Normark Corporation

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Normark Corporation

10395 Yellow Circle Dr.
Minnetonka, Minnesota 55345-9101
Telephone: (612) 933-7060
Fax: (612) 933-0046
Web site:



Based in Minnetonka, Minnesota, Normark Corporation was the exclusive U.S. distributor for Rapala, a Finnish-made fishing lure that was the leader in its market segment. Normark had long worked with Carmichael Lynch, a Minneapolis-based advertising agency noted for its many accounts with makers and distributors of sports-related merchandise. Over the years Carmichael Lynch turned out a number of significant print and television ads for Normark, but the company's 1998 advertising was much more limited. By far the most prominent piece was a small—but highly effective—ad that ran in World Traveler, the in-flight magazine of Northwest Airlines, late in the year. Budget for the ad, or that of Normark's overall 1998 advertising, was not disclosed.

Rapala was a family-owned business whose founder developed a unique lure in the 1930s. It entered the U.S. market in the early 1960s with the founding of the company that would become Normark and gained great exposure thanks to a 1962 article in Life magazine. Rapala lures became so popular with U.S. anglers that competition was not a significant factor.

The 1998 promotion marked a new and interesting strategic direction for Normark, whose World Traveler ad offered businesspeople the opportunity to purchase custom lures engraved with their corporate logo. The latter, Normark suggested, would make great promotional gifts. "What we found," a company executive stated in a news release, "is many of these companies looked at our fishing lures as a unique way to bond with their customers or show their sales force a sign of appreciation, rather than giving them another golf ball or paperweight."


Rapala founder Lauri Saarinen, better known as Lauri Rapala, was born in central Finland in 1905. While working as a commercial fisherman, Rapala hit upon the idea of developing a lure that imitated the movement of minnows, which were eaten by larger fish. In 1935 he fashioned his first lure from cork. Because he did not have much money, Rapala had to use common materials that he could find in the village where he lived. He used tinfoil from cheese packets and chocolate bars to make the lure shiny, and he melted used photographic negatives to coat the surface. Rapala's first lure is still on display at the company's Vaaksy, Finland, headquarters: black on the top, gold along the sides, and white on the bottom, it is the same color as the minnows that swam in Lake Paijanne, where Rapala fished.

The lure proved enormously successful, and with it Rapala was able to catch 600 pounds of fish a day. While serving in the Finnish army during World War II he began to interest his comrades in the lure. They were using a much cruder method to catch fish, dynamiting a lake, and Rapala proved to them that he could catch more fish with his lure than they could with their dynamite. After the war, the Rapala family—Lauri, his four sons, and his wife Elma, who worked as bookkeeper—founded the Rapala company and began manufacturing the lures.


Rapala had a huge business among U.S. anglers through Normark, the company that held exclusive distribution rights to Rapala lures in the United States. That company was founded by Ron Weber and Ray Ostrom, two Minnesotans impressed by the quality of Rapala lures. Weber discovered the product by chance in 1959 when a friend received a Rapala lure from a relative who worked at the U.S. embassy in Helsinki. Enthusiastic over his new find, Weber wrote to the company requesting 500 lures, and Rapala's international business was born. A year later the company that would become Normark set up shop in the basement of Ostrom's Marine & Sporting Goods Store.

The Rapala product held instant appeal for fishermen seeking more lightweight lures, and its ability to catch fish made it an instant winner despite its relatively high price. When Weber and Ostrom first went into business—they initially called their enterprise the Rapala Company and later Nordic Enterprises before settling on Normark in 1965—typical lures sold for 99 cents, and many anglers balked at Rapala's $1.95 price tag. When they saw what it could do, however, they quickly began buying the lures in large quantities.

The name Normark was meant to symbolize the northern United States, and indeed Normark did much of its business among anglers—a group that is largely, though not exclusively, male—fishing in that area. Minnesota itself was known as the "Land of 10,000 Lakes," and many small bodies of water surrounded the Great Lakes region. But the appeal of Normark equipment extended throughout the nation, and its lures became as much a part of fishing in other areas as they were in the north.


Carmichael Lynch, the Minneapolis advertising agency that handled Normark's Rapala lure and Blue Fox tackle accounts, was "unofficially known as the master of pastimes," wrote Kathy DeSalvo in SHOOT, "due to its fishing, boating, biking, and in-line skating related accounts." In addition to Normark, Carmichael Lynch's other sporting clients included Stren Fishing Lines, Polaris snowmobiles and watercraft (Polaris moved to Martin/Williams in 1998), Schwinn Cycling & Fitness, Rollerblade, and Harley-Davidson Motor Company. "In fact," DeSalvo noted, "it's probably the only agency with Harleys parked in its lobby." President and executive creative director Jack Supple told her, "For a long time, people thought it was, like, a motorcycle gang here."

DeSalvo described a Rollerblade spot by Carmichael Lynch, directed by Eric Young of Young & Company: "A beautiful young woman, 'Colette,' walks down her front steps and chucks a bouquet of roses. The footage is intercut with shots of a letter written by a suitor, explaining he'd wanted to 'stop by' but couldn't because 'the hill's too steep.' We learn that the unrequited lover's skates lacked the patented AVT brakes, 'the easiest way to stop from the company that got it all started.'" Supple explained his agency's appeal: "It isn't just fishing or hobby accounts; it's any 'enthusiast' account—even if that's stretched as far as a bank or a turkey. It can be 'enthusiasm' as well; that's what you should feel in the work."

It was perhaps no accident that Supple himself was a fishing enthusiast, as reported by Doug Smith in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star-Tribune. "I mix business and pleasure," he told Smith. "You see, Rapala is one of our accounts. What better way to develop ideas for lure advertisements than by going fishing?" To judge from Supple's easy handling of fishing lingo, he spent plenty of time on the lakes: describing one fishing adventure, he said, "It was bluebird sky and lots of sun, and you don't really want that. We were throwing black Vibrax bucktails out…. On the next cast, I was figure-eighting (swirling the lure in a figure-eight at the side of the boat), hoping [the fish] would come back, when all of a sudden, this 51-incher came out of nowhere. It was cool."


Another Minnesota company, Lindy-Little Joe, made lures in the 1990s, and indeed, Dennis Anderson of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star-Tribune lamented the fact that large companies such as it and Normark dominated the field. "Long gone are the times when small, independent firms could hand-stamp a few lures a day and expect to make a profit," he wrote. "Onetime notable manufacturers such as National Bait Company of Minneapolis and the Paul Bunyan Bait Company of the Twin Cities are now absent from the scene. So is the Preston, Minn., firm that once produced the Lazy Ike. Actually, the Lazy Ike—which today is produced by Pradcoin Fort Smith, Ark.—was once manufactured by two companies, one in Decorah, Iowa, and one in Preston, Minn. As one might expect, a court battle ensued over rights to the name, and the Iowa firm … ultimately prevailed."

Clearly a great many of Rapala's would-be competitors had been consigned to oblivion, their names known only to enthusiasts and scholars of fishing arcana such as Anderson. Though it was certainly not the only maker of lures and other fishing equipment, Rapala did not face any stiff competition. Noting the 60th anniversary of Rapala lures in 1996, Outdoor Life magazine called them "the most popular lure of all time." By that point Rapala was turning out some 15 million lures a year, with plants in Finland and Iceland, and selling its product in more than 120 countries. Revenues had reached $100 million, with annual growth at a staggering 15 percent. It was an impressive achievement for a company that had started with a penniless fisherman, and many years after Lauri Rapala's death in 1975, the company remained in the hands of his family.


Rapala's U.S. advertising perhaps had its beginning with an August 17, 1962, story in Life magazine. The cover featured Marilyn Monroe, who had just died, and inside was a small article entitle "A Lure Fish Can't Pass Up." This, of course, was the best kind of advertising—unpaid and unrequested—and it had phenomenal results. Lauri Rapala's grandson, who became the firm's CEO in 1989, told John Steinbreder of Outdoor Life, "People wanted my grandfather's plugs so badly they were renting them from tackle shops for $5 a day. With a $25 deposit! And that was at a time when the lures were selling for only a dollar apiece."

With Carmichael Lynch in the 1980s and 1990s, Rapala pursued a much more scientific advertising strategy, using print ads and carefully targeted spots on cable television. "I don't think there is anything more targeted than the fishing category," Rapala's Tom Mackin told William Spain of Advertising Age. "We can buy a saltwater fishing show or a walleye fishing show or a bass-fishing show" on networks such as ESPN and TNN. Such networks, Mackin said, "are a very targeted and efficient way to reach [Rapala's] audience. There is no waste involved. It is buying TV with the same strategy we would buy print."

Among notable earlier print advertising Carmichael Lynch did for Normark's Blue Fox line was a television and print campaign in the 1980s, "One Drop Is Powerful Magic," to promote its Dr. Juiceline of scents, which were designed to draw fish to a lure. A low-cost 1988 spot for the Foxee Jig proved highly effective, as did an August 1995 print ad. Of the latter, Lambeth Hochwald in Sales & Marketing Management wrote: "To achieve Normark's goal, using large type that nearly filled a two-page spread, the ad 'shouted' that if the product didn't reap a reward, customers [should] stop fishing and find a new hobby—in this case, golf." Hochwald singled out this ad, along with four others by other agencies, as an example of exciting advertising.

Carmichael Lynch's work for Normark in 1998, by contrast, was much less prominent. Only one piece gained notice, and then only some time later, but it was worth the wait. Described in a Normark news release as "a little, half-page ad," the advertisement ran in World Traveler, Northwest Airlines' in-flight magazine, late in the year and promoted the idea of fishing lures as unique promotional gifts for use by businesspeople. Rapala offered to print a corporate logo on the side of the lure, thus making it an unusual and memorable gift to exchange as a means of sealing deals between businesses.


It was a simple idea, but it caught on, according both to Rapala's own news release and to a small article that appeared in the Arizona Republic in May 1999. Mackin, Rapala's vice president of marketing, said that within days of the ad's publication, the company received requests from an array of large corporations, including Coca-Cola, Merrill Lynch, 3M, Volkswagen North America, Cargill, Michelin/Uniroyal, and Northwest Airlines itself. As of May 1999, Normark had sold more than 60,000 of the specially imprinted lures.

"I think we really tapped into something," Mackin said. "We initially placed the ads as a test. We saw it as a way to extend our business to a new segment of the market, selling direct business-to-business." The Normark news release also quoted Barbara May, executive director of Sales and Marketing Executives International in Alexandria, Virginia. "As business becomes more cutthroat, sales and marketing executives are exploring opportunities that help them bond better with their clients," May said. "The response to the Rapala fishing lure doesn't surprise me. Companies are focusing harder than ever on one-to-one relationships with customers. To do that, they sometimes need to give mementoes with meaning." Though it planned "to move forward with other marketing tools to fuel this promotion," at the time of the news release, Rapala had no plans for any follow-up advertising to support the lure offer.


Anderson, Dennis. "Inventiveness Is Minnesota's Angling Legacy." Minneapolis-St. Paul Star-Tribune, April 11, 1999, p. 5-S.

――――――. "One Man's Passion: Without Lauri Rapala's Lures, Anglers Are Like Fish Out of Water." Minneapolis-St. Paul Star-Tribune, May 9, 1999, p. 18-C.

――――――. "Big Fish Don't Lie: Minnesota Angler Larry Dahlberg 'Hunts for Big Fish' Every Week on His Popular ESPN Show." Minneapolis-St. Paul Star-Tribune, May 14, 1999, p. 1-C.

"The Arizona Republic Business Buzz Column." Arizona Republic, May 21, 1999.

"Catch a Bass, Seal the Deal." Business Wire, May 11, 1999.

DeSalvo, Kathy. "Serious Sports." SHOOT, July 14, 1995, p. 34.

Ecker, Don. "Casting About for Right Tackle." Bergen County (New Jersey) Record, January 14, 1998, p. S-8.

Hochwald, Lambeth. "It's the Sizzle That Sells." Sales & Marketing Management, April 1, 1997, p. 50.

Obolensky, Kira. "Carmichael Lynch: Turning Admen into Enthusiasts." Graphis, May-June 1998, p. 48.

Smith, Doug. "Legends You Don't Know: Jack Supple, Muskie Man." Minneapolis-St. Paul Star-Tribune, April 11, 1999, p. 4-S.

Spain, William. "Fishing for Sales Through Cable." Advertising Age, March 27, 1995, p. S-6.

Steinbreder, John. "The Value of a Plug: Lauri Rapala's Hand-Carved Cork Plug, the Most Popular Lure of All Time, Celebrates Its Diamond Jubilee." Outdoor Life, November 1996, p. 10.

                                                Judson Knight

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