Want an interesting book for some of those long winter evenings just around the corner. Log on to amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com and order a copy of Cotton's Renaissance — A Study in Market Innovation.

While the intent of the book is to trace the history of Cotton Incorporated — the producer-funded research and promotion organization — and its role in rescuing U.S. cotton from its status as an also-ran fiber and turning it into one of the 20th century's greatest marketing successes, the authors also skillfully weave into the narrative a wide-ranging roster of the people and events involved in this remarkable story.

There's potential for such an undertaking to be deadly dull and academic. This book isn't. Authors Timothy Curtis Jacobson and George David Smith haven't overlooked the human perspective in their historical account.

Though it chronicles the events that led to the creation, nurturing, and triumphs of Cotton Incorporated, it doesn't lose sight of the grower leaders who've stood by cotton and believed in it through thick and thin — from California's Ted Sheely to the High Plains' Eddie Smith to the Mississippi Delta's Percy family to South Carolina's Johnny Gramling, and many others who've helped bring the industry from mules and hand pickers to the era of mechanization and biotechnology.

It was from the hard times of the '20s and '30s, which saw the price of cotton drop to around 6 cents a pound in 1933, that the government cotton program was birthed and from which the impetus came for the 1938 formation of the National Cotton Council, the first industrywide, commodity-specific organization in the history of American agriculture.

Oscar Johnston, credited with pulling together cotton industry leaders into the council, said prophetically: “If major problems are to be resolved, it is something we do as an industry ourselves…” Unanimous resolutions quickly followed to unite under one banner of research, promotion, and political alertness.”

The demands of World War II hoisted America, and cotton along with it, out of the Great Depression. But waiting in the wings was a new enemy for cotton — synthetic fibers. To counter the competition from man-made fibers, industry leaders increasingly saw the need for expanded cotton research and promotion, with an emphasis on quality. Everyone connected with cotton knew its superiority, but the buying public needed to be sold.

That need led to the Cotton Producers Institute, under the aegis of the National Cotton Council, and with the rallying cry of “a dollar per bale,” growers were enlisted to support research and promotion. In 1965 Congress authorized the cotton checkoff program.

But even with money coming in, cotton's promotion efforts paled beside those for synthetics. Industry leaders “were convinced that cotton's insiders were but innocents abroad in the world of marketing… and it was time to seek professional help.”

A report by the Booz-Allen consulting firm bluntly concluded the program “needed shock treatment.” Dukes Wooters, a Harvard MBA and Reader's Digest super ad salesman, was enlisted in cotton's cause, and on a plane from New York to Dallas he sketched out the Cotton Incorporated concept. In January 1971, the new name became official.

Wooters arm-twisted a San Francisco graphics designer into designing the Cotton Seal, which they had no way of knowing would become one of the most successful trademarks in the history of marketing. Later would come “The Fabric of Our Lives” advertising campaign. Combined with the Cotton Seal, it was a match made in heaven.

The impact of Cotton Incorporated on the markets for cotton is a remarkable achievement in organizational entrepreneurship, the authors say; as an independent, non-political, public-private company wholly dedicated to building markets for its commodity, it is unique.

It's an engrossing story. Get the book and see for yourself.


e-mail: hbrandon@primediabusiness.com