The Way We Were (1910-1920)March 1, 2007 By: American Salon Staff American Salon
Advertising slogans, catch phrases and taglines are used as part of our everyday speech. Today, we take it for granted, but before World War I, advertising had a rocky reputation. As the amount of stuff one could buy grew and ad makers turned selling goods into an artistic medium, advertising emerged as one of the most important forms of cultural expression in the early 20th century.
Monte Christo Magic Hair Tonic was touted as excellent food for the hair. What's more, the "superior product" contained medicinal properties; it claimed to cure dandruff and all other scalp troubles.
Sure, advertising had been around for ages—quite literally. Think of the big-mouthed huckster selling goods in crowded city streets. After the Civil War, however, advertising turned from simply a printed list of purchasable items available at a particular store to a method of persuasion used by manufacturers that was aimed at attracting customers and encouraging brand loyalty. Art took an increasingly important role in the place of an advertisement, as did snappy copy that convinced consumers of the item's uniqueness. As the number of magazines, journals and newspapers grew exponentially around the turn of the century, advertising became essential to a product's success and came to reflect the mind-boggling diversity of the American market. No longer local in its scope, advertising became increasingly important as a national market for products arose.
Scheffler's Instantaneous Colorine for the Hair claimed to be like nothing ever known in the history of the hair trade.
Despite its widespread use, advertising (and the Madison Avenue firms that came to be associated with it) got a bad rep. Moralists cried that ads were misleading and promised more than the products delivered. (It's a good thing these guys never saw Anna Nicole's Trim Spa ads.) Religious leaders, cultural critics and social workers wrote newspaper editorials on the evils of advertising and how it encouraged unbridled consumption, especially for women, who inherently lacked self-control. Advertising firms responded with attempts to self-regulate by forming trade associations to police outlandish claims. They also played up their role as spokesman for modernity and educators of the masses.
The advertising industry played a pivotal role in selling World War I to the public, even creating ads to sell Liberty Bonds to solicit money for the Red Cross.
Dr. Rhodes had an entire line of products for sale, including Rejuvenator to restore color and vitality to hair, Massage Cream and Freckleine, a face bleach. Then, as now, the way to a hairdresser's heart seemed to be through free samples.