Scherman wasn't just an ad man and entrepreneur — his true love was economics, and in 1938 he collected his staunch anti-Keynesian rants into a tome entitled The Promises Men Live By. The book's central premise is that a capitalist society is only as solid as the promises (or in economic terms, "credit") kept honorably amongst its members. "When men's promises cease to be good," Scherman wrote, "trade and production are hampered, credit collapses, people cannot buy, sellers cannot sell, chaos and social degeneration inevitably follow."

There is a certain irony in a man partially responsible for one of the more dishonest and predatory marketing devices of the 20th century lecturing on the sacred honesty of the promise at the core of capitalism. The "promises men live by" seemed to involve a fair amount of fine print.

In 1948, Columbia Records introduced the long-playing microgroove 33-1/3 rpm record album, or LP, creating a standard format for recorded music that would last until the advent of the compact disc. One of the LP's main advantages, besides sounding great, was that it was lightweight and relatively unbreakable, perfect for shipping through the mail. Soon after, Columbia successfully tested its Family Record Club in the Ohio market, modeling their plan after the Book of the Month Club system.

Seeing Columbia's success, Scherman and BOTM started their own Music Appreciation Record Club in 1955 — one of their first free records, given as an incentive to members, was a recording of Debussy's "La Mer" conducted by Scherman's son, Thomas.

It wasn't long before Columbia and the BOTM joined forces. The heads of Columbia could certainly sense that Sackheim and Scherman had a flair for getting subscriptions — Sackheim, now considered one of the all-time advertising greats, always knew how to attract attention with simple statements. The Book-of-the-Month Club may have never gotten off the ground, for example, without his insistence that early ads boldly state "SEND NO MONEY!" at the top.

In his autobiography, My First 65 Years In Advertising, Sackheim details the clandestine meetings he held with the heads of Columbia Records: "They had watched with concern or envy (or both) the success of other of-the-month clubs and were eager to 'do something about it.' We were to prepare the plan on our terms, but we were warned that every detail must be kept secret, even from our own employees."

The secrecy was well-founded, as Columbia was planning to use the club to aggressively market the LP (and the players the discs required) to a public that didn't know it needed them. The record club was a loss leader, and Americans were soon hooked on buying vinyl. A new consumer addiction was born, with Columbia and its record club at the forefront.


MUSIC FOR NOTHING

However, Columbia House Record Club didn't truly go supernova until the mid-1960s, when Les Wunderman took over the account and shaped it into the form that we're familiar with. Wunderman, considered the father of direct marketing (a phrase that he himself coined), is credited with pioneering such now-standard concepts as the database, the 1-800 number, the magazine subscription card, and the credit-card customer rewards program; his ideas for Columbia were equally epochal.

First, he devised the now-famous "12-for-a-penny" concept; then, he created the post-paid insert card, allowing subscribers to order records with no upfront cost, not even the cost of a stamp.

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