The Importance of Being Irving
Donald’s self-made man image becomes a bit less genuine when you realize just who his father was and how successful and just how this family managed to step into the post-world war concept of the American dream.
At a time when Jews -- rich or poor -- were fleeing urban centers such as Newark, Paterson and Bayonne, Irv was far ahead of them -- a 1940's Madman success story as an economic executive for Vitamin Corp of America (VCA.)
The son of George and Fannie, Irv grew up in Newark. His parents who came from then Russia controlled area that would later become Poland. They ran in a grocery store in Newark.
Irv apparently learned the benefit of a good education and completed high school at a time when many of his contemporaries had not
VCA was already famous with roots out of both pharmaceutical and patent medicines slightly more legitimate then Humphries of Rutherford where I later work for a short time in 1990.
Although the company suffered a scathing attack by the mayor of New York City in 1945, it rapidly became one of the post war successes and this had a lot to do with Irv who served as the company's advertising strategist learning early to use media to get his message out.
Advertising, he claimed, was the secret to the success advertising carried through to the point of sale merchandising.
“The merchandising,” he claimed, “clinches the sale.”
VCA he said used radio and TV to educate the public about the need for vitamins.
One of its most popular products at the time was called Robutol, a vitamin product geared toward adults.
The company, in order to expand its advertising budget, borrowed heavily – but it paid off in big profits later.
The company sold every sort of drug from patent drugs and aspirin to things such as Cal-o-Metric for weight control, and a variety of skin creams and lotions.
One of its most significant accomplishments and what allowed the company to expand even more was when VCA got the contract to sell to Rexall Drug Company in 1952.
Irv’s advertising strategy for various consumer drug products had a number of factors: such as seeking mass appeal programs or agencies to sponsor on the air media in emotional and highly-charged commercials and special offers.
“But it is the druggist who actually puts Robutol in the customer's hands,” Irv told one consumer publication in the early 50s after he helped boost sales from two or three million in 1952 more than 10 million 3 years later.
“But it works both ways,” he added. “The druggist is more likely to push a product that is backed by national advertising.”
This relationship between producer and drugstore would not be lost on Donald, who would form close associations with drug stores throughout the area in a network of sources for cosmetics.
Donald briefly delved into and had a supply of vitamins when I worked with him, but his business model clearly wanted to serve as a middleman for cosmetics especially the high-end products corporations were reluctant to sell on the mass market.
Clearly, he learned relationships and business strategies from a father who helped develop them three decades earlier.
VCA through Irv’s help learned how to use Madison Avenue and increased its advertising budget in TV radio and newspapers.
“We spend for promotion when we feel their time is right,” Irv said. “Our campaign is geared for national market.”
VCA had a target audience mostly women in their mid-30s or older – mostly housewives although the drugs were not developed exclusively for them.
“Women are the main buyers of drug products,” Irv said.
For this reason, many of the ads appeared on shows that appeal to women or were then considered family-oriented.
The company also begin a new approach to spot TV buying, one that stressed identifying their product both with strong local personality and with a program.
One of the programs they bought spots in was Best Movie of the Week, a 90-minute feature film usually shown after 10 or 10:30 p.m.
Their ads appeared and markets that included New York, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Minneapolis, Dallas, San Diego, Los Angeles, Seattle and Portland.
One of their favorite announcers was a guy named John Reed King who hosted the show live in New York or on WABC TV.
He was a hefty vigorous looking man in his forties and has convincing salesman for their products. Irv figured the audience would assume King benefited from VCA’s products.
Under Irv’s direction the company sponsored a number of other shows as well, which included game shows on ABCs such as “On Your Way” quiz show.
When the company came out with a juvenile product for kids it held a Junior Follies based out of WATV in Newark.
More importantly, Irv was instrumental in the development of one of the first shopping TV shows called Let's Go Shopping, decades ahead of those on cable in the 1970s and 1980s.
Under his watch, VCA became the principal sponsor of the long-established and extremely popular radio show The Goldbergs after one of the principal actors was blacklisted for being alleged communist the previous sponsor dumped the show – not much different from black lists today that targeted people like Roseanne.
His success allowed Irv to relocate the family from Newark to Livingston and West Orange where he apparently took an active role in the local Jewish Center. He even planned a forum for Beth Torah Hebrew School PTA and The Parents Council of the Jewish Education Association of Essex County where panelist disgusted the problem of Jewish Education in relationship to his non-Jewish environment.
I must have met at some point while I was working for Donald, but I don't remember it -- possibly at the point where Donald moved into the new warehouse in 1977 and brought his family on a tour of his new place.
Donald of course was trying to sell the same $400 myth he had sold to me this concept that he was enough of an entrepreneur to make a massive success of himself and possibly equal his father's accomplishments.
In some ways he did.
In the 1980s, Donald managed to relaunch a retail chain that had floundered when he first launched one in 1968.
But perhaps his greatest accomplishment was fostering his son Joshua who would go on to become Counsellor for President Bill Clinton and a presidential speech writer and later a congressman and maybe in the future the first Jewish president of the United States.