Origins: It's a great marketing tale of transforming the insurmountable disadvantage into the overpowering advantage, but that's likely all it is, a tale. Though this story has been told in many different ways at different times (including as a joke in a 1945 book), no one has yet to come up with the name of the cannery, the identity of the brilliant advertising man, or anything else that would be checkable. Indeed, the same story has been told of tuna versus tuna, tuna versus salmon, and salmon versus salmon. (There's even a lobster version out there.) With so many forms in circulation, there's no way even of determining which version of this fish story is the most common. About the one thing you can count on is this always supposedly happened to some unnamed American company back around the turn of the century.
Let's forget about the lobsters and just concentrate on the fish. (Yeah, I know: there goes the menu. Bear with me.) First up in the white salmon versus pink salmon category is my
There are two kinds of Alaska salmon: white and pink. The white was advertised as "guaranteed not to turn pink in the can!" Not to be outdone, the pink-salmon folks countered: "Guaranteed: No bleach used in processing!"
Here's how another telling attached a different moral to it:
Almost 100 years ago, Americans became accustomed to tins of pink salmon, the only salmon on the market. But when another salmon strain, one with white flesh, appeared in the shops, consumers rejected it. The canneries started a print-media campaign for the new product with one large statement: "This salmon doesn't turn pink in the can!" For half a century, American consumers really believed that other brands were prone to turn pink in the can.
So much for salmon versus salmon; now we go on to salmon versus tuna:
I heard one of my favorite anecdotes about food — no doubt apocryphal — many years ago when I came to this country. The story was set around the turn of the century, when the producers of canned tuna and the producers of canned salmon were supposed to have been engaged in a great merchandising battle. At the time canned salmon was far outselling canned tuna.
Naturally, tuna processors were dismayed. So they came up with a new marketing ploy, a slogan that proclaimed, "Our product is guaranteed not to turn red in the can."
While much is written about the tuna war raging between our fishermen and the Spaniards, little is said about the actual quality of the tuna they catch. The appetite for tuna depends largely upon its colour. The meat with a roseate hue is most popular for salads and sandwiches. But it is not always this colour, and a large tuna business in America found itself landed with a huge catch of white tuna.
Try as they might, they could not shift this pale-looking fish and, in desperation, consulted an advertising man with a reputation for being able to sell anything.
They waited for months for him to come up with an advertising idea and, just as they were about to give him up, the company chairman received a telephone call from him.
'Write down this slogan,' he said. 'And print it prominently on every can of your white tuna. The tuna that does not turn pink in the can.' It was a fantastic commercial success.
These events remind me of the American food company that found itself with a huge catch of white tuna which it could not sell because the public believed that tuna was better and fresher if it was pink.
In desperation, the company asked one of America's best advertising men to devise a slogan that would help to shift the tuna.
Months went by and nothing came up. Eventually the advertising man was cornered by an executive who demanded some immediate saleable words. After a few moments' thought, he wrote some words on a slip of paper. "Put that on every can of your tuna," he said. The slogan read: "The tuna that does not turn pink in the can." It sold millions.
In other words, this story gets fine tuna'd depending on who's telling it and why.
Barbara "salmon chanted evening" Mikkelson
Sightings: During an episode of television's The West Wing ("Indians in the Lobby; original air date
Last updated: 8 May 2011
Ben Shaul, D'Vora. "Deceptive Advertising." The Jerusalem Post. 5 December 1994 (p. 7). Franey, Pierre. "60-Minute Gourmet." The New York Times. 15 July 1987 (p. C3). Mallach, Efrem. "Avoid Swallowing Vendor Solutions Hook, Line and Sinker." Computerworld. 16 June 1986 (p. 17). Shulman, Milton. "Winning By a Smile?" [London] Evening Standard. 19 August 1994 (p. 30). Shulman, Milton. "Is an Old Man as Young as the Woman He Feels?" [London] Evening Standard. 17 September 1993 (p. 44).