I wonder which is father...

01 April 2015

Cultural Studies | History

The guidelines for creating the archetypal ‘advertisement’, be it on television or in written form, seemed to me to be relatively straightforward; ensure clear product placement, create an element of desirability and use clear, bold branding.

However, in recent years this ethos has been challenged by marketing campaigns that stretch these boundaries; by creating adverts which are memorable for more reasons than simply identifying the product itself. For example, the current MoneySuperMarket ‘Epic Strut’ campaign, which depicts Dave, a man who has just saved money on his car insurance, dancing through the streets in high heels and hot pants! Another example of this ‘alternative’ method of advertising is Cadbury’s, Phil Collins-loving, drumming Gorilla! People remember and talk about these adverts because of the bizarre and comedic way that the products have been advertised, not solely because of the alleged merits of the products themselves. 

Since beginning work on the forthcoming ‘Popular Medicine in America, 1800-1900’ collection, I have examined hundreds of trade cards, including the following advert for Dr. Avery’s Cough Syrup. 

Image © The Library Company of Philadelphia. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 

While this advert from the late nineteenth century didn't ‘trend’ on the internet, as its modern equivalents have, I was left wondering if the reasons behind using this imagery to advertise a cough medicine may have been done for the same reason; to create a talking point and, thereby, increase product awareness. There certainly appears to be no obvious connection between a cough remedy and orphaned goslings! 

Another example of innovative advertising from the nineteenth century is shown by the trade cards for Mrs Dinsmore’s Cough and Croup Balsam. When shown together these three separate trade cards make a set, depicting the fate of a frog who was tempted by an unguarded duck egg. 

Image © The Library Company of Philadelphia. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 

In addition to using imagery which is unrelated to the product being advertised, the separation of the story onto a number of trade cards perhaps encouraged people to seek out the next in the series; again enhancing product visibility. A modern day equivalent could be the robot ‘Brian’, who’s adventures are depicted across several television adverts for ‘confused.com’; or the story of the abandoned baby meercat bought to us via several ‘comparethemarket’ adverts. 

I must conclude that the world of advertising isn't as straightforward as I first thought and, as evidenced by the trade cards from the nineteenth century, perhaps never has been. It appears that the use of funny and, in some cases somewhat morbid imagery is not an invention of the modern marketing industry. 

Trade Cards, advertising the medicines and treatments available during the 19th Century, constitute just one part of the ‘Popular Medicine in America, 1800-1900’ project. The collection also includes a large selection of printed books, pamphlets, anatomy guides and a vast array of textual ephemera. The project will be released in August 2015 (full access will be restricted to authenticated academic institutions which have purchased a licence).

About the Author

Hayley High

Hayley High

Since joining Adam Matthew as an editorial assistant in September 2014, I have worked on a number of varied and exciting projects including Popular Medicine in America 1800-1900, African American Communities, Mass Tourism, East India Company and Colonial America. My academic background is in history and sociology, with a particular interest in the histories of crime and medicine.