Patent Medicines

Old Time piano playing with male voiceover with crackling sounds Radio announcer: What is it that smells when you’re going into a drugstore. Camphor-No, Iodine-No Rose Water- No No! Witch hazel- No No No! Turpentine- No No No Amity- No! Lydia Pinkham’s Compound Succotash Narrator: During the Civil War army doctors routinely treated men with highly addictive compounds. After the war, ads for dubious health remedies, get rich quick schemes and other fakery filled the pages of newspapers and magazines. Settlers in North America were often removed from doctors and the instant relief pitch of these so called patent medicines was appealing. Initially sold by peddlers in traveling medicine shows the medicines were pitched between the entertainment The hucksters came, set up, sold their goods and disappeared. But what exactly was in those medicines? Usually it was 20 to 40 per cent alcohol, cocaine, heroin, and morphine. People may not have gotten better but they sure felt good! After the peddlers left town, advertising was necessary. Typically garish type with eye catching illustrations. There were essentially no laws prohibiting the mixing of almost any ingredients making any claim for what the potion would cure and buying advertising by the yard to bellow those claims The US patent office would only grant patents to new and useful inventions For this reason, few patent medicines were actually even patented! Critics blasted the ethics, but their success showed the endless selling through various media, painted messages on barns, fences and rocks In 1905, one critic wrote- Gullible America will spend this year some 75 million dollars in the purchase of patent medicines. In consideration of this sum it will swallow huge quantities of alcohol, an appalling of opiates and narcotics, a wide assortment of various drugs ranging from powerful and dangerous heart depressants to insidious liver stimulants and far in excess of all other ingredients, undiluted fraud! Bottlers believed that an easily remembered name meant success. They chose name like Radway’s Ready Relief or other mysterious sounding names. A story was spun extolling the exotic origins of the new magic elixer. Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound made its commercial appearance in 1875. for $1 a bottle. Lydia was a marketer. She wrote handbills for her sons to distribute with slogans like-Only a woman can understand a woman’s ills The female complaint was widely advertised in the backs of newspapers and women’s magazines. Ads played on themes of the pain and suffering of being a woman. And featured testimonials from women claiming to have been healed from all manner of problems. Lydia’s testimonials were a potent device to build reader confidence Readers were encouraged to write to Lydia and of course she responded. Well, not actually always Lydia herself In 1890, advertising was slashed. And sales fell 80 per cent. In response, heavy advertising resumed And over the next decade sales increased exponentially. The campaign demonstrated that advertising pays! Even today, advertisers quote the story of Lydia dramatic sales drop to reinforce the idea that nothing works like advertising! Lydia’s company got into a little trouble in 1905 when Ladies Home Journal revealed that Lydia was responding to women’s letters even after she was dead! Some were outraged, but many believed in the product and kept on buying. Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound is still available today. In Canada in 1890 Senator George T Fulford from Brockville bought the patent for Dr Williams Pink Pills for Pale People for $53. Over the next 15 years, he spent 1 million dollars on advertising the product and became a multi-millionaire. Old time radio announcer- What is it that smells when you go into a drug store radio continues playing -old time piano playing Yes, North America was gullible. But are we any smarter today when the television is filled with advertisements for drugs telling us about ailments that we don’t even know exist? And infomercials from the likes of Dr Ho, Tony Little and Ron Popeil? Dial up the Dial-O-Matic and spray me some spray on hair I’m pulling out my Flowbee to have a haircut!

Leave a Reply

(*) Required, Your email will not be published