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The Greatest Marketing Story Never Told

The Greatest Marketing Story Never Told

Polk Brothers were built by an old pitchman in Chicago called Sol Polk and his brothers and sisters. They were a home appliance retailer company that closed in the early ’90s but survived by a foundation of $350 million. Many charitable foundations are grateful for grants today.
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Back in the early ’70s, when Sol was traveling through Europe, he came across a Doctor from Delaware who was going to a convention to present his ‘new’ procedure to become a maneuver. It was Dr. Heimlich whom he had met and who shared about his discovery to Sol Polk. Impressed by it, Sol asked the Dr. if he could share the discovery with businesses in the US and promised never to sell it. At that time, Sol was an acquaintance of Illinois senator Charles Percy, a president of Bell and Howell. Sol petitioned Percy to share this new and amazing “Heimlich Maneuver with every school, institution, and restaurant in the country.”


Senator Percy saw a great idea and decided to help Sol make it a law in Illinois that continues to stand strong today. Every food-serving public place has to have the Heimlich Maneuver Placard displayed prominently in an emergency.

In Illinois, Polk enacted the law “Illinois requires the health department to design and distribute without charge placards containing approved methods for laymen to safely and effectively remove food lodged in a person’s throat. The instructions must be limited to first-aid procedures that do not use instruments or devices. They must be of a size and design suitable for posting in foodservice establishments. The instructions must, to the extent practicable, be expressed in words and illustrations that are not offensive to restaurant patrons.”

By the time the law went into effect, Polk had begun to donate free placards to every school, restaurant, municipal building, and hospital in the state. High school students from Proviso East High School were hired to address enveloped that he paid out of his own pockets just down the street from Sol’s family business. Only the shipping and handling charges were applied when delivering to restaurants and municipal buildings. And this was the brilliance of this clever marketer. Sol Polk made a little less than $6 million in just one year of giving away “The Heimlich Maneuver.”

In today’s time, the $6 million may not sound like a huge amount, but actually converting the value to today’s standards, they would be around $39,976,056! Now that is something for a FREE placard that is true to his word to Dr. Heimlich; Sol never charged anyone who asked for it.

This is an example of a creative market and thinking at a high level that can make any business super successful in no time. Sol understood the market well and accordingly employed his genius.

EthnoDialogue is one of Canada’s leading multicultural marketing agencies. They work with clients to design and implement marketing and communication strategies that best suit their needs. Their agency combines proprietary data and panel insight to identify opportunities and grow market share in the diverse Canadian marketplace.

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Friendly communicator. Web guru. Bacon scholar. Creator. Lifelong reader. Analyst. Subtly charming introvert. Set new standards for working with Mr. Potato Heads with no outside help. Had some great experience developing lint in the financial sector. Gifted in testing the market for carnival rides in Ocean City, NJ. Spent 2002-2007 writing about puppets in Edison, NJ. Have some experience analyzing action figures in Nigeria. Earned praised for my work importing wooden trains in Edison, NJ.