedure. You want to know what he did?

Dave Young:

Oh, God, I’m afraid to ask.

Stephen Semple:

Yeah, you really should be, because basically he removed your testicles and replaced them with goat testicles.

Dave Young:

Oh, yeah.

Stephen Semple:

I’m not making this up.

Dave Young:

I hadn’t thought of that one.

Stephen Semple:

There’s a good reason. But here’s the other thing he did in his marketing that’s also really interesting, because so many times we’ll go target the consumer, target the consumer. So in this case target it’s a male problem. Target the men. What they actually learned, Dr. Brinkley’s wife also did a program targeting women and it was equally successful. It was equally successful. Talking to influencers is as important as talking to the people who have the problem.

Dave Young:

Oh, my gosh, you come home from the coal mine and the little lady tells you she’s signed you up for some goat nuts.

Stephen Semple:

Exactly. Now he was so prolific and so popular, like one of the reasons why he was in on a write-in ballot is the Republican party and the Democratic party would have nothing to do with him. The reason why he wanted to run for governor is basically the State was trying to shut him down.

Stephen Semple:

The reason why the American Medical Association, he was influential in its birth, one of the reasons why it was born was to shut Brinkley down. He actually even got shut down from being able to do radio broadcasting in the United States and he went down to Mexico. He just went across the border to Mexico and built a huge radio station that basically beamed all across the United States.

Stephen Semple:

And sidebar, for those of you who are old enough to remember Wolfman Jack, that was actually where Wolfman Jack did his broadcasts from. It was the radio station that Brinkley had built. Maybe we should do an episode sometime on Wolfman Jack.

Stephen Semple:

But here’s the thing, he created advertising standards for doctors and he created standards for doctors. There’s actually a book if you want to read more about Brinkley. It’s really quite remarkable, all the things that they did to try to shut this guy down and all the things he did. It’ll actually kind of make you shudder, but it’s-

Dave Young:

It’s just the slippery steps that a charlatan will take to just keep fleecing people are amazing. Like they’ll run for office? Yeah, that’s not good. What’s the book, Steve?

Stephen Semple:

It’s called Charlatan, by Dan Kennedy. It’s quite wild, and it’s even wild at those days, the standards that were required to actually become a doctor. But, again, the big lesson we want to share with you is when we look back at these techniques from the past don’t dismiss them.

Stephen Semple:

A lot of the most modern marketing techniques have their origins back a long time ago, when people made it work, and all of a sudden all that’s changed is they said you can do a book, promote the content. If people read the content they become a customer. That was done on radio. Today let’s do it on the web. But the idea is not new. The idea is old.

Dave Young:

Yeah. We were just sitting at Wizard Academy yesterday talking about this, and in the classes that we teach one of the things we like to point out is you can use these advertising and marketing techniques, and they equally work for evil.

Stephen Semple:

You certainly can. Yeah. Because it’s the issue of persuading people.

Dave Young:

The techniques are the same.

Stephen Semple:

The techniques are absolutely, absolutely the same.

Stephen Semple:

Now here’s the interesting thing that I’ve tended to notice, because Brinkley at the end of the day, he died alone and he died penniless, because eventually everything caught up to him and he lost everything. That tends to be a pretty common theme for people who use this stuff for evil, is it tends to catch up to them.

Stephen Semple:

I just found a funny one. I came across this ad where it’s a book, content marketing on the radio for male erectile dysfunction done over a hundred years ago, really successfully I thought. There’s kind of a little bit of a message and a story to share there.

Dave Young:

In these weird times it’s like I can hear people going to their local doctor and saying, “No, this will work. I’ve done my own research. I listened to Dr. Brinkley.”

Stephen Semple:

Well, and here’s the crazy thing on that. Dr. Brinkley actually had a huge number of testimonials and people who actually stood up in front of the American Medical Association and said no, this procedure worked, including women who got pregnant afterwards.

Dave Young:

Yeah, so complete charlatan.

Stephen Semple:

Right.

Dave Young:

We know that won’t work.

Stephen Semple:

Right. To your point, from the research standpoint, well he’s got all these testimonials, he’s got these women who say they got pregnant afterwards, like it’s really-

Dave Young:

We all know there’s lots of companies out there that are willing to sell you a whole bunch of fake Google reviews and fake Amazon reviews and fake testimonials to do exactly what this guy did.

Stephen Semple:

It’s true. The lesson I want people to take away from this though, Dave, is… And, again, I agree with you. You can use this for good or evil, where you’re for good, to build good businesses and help them succeed, but there’s a lot of lessons… Don’t ignore the past. There’s great lessons. There’s lots of amazing campaigns that have been done in the past and been reworked a little bit today to make them work, and people who are marching around thinking they invented these techniques did not invent these techniques.

Stephen Semple:

These techniques have been around for a long time, and in fact I would argue it used to be harder, because today you see something on Facebook, you just click on it, you can order it, you can download it, whatever. In Brinkley’s day that’s being broadcast over a radio and he charged a dollar for the books, so you got to hand write out an envelope and hand write out a check and get a stamp and mail it. It was way harder to make those things happen, which means the messaging had to be significantly stronger than it is today.

Stephen Semple:

If you’re just wanting to have an entertaining read, read the book Charlatan. It’s-

Dave Young:

It’s fascinating.

Stephen Semple:

It is fascinating and really quite remarkable.

Dave Young:

All right. What a I would say great lesson. It’s a lesson that we just keep having to learn over and over again, so pay attention to it and repeat history in your favor.

Stephen Semple:

Yeah, and just do good.

Dave Young:

Do good. Use these things for good.

Stephen Semple:

Exactly.

Stephen Semple: Thanks for listening to the podcast. Please share us. Subscribe on your favorite podcast app and leave us a big fat juicy five star rating and review at Apple Podcast, and if you’d like to schedule your own 90 minute empire building session you can do it at empirebuildingprogram.com.

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