What Marketing Trick Was Used to Raise Money for Building the Statue of Liberty?

While our articles on this site tend to deep dive into display advertising, as a lover of history and marketing, I can’t resist when I discover secret gems from the history of marketing. So, from time to time I’ll share them here. Here’s one I just found while trying to figure out the explanation for why the Statue of Liberty was built on top of an 11-point star fort.

The Statue of Liberty was built by the people of France raising funds to build the statue, under the condition that the people of the USA raised money to build the base. This fundraising drive was led by the infamous, super-rich publisher Joseph Pulitzer, now remembered mostly for the journalism prize named after him. Wikipedia dives in:

Joseph Pulitzer, the publisher of the New York World, announced a drive to raise $100,000 (the equivalent of $2.3 million today). Pulitzer pledged to print the name of every contributor, no matter how small the amount that was given. The drive captured the imagination of New Yorkers, especially when Pulitzer began publishing the notes he received from contributors. “A young girl alone in the world” donated “60 cents, the result of self-denial.” One donor gave “five cents as a poor office boy’s mite toward the Pedestal Fund.” A group of children sent a dollar as “the money we saved to go to the circus with.” Another dollar was given by a “lonely and very aged woman”. Residents of a home for alcoholics in New York’s rival city of Brooklyn donated $15. Other drinkers helped out through donation boxes in bars and saloons. A kindergarten class in Davenport, Iowa, mailed the World a gift of $1.35. As the donations flooded in, the committee resumed work on the pedestal.

And it worked like a charm. The same page shares the results a bit later:

After five months of daily calls to donate to the statue fund, on August 11, 1885, the World announced that $102,000 had been raised from 120,000 donors. And, 80 percent of the total had been received in sums of less than one dollar.

So. What did Joseph Pulitzer do to raise money? He invented a new marketing technique of giving publicity to everyone who donates, no matter how small. And this worked so well that it “captured the imagination” of New Yorkers.

The strategy of giving publicity to even the smallest supporter has been a classic of marketing ever since. Modern common examples include:

  • Big brands using photographs and names of random fans of theirs.
  • Mid-sized brands reaching out to random fans to talk to them, learn from them, and often quote them.
  • Smaller brands getting to know their fans and then talking about them online, individually in blog posts for example.

And other forms of this, include:

  • Lottery style gifts to supporters, including the corresponding publicity.
  • Listing and linking names online.

Conclusion? This is a time-tested strategy, so you may want to give it a whirl. How can you give some publicity to even your smallest fans? That’s a question for any marketer to ponder.

Of course, Joseph Pulitzer had a deep advantage: he was the largest newspaper publisher in the world, at the time. You, dear reader, presumably aren’t. But it’s much easier to start a micro-empire today than it was in 1886. Or even a nano-nano empire. Great projects always start in the smallest ways.

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