What is The Instrument of Immortals?
The Piano by Steinway & Sons of course!
Steinway & Sons began its The Instrument of the Immortals advertisement campaign in 1919 more than half a century after its emergence on the musical scene. The company built a strong reputation that it is the ultimate in sound, touch, durability and beauty by creating superior quality pianos and pricing them extravagantly. A critic once observed that there seems to be only one thing that Steinway cannot do…they can’t build an inexpensive piano.
Celebrated composers and pianists such as Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner used Steinway pianos in their concerts as they were pleased with its sound and elegance. Within nine years of manufacturing its first piano, Steinway won the first prize medal in a London exhibition. In 1867, the company won the grand gold medal at the Paris World’s Fair for its Piano.
Early Steinway advertisements focused on these commendations, accentuating their worldwide reputation and association with superior musicianship. They did not have a formal advertising plan initially. Early advertisements, mostly written by the company executives were singing praises given to their products. They had restricted their market by targeting mainly to professional musicians and music lovers than ordinary consumers.
It was in 1900 that the famous advertising company, N. W. Ayer & Son convinced the top management at Steinway that they need an advertising strategy to direct the Steinway appeal to ordinary consumers. A 1961 advertisement of the Steinway pianos titled ‘The Highest Choice’ attempted to remove the perceived price sensitivities. It said: Do not let it be merely a question of initial cost when you make your choice of pianos. The Matchless music of the Steinway had lifted it above the ‘price’ atmosphere for all time.
In 1919, N. W. Ayer assigned Raymond Rubicam, a young, established copywriter to the Steinway account. While researching for the copy that best represented the client, Rubicam came across a proof book of Old Steinway advertisements and the idea came to him as a flash. Here’s how it happened in his own words: I learned that the Steinway had been used by practically all the greatest pianists and almost all the great composers since Wagner. But when I found the advertisements in the proof book I discovered that they consisted of lovely ladies sitting at pianos in lovely drawing rooms and that the text told little of the great Steinway. Without effort, the phrase formed in my mind, ‘The Instrument of the Immortals.’
The rest became history catapulting the Steinway advertising campaign into one of the most famous advertising campaigns in American History. The campaign features in the top 100 advertising campaigns in advertising history.
What made The Instrument of the Immortals a great ad? Raymond Rubicam was for the first time making an unambiguous association between Steinway pianos and the immortals who used them. A customer could now be linked to a master musician simply by owning a Steinway. What makes this ad highly effective is its psychology of association.
Although Steinway had a book called the Steinway Collection containing the paintings of the great masters and musicians who played their pianos, the company did not allow the agency to use the paintings in advertisements. Copies of the book were being given to purchasers of their pianos. This reluctance of not using these paintings in their ads stemmed from a fear that excessive advertising would put Steinway pianos on par with patent medicines, which were notorious for their obnoxious hard-sell techniques as the historian Richard K. Lieberman observed. It was an honest concern.
For the first time in 20 years of advertising, Steinway had actually received a considerable number of voluntary and wholly favorable comments on the ad. The success of The Instrument of Immortals, however, persuaded the top management to give consent to use the paintings of great masters and musicians who had played their pianos in their ads.
The Agency took two more important steps to supplement their advertising that resulted making the campaign a huge success. The sales of Steinway pianos grew steadily ever since. The two vital steps were:
- Introduction of an installment plan for the purchase of Steinway pianos. It was amazing to discover how many people had been hankering for a Steinway, but assumed that Steinways were not sold on easy payment terms.
- Persuaded Steinway to reopen the famous old concert hall connected with their offices in lower New York and to invite their prospective customers to hear without charge, some of the good concert pianists in recital on a Steinway.