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Selling a Vision

EASTER SET ME THINKING about who invented the Easter egg. Whoever it was, their idea was a shrewd marketing ploy which has proved to be a resounding success.

Novel ways of marketing chocolate are not new of course.

Sulpice Debauve was doing it at the beginning of the nineteenth-century. A former pharmacist to Louis XVI, Debauve opened the first chocolate shop in Paris in the Faubourg Saint-Germain-des-Près. He combined his talents as a pharmacist and chocolate maker with a flair for marketing what he called “healthy” chocolate.

He marketed his chocolate, laced with exotic and novel ingredients, as being efficacious for people with weak constitutions, nervous stomachs and chronic ailments amongst other things. It was the start of a huge success.

By 1818, Debauve had moved to 30 Rue-des-Saints-Pères. His shop, designed by Percier & Fontaine, architects to Napoleon I, still stands and is now an official historic monument. Today, the chocolates of Debauve & Gallais are sold around the world.

Someone else who knew a thing or two about marketing was Aristide Boucicaut, a former pedlar and founder of what was probably the world’s first department store – Au Bon Marché.

Boucicaut’s idea was revolutionary. Under the Ancien Régime the typical retail outlet was the boutique specialising in one variety of product with no fixed pricing – bargaining was the rule. Boucicaut changed all that.

The change that he brought to retailing included everything we take for granted today. He was the first to “pile it high and sell it cheap”, he introduced the selling of more than one variety of product under the same roof, fixed pricing, the price ticketing of individual items, free entry encouraging customers to browse at will, the clearance sale, and for his employees – commission on sales and participation in profits.

The sound inside Au Bon Marché:

I think we can safely say that Boucicaut’s idea caught on – and now it seems everybody is doing it.

The chocolaterie Debauve & Gallais still sells “healthy” chocolate and it has retained its distinctive boutique look. Au Bon Marché is still a department store and it has retained its Boileau architecture on the outside although little of it remains on the inside. Both are distinctive parts of the Parisian landscape.

And … I still don’t know who invented the Easter egg – but I do know that it had to be someone with the determination to sell a vision – someone like Sulpice Debauve or Aristide Boucicaut.