11 August 2011

Cigarettes and Listerine

Creating and playing on consumer insecurities, advertisers told potential buyers that one key to maintaining beauty, youth, energy and attractiveness was health and personal hygiene. The actress Constance Talmadge, promoting cigarettes, declared, 'There's real health in Lucky Strike ... For years this has been no secret to those men who keep fit and trim. They know that Luckies steady their nerves and do not harm their physical condition. They know that Lucky Strike is the favourite cigarette of many prominent athletes, who must keep in good shape'. Advertisers' success in manipulating the gullible buying public became an article of faith. An essay of 1922 on the subject opened with the words, 'Do I understand you to say that you do not believe in advertising? Indeed! Soon you will be telling me that you do not believe in God'.

In the early 1920s Listerine, variously used in the nineteenth century as a surgical antiseptic, a cure for venereal disease and a floor-cleaner, was transformed by advertising into a magical product which would free its user from the dreadful, life-ruining scourge of halitosis - a faux-medical term for bad breath invented by the marketing men. Their advertisements showed a downcast girl holding her friend's bridal bouquet above the caption, 'Often a bridesmaid, but never a bride'. The cause of her loneliness was 'chronic halitosis' - which, happily, Listerine (rebranded as a mouthwash) promised to cure. Listerine's profits soared from $115,000 to $8 million in just seven years.

- Lucy Moore, Anything Goes: A biography of the Roaring Twenties, London, 2008, p.146-7.