It’s no secret that some advertisements try and make the subject seem as great as possible, at least within reason, since that’s the whole point of advertising.
Of course you want your product to seem like the best of its kind, the only logical option, and the best bang for your buck.
However, when advertisers go a little too far with their claims, making promises that seem a little hard to keep, such claims just end up being funny.
A recent example of false and exaggerated advertising comes from the experiences of my generation: the troubles of pre-ordering video games.
Many game publishers allow customers to pay for games way in advance with extra benefits, which often include extras such as posters and figurines. It can be both disappointing and hilarious to see companies advertise a fancy collector’s edition of a game before the player even gets to see what was promised.
Such experiences may parallel some of the broken promises made in nineteenth century advertisements, including some once spotted in nineteenth century editions of the Ashburton Guardian
One advert from an 1879 Ashburton Guardian, which can also be found in many other papers of the period, describes Epps’s Breakfast Cocoa from James Epps and Co, homeopathic chemists, London.
Eloquently worded, this piece claims that “Mr. Epps has provided our breakfast tables with a delicately-flavoured beverage which may save us many heavy doctors’ bills.”
How, you may ask? Well, the ad claims that “by the judicious use of such articles of diet, a constitution may be gradually built up until strong enough to resist every tendency to disease.”
Basically, the ad claims that by drinking cocoa, or by maintaining some sort of good diet involving hot drinks in general, you can get sick less often.
Seems like common sense to me, and almost a way to trick somebody who was not reading between the lines even in the slightest to think that the Epp’s Breakfast Cocoa is perfect cure-all. Very sneaky.
In a previous article last year, which discussed diseases and patent medicines such as Lane’s Emulsion, I mentioned a product known as Holloway’s Pills. This product claimed in all of its advertisements that it could essentially cure any and all ailments, and were famously “unrivalled for their purifying, aperient, and strengthening properties.”
The product claimed to alleviate headaches, palpitation, indigestion, and were “specially serviceable in complaints peculiar to females.” According to such adverts, no matter what ailed you, whether invalid or simply a bit sick, Holloway’s Pills and ointments would set you right no matter what. I’ll take your whole stock!
Hop to it
One advertisement from 1885 warns the public about “unscrupulous firms” trying to “force” a particular false product upon New Zealand under the pretence that it is made in the United States, stating that the only these genuine American Hop Bitters are made by Dr Soule.
Instead of opting for stating the benefits of the product and pointing out its qualities, this advertisement instead reads like a piece of propaganda by warning the public that false bitters are going to subvert the status quo.
“We wish to warn all honest and unsuspecting people against this DECEPTION,” the advert screams at the reader. Not the kind of thing to make me want to buy those bitters.
Advertising campaigns may sometimes seem strange today, but the essence has not changed for hundreds of years.
If you want to sell your product, clearly sometimes it seems like a good idea to make wild claims – and this may work for certain things – but certainly don’t try to scare people with, it may end badly for you and the buyer.
By Connor Lysaght
- An interesting advert from Ashburton’s past, with not nearly as much exaggeration as some others
- An advertisement for Epp’s Breakfast Cocoa, 1879.
- A colour advertisement for Epp’s Breakfast Cocoa, date unknown.
- Two pottles of Beecham’s Pills, originally advertised as a cure-all like Holloway’s Pills, from the Ashburton Museum collection.