December 29, 2014

1958. The Failure to Promote Democracy Abroad

Bill Downs Angers the Faultless Starch Company

In 1958 Bill Downs delivered an analysis of the Cold War in which he used the failure of the Faultless Starch Company as an analogy for the promotion of democracy and Western values abroad. As it turns out, there was a different Kansas City-based Faultless Starch Company established in 1887 that was not at all pleased with the broadcast.
Bill Downs
CBS News Radio Analysis

March 7, 1958

This is Bill Downs substituting for Eric Sevareid.

Back in the teenage years of this century, there was a household product on the market known far and wide to virtually every American housewife -- at least in the Midwest.

It was called Faultless Starch. In fact, there just wasn't any other laundry starch to match it then. And so, the story goes, the Faultless Company directors asked themselves: "We're so well-known. Why spend all that money on promotion and advertising?" So they stopped advertising and promoting.

What happened? The company failed. There's no Faultless Starch on the market today.

It's oversimplification -- but it could be that the same thing is happening to the West during these days of world struggle between communism and democracy.

The British say, "Everyone knows about our Magna Carta and the world's greatest constitutional monarchy." The French add, "Who is ignorant of the fact that our government was fathered by philosophers like Montaigne and Voltaire and gives man his greatest opportunity for individualism in history?" America declares, "Who hasn't heard about our great Revolution; our Constitution and Bill of Rights which makes us the greatest industrial democracy on earth?"

The West, it appears, says the rest of the world. "Look, we are the paragons of freedom and humanity. Go and do likewise. We are civilization's oldest established firm."

But now a brash new international competitor has appeared on the scene and is fighting in the world market of mankind with determination and skill. The Soviet Union ignores the old established firms selling there traditions. Russia has her own products to peddle.

The Russians ignore their own police state, but promise the Arabs and other have-not peoples that they too can become powerful by joining the communist camp. They threaten the West with their intercontinental nuclear missiles, but tell the Indians they support Asian neutralism because Moscow, too, is peace-loving.

And now, with admirable audacity, the Kremlin has invaded the American political market with a top-notch diplomatic salesman in their new ambassador, Smiling Mike Manshikov. The ambassador is backed up by a whirlwind communist direct-mail advertising campaign from Premier Bulganin, who has written four letters to the White House in the last twelve weeks, not counting the aide memoirs.

The Kremlin is pitching a communist magic, presto, gee-whiz, diplomatic gimmick for world peace. Have a Summit Conference, says the Kremlin, all will be well.

America and the West have some very good reasons for opposing a precipitous, out-of-hand international top-level meeting with the Russians, the principle reason being that if the East and the West deadlocked at a Summit Conference and broke off in anger, then the chances of nuclear war might be infinitely greater than they are now.

However we seem to have trouble explaining this, even to some of our Allies. We appear to the world as negative, obstinate, and stubborn; careless with the troubled peace.

We are not selling our own product aggressively -- democracy, freedom, and human dignity.

Which gets us back to Faultless Starch. Whatever became of that product, anyway?

This is Bill Downs in Washington.

Faultless Starch promptly contacted CBS and demanded a retraction. They proposed their own script:
March 12, 1958

Mr. Bill Downs
Broadcast House, CBS
Washington, D.C.

Dear Mr. Downs:

As we told you over the phone yesterday, we felt your suggested retraction of the death of Faultless Starch was a bit too self-serving. A mistake is a mistake and when it reaches such stature as this, we believe it only honest to say so.

Studying your style somewhat, we have written a commentary on Faultless Starch related to your theme of last Friday. If there is to be a a major change of this, we wish you would advise us before you go on the air.

We are unanimous here in that we do not want to stir this fire any more. A statement of correction is due, but any prolongation or emphasis on the death of Faultless Starch, in our opinion, adds to the damage already done.

The broadcast this Friday may or may not aid in reviving this "dead" company, but it does not even begin to repair the damage already done, and the damage which will continue by word of mouth.


Bruce B. Brewer


A week ago tonight we talked about America's weakness in selling the world the greatest advantages of democracy, freedom, and human dignity. There are thousands of examples of American companies which have failed to advertise and promote their products, and are now extinct. Unfortunately, we chose, and cited as an example, one of America's most vigorous companies.

Our apologies to you, Faultless, and let's see why Faultless Starch Company is a perfect example of what America should do in selling itself to the world. Faultless Starch now has approximately 20% of laundry starch sales in America. It wasn't so long ago that this figure was only 10%. In some areas it has 50%, 60%, and 70% of all starch volume.

Why is this true? Well, Faultless Starch is a wonderful product but that isn't enough. The big point is that Faultless, year after year, has been investing more and more in advertising, salesmanship, and promotion. In 1957, it had its biggest ad appropriation and sold more than 50 million -- yes 50 million -- packages of Faultless laundry Starch. The 1958 ad appropriation is larger than in 1957.

So there you have in Faultless Starch Company an excellent example of aggressiveness, good management, and growth -- an example our nation should follow in selling its virtues to the world...

Downs' broadcast the following week addressed the matter:
Bill Downs
CBS News Radio Analysis

March 14, 1958

This is Bill Downs substituting for Eric Sevareid.

A week ago tonight this correspondent suggested that if America, Britain, and France did not stop assuming that the rest of the world understands our preoccupation with peace and freedom, and again start selling our ideals of democracy and human dignity in the international marketplace, then the West might suffer the fate of a laundry starch popular with American housewives during the early years of this century.

As an example of what happens to a product when its owners stop promoting it, we cited a case remembered from a college advertising course which seemed to prove the point that, when the self-satisfied company junked its advertising and promotion programs, the firm ceased to exist. Records show that the Faultless Starch Company of Guilford, North Carolina, went out of business shortly after World War One.

This is what we had in mind. Then, much to our surprise and embarrassment, we learned that there is another and very much alive Faultless Starch Company in Kansas City, Missouri, and they and their product, Faultless Starch, has been serving American housewives for the past seventy-one years. President Gordon Beaham, Jr., is the third generation of the family to head the Faultless Starch Company, and is proud of it.

So permit us to set the record straight. We were not comparing the present reluctant international policy of the West with Mr. Beaham's aggressive and successful Faultless Starch Company in Kansas City.

In fact, if the United States and its Allies were as successful in selling a good product as the Beaham firm has been in capturing twenty percent of the laundry starch market, then we would have nothing to complain about.

But the fact remains that the Kremlin is proving that foreign affairs are, to a large extent, being conducted over the radio, television, and through the press in these days of rapid communication. The series of Summit Conference letters emanating from the Kremlin constitutes, in one sense, the same kind of direct mail advertising that goes into mail boxes all over America. The Kremlin has hammered on its one point -- Summit Conference, Summit Conference, Summit Conference -- to a point that even Americans are beginning to ask, "Why not?"

And Americans, who have perfected the job of sales persuasion, find themselves and what they stand for on the defensive. Secretary of State Dulles twice has admitted openly that the Russians are articulating a bad policy better than we are articulating a good policy.

It would appear that what a Kansas City firm can do for Faultless Starch, a government can do for democracy and freedom. In the ideological competition of international Communism, the West cannot take for granted it has the support and goodwill of everybody and his brother who does not happen to be Communist.

We have to fight in the marketplace for the minds of men, the same way the starch makers have been doing for the custom and approval of the American housewives who do the ironing.

Otherwise, people truly will be asking some day in the future, "Whatever became of the know, the U.S. of A.?"

This is Bill Downs in New York.