Every American admires Thomas Edison. He’s considered one of the most prolific inventors in history, holding 1,093 U.S. patents in his name. He’s also considered a shrewd businessman. Not many people know that he was a marketing genius.

In the 1880’s, Edison put all his chips on the DC (direct current) supply system. The Betamax of its day. George Westinghouse believed in the AC (alternating current) supply system. The VHS of its day. The AC supply system was much more powerful, could supply more houses and needed thinner and cheaper wires. Game over?

Not for Edison. You would expect for an inventor to go back to Menlo Park and try to improve on the DC system or invent a completely new one. That’s not what he did. Instead, he turned a problem into an opportunity.

Edison was against the death penalty. That didn’t hinder him to ask two of his employees, Harold P. Brown and Arthur Kennelly, to develop a new way of killing people on death row. He claimed, electrocution was more humane than hanging. And they decided to use the more powerful AC for this project. Why? Because he wanted to associate AC with danger and death. Why would you allow to power your house with deadly AC that can kill people? What responsible parent would let this horrendously dangerous current get close to their kids?

H.P. Brown began experimenting with AC, killing dogs and cats brought to him by local kids who got a quarter per pet. All of this under the mantle of research but always inviting the press to watch a few killings. Edison gave his full backing to execution by wire to the government in Albany, recommending the best generator for the job: “Alternating machines, manufactured principally in this country by George Westinghouse.” He also tried to popularize the term for being electrocuted as being “Westinghoused.” Edison even had to use subterfuge to acquire an AC generator, pretending it was for use in a university, immediately shipping it to New York through a South American country.

Edison’s Betamax DC lived on for a long time. In Helsinki until the late 1940s, Stockholm and parts of Boston in the late 1960s. More than 120 years after its invention, the last direct-current distribution by Con Edison was shut down.

We can argue about Edison’s ethics all day long. But we can’t argue about his genius as a marketer.

Many people in marketing, especially Social Media, believe that great products are everything. “Oh, I wish I could work on the iPhone/Zappos account.” I would rather work on the Betamax account. The Zune account. The Ford Pinto account. Good advertising solves advertising problems. Good agencies solve business problems.