Iconic Ads: Steinway – The Instrument of the Immortals

When Rubicam found out that famous composers and pianists used Steinway, the phrase formed in his mind: ‘The Instrument of the Immortals’

Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg was born in Germany and raised there.

He began his career as a carpenter before becoming an apprentice to a musical instrument maker. And then he started making instruments. It began with guitars. Then pianos.

He left Germany in 1850 and relocated to New York City, where he founded a company to manufacture pianos.

He changed his name to Henry E. Steinway & formed Steinway & Sons in 1853.

N. W. Ayer & Son, the advertising agency persuaded Steinways in 1900 that the company needed advertising to direct the Steinway appeal to ordinary buyers.

In 1919, a young copywriter named Raymond Rubicam was asked to work on the account.

He was to prepare three full-page magazine advertisements for Steinway using the same layouts as earlier Steinway advertisements.

Raymond couldn’t come up with anything after hours and hours of thinking. He took a step back and examined Steinway’s information file.

Rubicam stumbled across a proof book of old Steinway advertisements while searching for the copy that best matched the client, and the idea came to him in a flash. In his own words, here’s what happened “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 immortals were notable pianists and composers who utilised Steinway pianos, such as Liszt, Paderewski, and Rachmaninoff.

He instantly scribbled it down and examined it. It looked good.

Since he felt it was too good, he decided to leave it in a drawer and come back to it after a few days. And when he did. He still sounded great.

He discussed it with Arthur Sullivan, the art director. Arthur told Raymond that Steinway had a large vault that held oil paintings of all the famous artists who played on a Steinway. However, Ayer was prohibited from utilising the artwork in their advertisements for whatever reason.

It wasn’t confidential. When a buyer purchased a Steinway, they would receive a photo book including these artworks. Raymond, however, was unable to make use of them.

Raymond circumvented that by having models dress up as well-known artists and photographing them.

He took the finished ad to Jerry Lauck, the account executive. Raymond asked Jerry to convince Steinway to go ahead with this campaign. Since Steinway had initially objected to the concept of a national advertising campaign, finding it to be unappealing and not in good taste.

Steinway agreed to let it be used once. But then came the sales figures. And he was astounded by the great response.

Every ad since then has been based on this premise. Each advertisement featured famous musicians or composers who have played the Steinway piano.

Each advertisement indicated that having a Steinway piano would provide you with the same level of distinction. That no true music enthusiast (like the Immortals it mentioned) would accept anything less. And that there was nothing else like a Steinway piano out there.

Steinway & Sons made a net profit of less than $100,000 ($1.2 million now) in 1920. Steinway’s net profits increased over the next ten years after this campaign. 1924 was their finest year, with a net profit of $1,500,000 ($19.4MM today).

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