Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Vicks Leveraged Influenza Worries in 1920 Advertising for VapoRub

While we wonder what will happen with the new coronavirus, here in Salem later in February of 1920 there was a resurgence of influenza and the City invoked some quarantine measures.

February 26, 1920 (detail of near full-page ad)
A small ad, one-column wide typical in 1919, August 13th
More interesting is the surge of large, national advertising for Vick's VapoRub. Its sales had exploded during the epidemic the previous year, and now they were ready to capitalize on this next year's flu season.

Full page ad
With treatments for so many illnesses!
February 10th, 1920
The advertising touted it for a broad range of aliments beyond the flu, and dressed things up in a good bit of pseudo-science. It also drew on patriotic and military themes as well as racist themes. It's quite a package for a something of a patent medicine. (Like a goop, as it were?)

For Measles, April 3rd, 1920

On Flu, February 12th, 1920

More on flu, March 16th, 1920
The preparation started in a North Carolina drug store, and I suppose this is the reference for "Dixie" here.

Invoking "Dixie," February 26th, 1920
A few days later the ad package really picked up "Dixie" and moved to cotton-picking, the Mammy trope, and invoked racist nostalgia. Quite a leap for a mentholated petrolatum rub!

Picking cotton and the Mammy, March 3rd, 1920
That part of the campaign didn't linger here, and a few days later the advertising shifts to focus on the external application in more pseudo-scientific mode.

March 8th, 1920
March 10th, 1920
This is just a curiosity, and I don't think it really discloses anything significant about Salem. Mostly it testifies to the way advertising and consumerism were more nationalized after World War I.

Separately, an editorial bit from the same period recommends walking to work to "stave off" the flu.

I like the "walk to work" part! January 28th, 1920
Maybe there will more to say later about Salem's quarantine efforts in 1920 or about other elements of that year's flu season.

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