A few days ago, I decided to take my own advice and read a novel. The one I chose was Mark Twain’s immortal love-letter to childhood-The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. I’ve only had time to read a couple of chapters, but I’ve already discovered why the book is considered a classic. The writing is laced with Twain’s irrepressible humor as he leads the reader into the world of a clever, adventurous boy growing up in a town by the Mississippi River in the 1840s. I was even more surprised to find that in the second chapter, Tom gives his readers a lesson in marketing.

As a punishment for Tom’s numerous offenses, which include fighting, stealing jam, and sneaking out of the house, his Aunt Polly assigns him a job that will require an entire Saturday to complete. Twain describes Tom’s predicament:

“Tom appeared on the sidewalk with a bucket of whitewash and a long-handled brush. He surveyed the fence, and all gladness left him, and a deep melancholy settled down upon his spirit.”

Faced with whitewashing a thirty-yard fence, Tom’s despair nearly overwhelms him. But the clever boy that he is, Tom hits upon an idea that changes the entire enterprise from a day of hard labor to a profitable venture. As he begins laboring over the fence, he realizes that the only difference between work and play was a sense of obligation. If he could somehow convince his friends that whitewashing a fence wasn’t work, but an experience, he could not only get them to do it, but actually pay him for the privilege.

A short time later, Tom’s friend Ben comes sauntering up to the fence, expecting to give Tom a hard time about having to work while he went off swimming. But Tom doesn’t respond to Ben’s jibes; he brushes some whitewash on the fence and then carefully surveys his progress.

“Tom swept his brush daintily back and forth — stepped back to note the effect — added a touch here and there — criticized the effect again — Ben watching every move and getting more and more interested, more and more absorbed.”

Tom might not be able to describe what he’s done, but by making the act of whitewashing a fence seem fascinating, he has created his product, which is the first of the four P’s of marketing. In feigning interest in whitewashing, Tom promoted the experience, which created demand, and with Ben begging him to try, Tom can set a price. In Ben’s case, that price is the apple that Ben was munching when he arrived at the fence.  Other boys came around, and one by one, each one of them ended up doing a fair bit of the whitewashing, while Tom relaxed under a shady tree.

By the afternoon, Tom has acquired a pocketful of wealth:

 “And when the middle of the afternoon came, from being a poor poverty-stricken boy in the morning, Tom was literally rolling in wealth. He had besides the things before mentioned, twelve marbles, part of a jews-harp, a piece of blue bottle-glass to look through, a spool cannon, a key that wouldn’t unlock anything, a fragment of chalk, a glass stopper of a decanter, a tin soldier, a couple of tadpoles, six fire-crackers, a kitten with only one eye, a brass doorknob, a dog-collar — but no dog — the handle of a knife, four pieces of orange-peel, and a dilapidated old window sash.”

If you’re on the lookout for a strategy to promote your product or service, remember the four P’s of marketing: Product, Price, Promotion, and Place – time-honored concepts that are effective, and simple enough that anyone with a good product can use them to create wealth.

If you don’t believe me, just ask Tom Sawyer. 

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