Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Wine, Women and Bongs


Years ago, I briefly worked for a pharma advertising agency. In those days drug ads were only aimed at physicians. Still, for every claim made in the ad, 3 items from the literature supported the claims had to be put as footnotes.
One day, I was asked to look through a HUGE pile of studies, to find 3 claims in support of a certain sleeping pill that hadn't been much used of late as it caused dependence. The Creative Director wanted to pitch it for 'old folk' as old folk didn't get addicted or something, and as old folk in homes were all sedated. All very cyncial.
I pored over the studies, but I noticed that there was some evidence the drug caused 'rebound' in older women. That means once off the drug they couldn't go back to sleep.
I went to show this to the Creative Director who basically said 'Ignore It'.
Well, I didn't work long in that business. And the people who did were very cynical about drugs. Many wouldn't touch a pharmaceutical and were big into alternative medicines.
The consolation was that these ads were aimed only at physicians, who were able to separate the sheep from the goats.
Well, you know, when you compare 100 years ago to now, one area that seems to have changed little is "health." Sure, science and medicine has progressed exponentially, and all kinds of old diseases can be cured (while other new lifestyle diseases are created), but ideas and attitudes about health have changed little. We the people are not critical thinkers in this regard. (I write this a few minutes after having taken by detox greens.)
I went to google archives to see what I could find about morphine and cocaine being readily available last century, but by 1900 it appears cocaine and morphine for recreational use were already illegal and the press was full of stories of drug pushers (who were already being associated with mentally ill people a la Reefer Madness). The fact that average little old ladies were inbibing the stuff a decade or so back didn't quite jive with this new view of the addict as a social misfit or sociopath.
Oddly, many medicines advertised in the Gazette, even some for baby, made a claim that they DIDN'T contain cocaine or opiates, which means that the older medicines must have contained these same products.
Even weirder, beer and wine and even whiskey were pitched as tonics. (Well, I think wine is a tonic, that's for sure.) I know that in some of the Nicholson letters people speak about being given wine and port for their illnesses by their physicians.
Molson's porter is pitched as a tonic. As is Dow. Molson, however, is pitched as a tonic FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY.
Tonics were pitched to young girls who studied too hard. (sic).
One of the weirder clips I found was from 1886, where an actress was promoting a new drink as a better tonic than whiskey. The drink? Milk. This actress, Ellen Terry, is said to have drunk 3 or four glasses of milk with each meal (ahuh) and that when the other girls in her neighbourhood heard of this (I guess she was a beauty) they followed suit. "What began as a freak of fashion has continued, because the women have grown to like milk." Oh, I just looked her up, a famous Shakespearean actress and great aunt to Gielgud and she lived to 81.
Oh, and I tried to find some articles about soda fountains from 1900 or so. I had one clipping from the Nicholson collection from 1910 that says that soda fountains are serving up 'chemicals injurious to health' , in the form of dyes and preservatives in their sodas.
So I guess once the products had to get rid of their opiates and such, the fun stuff, they added dyes and preservatives to keep the fizz and fun in their products.
I also found an add for Coca Cola in 1909. Very interesting. "Hold it up. See how it sparkles and bubbles with life. It suggests Joy and Laughter." .... The spin had already begun. (They went from 'suggests' to "is" in a century.