Welcome to Will It Stick? podcast, where hosts Melissa and Alexis cover creative advertising campaigns, PR stunts, and marketing activations that brands of all shapes and sizes pull, and dive into the research and data to understand if it worked.
America is obsessed with bacon. But, did you know that once upon a time not so long ago people had to be CONVINCED to eat bacon for breakfast? AND, the concept of breakfast being the most important meal of the day was actually completely fabricated as a PR stunt by one company in an attempt to sell more bacon – and it WORKED.
I know it’s hard to imagine breakfast without bacon….BUT Bacon for breakfast wasn’t even a thing that Americans did until the 1920s. The entire reason that Americans consume $16 billion in bacon each year, is all thanks to one PR stunt.
So way back in the day, the Romans actually believed that it was better to just eat one meal a day. Indigenous people of America believed that eating small meals, essentially snacking, throughout the day was better than larger meals.
But, as the Industrial Revolution began and people moved into cities – their eating habits changed. As people began to leave the house for the entire day to go to work, they needed a substantial meal to start the day. At that time, people pretty much ate the same thing they would eat for dinner or lunch – there weren’t a lot of options for a starter meal. At the same time that Americans started eating a morning meal, the nation became plagued with a problem of indigestion – which was called dyspepsia. If you look back at magazines from that tie period, there were TONS of stories on this problem, and early dietary reformers like a guy named Sylvester Graham, started proclaiming that people needed to make diet changes to avoid this and tried to encourage people to embrace vegetarianism as well as eating more whole grains. Actually, at that time a type of whole wheat flour became popular and was called Graham Flower named after that dude. Out of this concept, breakfast cereal was actually born. Another victorian-era health nut, James Caleb Jackson, was experimenting one day in 1863 and he mixed up the Graham flower with water and he baked it. He took that big flat bread-looking thing and broke it into teeny pieces and baked it again. That became the first breakfast cereal, meant to be rehydrated with milk or water.
By the 1920s, people weren’t doing as much manual labor as they had in the 1800s and the desire to stay slim was suddenly becoming a THING, and that led people to cut their breakfast down from heartier meals to something a little lighter. The typical breakfast in America was usually just coffee and a roll – maybe on a crazy day some oatmeal or fruit. Meat for breakfast wasn’t really a thing. And that was quickly becoming a problem for those meat makers, specifically, The Beech-Nut Packing Company.
In 1920, the Beech-Nut was looking at their numbers and they found that bacon sales were seriously dipping. And as we just said, bacon was their jam at this time – and a critical part of their business. So, they had to find a way to fix the problem.
So, they hired none other than Edward Bernays, the “father” of PR. Eddie had a name for himself by the time the Beech-Nut guys ran into their bacon problem. So they hired Eddie, and they were like “Eddie, dude, how can we sell more bacon?? Knowing his retainer with the American Tobacco Company in 1929 was $25K when he helped sell Lucky Strike cigarettes to women, I’m going to assume it was somewhat similar here since that info was NOWHERE. That would be a $400K retainer today.
Eddie got right to work, and the rest is history!
Please tell your friends about this podcast and don’t forget to subscribe, rate, and review!
Check out some of the great articles we sourced to gather all the facts for this episode.
The videos of Bernays talking can be found at PRMuseum.org.
The American Psychological Association had a great article from 2009 by Lisa Held titled “Psychoanalysis Shapes Consumer Culture
Time Magazine article from 2015 by Alexandra Sifferlin titled “5 Fascinating Facts About Breakfast”
The American Table titled “How Bacon & Eggs” Became the American Breakfast