A Plague Upon You…Unless You Use Lysol

Product: Lysol Disinfectant
Date: 1931

1931 Lysol disinfectant ad

Marketers know that few things work better than a scare tactic or two when it comes to compelling people to buy a product. Witness this 1931 ad from Lysol that uses the Bubonic Plague as its central image. The text tells you that those silly people in the Middle Ages didn’t know that germs caused illness. Oh, silly dead people.

But thank goodness we live in 1931 and we know better: Germs are the cause of disease. And oh, by the way, Lysol kills germs real good.

Nowhere does it actually say that the Black Plague is a threat in the 20th century, yet the headline, the illustration, and the text combine to deliver several unspoken messages:

  • You can protect yourself against horrible sicknesses — the Plague, for crying out loud! The Plague! It could happen. You never know.
  • You can feel smart when buying this product because you know about the causes of disease, unlike those “ignorant” people of long ago.
  • You can feel proud when buying this product because it is thoroughly modern…and so are you.

And P.S., it’s good for “feminine hygiene” too.

1931 Lysol disinfectant ad

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Your Gel, It Smell

Product: Royal Gelatin
Date: 1933

Do you ever stop to think what gelatin is made from? Many people think horse’s hooves. It’s a common misconception, but no, gelatin cannot be made from hooves. What it does contain is not actually any more palatable: cattle and pork bones, pig skins, and cattle hides.

These days, of course, gelatin’s image is carefully groomed. There is nothing in the product or the packaging that even remotely hints at its gruesome ingredient list.

1933 gelatin ad

But back in the ’30s, consumers weren’t quite so lucky. It seems that some brands of gelatin gave off a rather, er, noxious smell. This ad for Royal Gelatin repeatedly describes their competitors’ aroma as “gluey.” The smell must have been quite pronounced and quite unpleasant for Royal to play up their fruity aromas as a key point of difference.

I wonder if they used the word “gluey” to tap into the public’s misconception that horse’s hooves were an ingredient in “inferior” brands of gelatin, since in the early 20th century, horse hooves and bones were often used as a source of glue.

Bon appetit?

1933 gelatin ad

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