One of our staff members is a docent at the Skirball Museum and Cultural Center in Los Angeles, which hosted the exhibition “Houdini: Art and Magic” As a result of her participation, we learned that Harry Houdini was an early, and very effective, practitioner of marketing. He was so successful, in fact, that he remains an American icon – as famed as Babe Ruth or Charles Lindbergh-- 85 years after his death on Halloween, 1926.
Houdini used the technique of sampling to entice audiences across America to his paid engagements. He would perform his straightjacket escape routine hanging upside down by his heels some ten stories high at noontime in public squares when working folks were at lunch. Most importantly, he strategically placed these feats outside of major newspapers, such as the Minneapolis Evening Tribune and publications in New York, Boston, and San Francisco.
Reporters and photographers recorded the event to increase newspaper sales, and up to 80,000 people at a time in the crowd below – mostly men – got a free taste of his famous act. This approach not only lured audiences to his performances on vaudeville stages across America, but greatly helped expand the magician’s fame and name recognition. We salute Houdini today, not only as an incredible performer and escape artist, but as a savvy marketer who paved the way for generations of others in the business of marketing and communications.