“Influencer + Content Marketing” Series: How the Potato Was Made Popular

  • “Would you like fries with that?”

  • “I am a meat and potatoes type of guy!”

  • “Every single diet I ever fell off of was because of potatoes and gravy of some sort.” – Dolly Parton

It might be hard for you to believe, but these sayings about potatoes would have been scandalous and even frightening to the people of France back in 1785.

Yes, I did use the word “frightening” in regards to potatoes. No, I am not exaggerating.

Believe it or not, the potato was once not just an unpopular item but was thought by some people in France to have evil origins.

Now before you think, “Who cares!” and click away you need to realize something.

This story isn’t just about potatoes.

The story I am about to tell you could be one of the oldest examples of influencer marketing that you’ve ever heard of.

Not only that, it reveals an important lesson about the combined power of influencer marketing and content marketing.

Let me tell you the story and then I’ll show you what I mean.

The Amazing Story of How Influencer Marketing and Content Marketing Made the Potato Popular in France

It was the late 1700s in France, and after a series of harsh winters, the people of France were facing starvation.

At this point in time, the potato was seen in France as an unwanted and even evil vegetable:

  • Scientists said it caused leprosy.
  • The priests said it promoted lust.
  • The people thought it was cursed because it looked like a poisonous plant used by witches. And they thought that people who ate it could be controlled by them.
  • Besides all of these facts, the “gourmet people” of the day thought it was tasteless, indelicate, and gave people gas.

But there was a pharmacist named Antoine-Augustin Parmentier who had a whole different view of the potato.

Antoine-Augustin Parmentier

His different view came from his experience as a soldier in the French army. You see, during his time as a soldier, he ended up as a prisoner of war in Germany for several years.

And guess what they fed him in prison?

Yep, potatoes! It was his main source of food while in prison and it kept him and his fellow prisoners alive.

This caused him to realize that the potato could be helpful to his people because it was able to resist harsh weather conditions.

But he knew that the people of France would never eat potatoes if he couldn’t change their extremely negative opinion about them.

So he began a self-study of the chemical makeup of potatoes to try to prove that they weren’t the evil, poisonous vegetable that people thought they were.

And that is when a unique opportunity presented itself. 

PHASE I: Enter the Contest

He would have the chance to use content to attempt to change people’s minds about the potato.

You see, a competition sponsored by the Academy of Besançon was being put on for people to write about, and identify, foods that could help fend off the mass hunger that had come after the famine of 1770.

Parmentier realized this was his chance to begin to change the attitudes of his people about the potato. I say “begin to change” because he knew that it would take more than just content alone to influence the people.

I’ll explain the rest of the ingenious plan he used to change their minds in just a minute. But first, let’s look at how he used content to begin the process of influencing them.

In the paper he submitted, Parmentier began by explaining that he was going to attempt to present the potato as a viable means to fight off famine.

He said that he would do that by “…showing them the potato, the subsistence of a great people, the food of the poor as well as of the rich.”

In his paper he went on to demonstrate:

  • That the potato, which he had analyzed carefully, was not poisonous but formed of a pure starch.
  • It could actually be made to taste really good, depending on how it was cooked and what other ingredients and spices were used.
  • It was easy to cultivate
  • And that it multiplied quickly and was easily grown even in poor soil conditions.

He submitted the paper and included his own personal story of his experience with potatoes in prison…

“Our soldiers ate a lot of potatoes in the last war; They have even made excesses of it, without having been inconvenienced; They were my only resource for more than a fortnight, and I was neither fatigued nor indisposed. “

And what was the result of all of his work and effort to write this paper?

The Academy of Besançon declared him the winner – even despite the fact that the Parliament had put a ban on cultivating the potato back in 1748!

That’s how powerful his arguments in that paper were.

In fact, because of his paper, later in 1772, the members of the Faculty of Medicine of Paris published a paper stating that- without a doubt – potatoes were harmless, safe, and non-toxic.

So his paper obviously impressed the academics of his day, but did it work to influence the COMMON PEOPLE?

I am sorry to tell you this, but the answer is no.

But don’t misunderstand. It would be wrong for you to think that his paper was a complete failure in attempting to influence the people. Why?

Because it was that content, which opened the door for him to be able to implement the other phases of his plan. 

And, as you’re about to see, his ultimate plan was an amazing and ingenious one, one that will teach you many lessons about how to amplify the impact of your own content.

I’ll tell you the rest of his incredible story and show you how you can implement these powerful lessons in a minute.

I need you to first understand what great content can and can’t accomplish

What Great Content Can (and Can’t) Accomplish

If we were to analyze Parmentier’s content we would see that he really did a great job of creating powerful content.

  • He told them that the potato was “the food of the poor as well as of the rich.” (Social Proof)
  • He told them that based on his studies of the makeup of the potato, he found that it actually wasn’t poisonous. (Biological/Scientific Proof) 
  • He told them that it could actually be used to make tasty dishes. (Reframed Perceptions)
  • He told them that it was easy to grow potatoes. (Proof of Ease)
  • He even got his paper featured in a prominent scientific publication. (Power of Association)
  • If that all wasn’t enough, he shared about his own personal experience eating the potato. (Personal Testimony)

You might be wondering, “If Parmentier created such great content, then why didn’t his content have more of an effect on the common people?”

That’s because you have a misunderstanding of what great content alone can actually do. 

Great content can accomplish many things. It can educate people. It can entertain people. It can inspire people. And it can even influence people to some extent.

But great content cannot, on its own, break deeply ingrained fears and beliefs. That’s what Parmentier was up against with the people of France’s beliefs about potatoes.

That’s why creating content was only PART of his plan – a very needed part of his plan.

You see, creating that content in that paper enabled him to take the next step. Because that content established his authority and expertise in the knowledge of potatoes.

It was his content that changed “who” he was in the eyes of the academic leaders and the rulers of France. It powerfully positioned him in their eyes. (See Jesse James: The Legend That Content Marketing Created for more on using content to change your “who.”)

And that positioning enabled him to take the next step in his plan to change the minds of the people about potatoes.

PHASE II: Plant the Crop

King Louis XVI

Creating that paper allowed him access to King Louis XVI. 

In 1785, Kind Louis XVI offered Parmentier two acres of land in the plain of the Sablons near Neuilly. The land the king gave him didn’t have the best soil, but that was exactly what Parmentier wanted, so he could prove how easy potatoes were to grow – even in horrible soil.

The following year, on these two acres, Parmentier planted potatoes. The next year, he brought a bouquet of potato flowers to the king.

King Louis XVI was so pleased with them that he slipped one in his buttonhole and put another one on the wig of Marie Antoinette.

But the common people were still wary of potatoes and they don’t want anything to do with them.

So Parmentier hatched an ingenious plan. 

Watch what happens next…

Parmentier placed soldiers around the fields during the day but left no soldiers there to guard the field at night.

This made the nearby villagers very curious.

There were so curious that they couldn’t help themselves. So they decided to “help themselves” to his potatoes… and stole them!

They thought they had put one over on Parmentier, but the fact was that they had done exactly what he had HOPED they would do! (He also instructed the guards to accept all bribes from people who wanted some of the potatoes.)

Phase II of his plan was a success!

And if you like this part of his plan, wait until you see what he does in the next phase. It’s awesome.

But I don’t want you to miss these two important lessons that we can learn from what Parmentier did here in Phase II, so let me tell you them first.

Two Important Lessons from Phase II

1. If you want to increase the impact and influence of your marketing, then don’t forget the power of SHOWING, not just telling, your prospects what your product can do.

In my book 51 Content Marketing Hacks, this is what I call Content Marketing Hack #23.

“Never forget the power of demonstration. Find ways you can create content that demonstrates your product or service in action.”

Parmentier told them that potatoes were easy to grow and could grow in poor soil, but by actually planting them in poor soil, he helped them see that this was true.

That was a subtle, but important and powerful lesson for those people to see.

Why do I say that?

Because it is said that some of those people who stole his potatoes went home and planted them in their own, nearby fields. (Fields that probably also had inferior soil.)

They saw that if he could grow them in that local soil, then they could too! That is the power of demonstration.

If you want to begin to counteract the ingrained fears and beliefs in your market, then you need to demonstrate the things that your content talks about.

2. The power of putting a “wall” or “guards” around the things you want to be seen as valuable.

The amazing thing about the internet is that it contains so much valuable, free, and easy-to-access content.

The negative thing about the internet is that it also contains so much HORRIBLE, free, easy-to-access content!

Because of this reality, we need to realize an important fact. Since so much content is free and right there at our finger tips, this begins to lessen the value of even the valuable content out there.

In other words, there’s so much great content out there, that is all free and easy to find, that it begins to make your content – no matter how great it is – seem like a commodity, instead of like something people should treasure.

What’s the solution? Do what Parmentier did.

Put guards or a wall around some of your content. That is a subtle way of increasing the value of the content in your prospect’s eyes.

Copyblogger.com did this with some of their content. They took some of the previously written content that they had (and also created some new content) and put it behind a free, membership “wall.”

Copyblogger’s free membership portion of the site

By doing this, they automatically made the older content they placed behind this wall (that was previously “out in the open”) seem more valuable.

And it made all of the new content they created for that membership area (which would have previously just been posted on their blog) more valuable too.

Why is this important? Because when people value your content more, they will pay more attention to it.

And it’s only when people value and pay attention to your content that you will ever have a chance of even BEGINNING to influence and change your market’s deeply ingrained fears and beliefs.

(Hint, Hint. Wink, Wink: In case you haven’t noticed by now, Copyblogger.com isn’t the only one to have a “wall” around some of their content.

I’ve created a guide that will show you how to use a technique that Dickens used to create magnetic content that drew people in. It’s a technique that I use all the time. In fact, I am using it in this post.

Have you signed up for it yet? You can have access to it for free, but it’s in a downloadable area that you can only access with a password.

Sign-up by email and you’ll automatically be sent a link and password, so you can download it right now.)

PHASE II: Plan the Event

  • So far you’ve seen that Parmentier created powerful content that gave him authority and positioned him in the eyes of the academics and rulers in France.
  • He then demonstrated that his content was true by planting potatoes in poor soil.
  • And he made them seem more valuable to the local villagers by putting guards around them.

These first two phases of his plan began to get a small, local group of Parisians to begin planting and eating potatoes.

But Parmentier wasn’t satisfied with those results.

He wanted to change the minds of even more of his people because it was his only way to save them from future famines.

Luckily, he still had one more powerful trick up his sleeve. 

He realized that if he was going to have a larger, widespread acceptance of the potato, then he was going to need to harness the influence of the people that the common people looked up to.

So it’s said that he convinced King Louis XVI that the best way to encourage people to begin planting and eating potatoes was to throw a huge banquet for the king and his friends in which all of the dishes were made from potatoes.

Fries And Ben Franklin

Ben Franklin

Legend has it that Parmentier threw a huge banquet for King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, and other important guests from around France and even from other countries. (Supposedly Ben Franklin was even there!)

At the banquet, they served potato soups, boiled potatoes, potato casseroles, and many other potato dishes.

But guess what the most popular dish that night was? Thinly sliced potatoes that were deep-fried and seasoned.

They later became known to the world as “French Fries.” The king and the guests LOVED the “French Fries.” But the truth is that they also really enjoyed all of the dishes.

When the word spread to the people of France that the king, queen, and all of these other distinguished guests not only ate potatoes but loved them, then it finally shattered the common people’s fears and false beliefs about potatoes.

That is how the common people of France began to gladly plant, eat, and even enjoy, potatoes. And what was the result?

Because of Parmentier’s unprecedented efforts to get the people of France to plant and eat potatoes, many were saved from some future famines.

Parmentier’s Secret Weapon: Influencers + Content Marketing 

Parmentier knew that the first two phases of his plan alone could not dislodge the ingrained fears and beliefs of the majority of people in France.

He knew that they were an important part of the puzzle, but he knew that the missing piece was to tap into the influencers of his day.

He knew that when THEY began to eat potatoes and rave about them, then:

  • That would make the truth he wrote in his paper even more powerful.
  • It would confirm his previous demonstrations.
  • It would prove the value of his “guarded” treasures.

Parmentier somehow realized deep down inside a truth that many content marketers today have forgotten…

Effective marketing is hardly ever built on a single event, channel, or tool. Effective marketing is a process that harnesses the power of multiple events, tools, and channels.

I say that because I want you to realize that even though “Influencer Marketing” seems all the rage right now, on its own, it is still not enough.

You can and should figure out ways to harness the power of “Influencer Marketing.” But don’t give up on content marketing (or other types of marketing) in the process.

They are all needed and must be used TOGETHER if you want to see the greatest influence and results come from your marketing efforts.

Whenever you doubt this fact and are ready to abandon content marketing for influencer marketing (or vice versa), then remember the humble potato and an amazing man named Antoine-Augustin Parmentier.

Part II of My “Influencer + Content Marketing” Series

In this post, I showed you how influencer marketing and content marketing (and a couple of other ingenious marketing techniques) were used separately, but in conjunction with each other, and that amplified the overall results.

But sometimes the two can be combined in a hybrid sort of way to produce the results you want to see.

In my next post, I am going to show you how Thomas Jefferson used influencer and content marketing in a combined way and changed the course of history for the United States.

Stay tuned!

In The Meantime…

1. Sharing is Caring: If you enjoyed this post, then I’d love for you to share it with your friends and followers. (I see this as your “vote” saying, “Yes, please create more content like this!”)

2. Don’t Get Left Out: If you want to be one of the first to be notified when Part 2 is posted, then make sure to subscribe to this blog right now. (You’ll also get other “subscriber only” information sent to you.)

3. Steal Away: I put a “wall” up so that only those who were serious could learn one of the techniques I regularly use to create content that captures people’s attention and keeps them reading. (It’s the technique I used to get your attention and keep you reading this post.)

I locked it away in my guide The Content Marketer’s Ultimate Guide to Creating Content That Captures the Short Attention Spans of Today’s Readers. But if you want access to it, then you can “jump the wall” by entering your email below.

If you’re willing to do that, then you’re welcome to “steal my technique” and plant it in your own content. SIGN-UP BELOW!

 

Sources: cent.ans.free.frweb.archive.orgencyclopedia.comtheoldfoodie.com, and Mysteries at the Museum (Travel Channel)

Scott Aughtmon
I’m author of the book 51 Content Marketing Hacks. I am also a regular contributor to ContentMarketingInstitute.com and I am the person behind the popular infographic 21 Types of Content We Crave.

I’m a business strategist, consultant, content creation specialist, and speaker. I’ve been studying effective marketing and business methods (both online and offline) since 1999.

===> If you would like to see ways that we could work together, then please click here to learn more.

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