Tuesday, August 18, 2009

September 7th 1943: Madison Ave lays egg

In September 1943, Madison Avenue's advertising agencies (America's slavering class) were all talking about the newest addition to the wonder drug family, Sulfa-Thiazole Band-Aids.

Which was unfortunate; sad really.

Because all of their clients' customers were talking about another wonder drug, Penicillin.

No contest really.

On one hand, ads offering up band-aid solutions , on the other hand, the front pages of those same newspapers busy telling tales of a young girl being plucked back from the brink of death after a dramatic cross country flight by a heavy bomber.

The B-24 heavy bomber, aptly called a Liberator , ditched its normal wartime payload of 8000 pounds worth of bombs to fly in 8 grams of this 'pen-i-cil-lin' livesaver.

What a goldmine in 'earned media' for that lucky drug company !

But search as the Mad Men may, it seemed no New York agency, large or small, had that valuable account.


No major phenomenon , not Elvis not TV not VCRs, ever caught on worldwide as fast as Penicillin did.

This, despite a world tied up in the all enveloping censorship of Total War.

One looks to something minor like 1958's hula hoops craze but even this fad only penetrated to some of the people in some of the countries of the world.

Penicillin was virtually unknown worldwide on August 10th 1943 (more accurately: uninteresting to the few that had heard about it) .

But by September 10th 1943, much of the world had heard about it, wanted to know more about it and above all, wanted it - yesterday.

Meanwhile, that week Johnson and Johnson was rolling out full page full color ads in all the major consumer media touting its
new sulfa-saturated Band-Aids.

One of the versions of the ad campaign has remained a popular item on E Bay, and other 'collectable' sites, to this day.

It features a painting of five incredibly cute tow-headed children playing at 'war'.

It sounds like it should repulse most of its potential customers, the mothers of America, but it doesn't seem to - this is the power of Madison Avenue at its most seductive.

The only girl among the five is the focal point and the star; she is dressed up as a nurse, and is carefully applying a Band-Aid to the upper arm of a boy soldier with a wooden gun, complete with fixed, wooden, bayonet.

He is grimacing bravely as the Band-Aid approaches.

Another boy, in a formfitting leather and wool football helmet/ pilot's helmet (complete with goggles jauntily astride on top) is staring round eyed at the approaching Band-Aid.

Meanwhile a child with a saucepan for a helmet ( and as a result looking alarming 'Kraut-like' is coming through an obstacle course made up of open-ended rain barrels, armed with his gun and bayonet.

Thankfully, the final child looks and acts like a child, coming up along rapidly as possible so he doesn't miss whatever might be going on - but even he must scramble over a wooden barrier that looks exactly like the similar wooden wall/barrier seen in every photo essay on basic training since the First World War.

The cut line for the ad informs Moms everywhere that they can finally get some of the same Sulfa medication as used in Front Line Hospitals to save lives ( perhaps even their husband's life).

It has just been added to the Band-Aids they apply for their Home Front child's minor cuts and scrapes, to give the kids the same battlefront strength protection that Dad is getting.

A much lesser know version of this ad campaign lays out its theme in a much more heavy handed manner - probably why it hasn't survived in the folk memory.

A Mother (definitely not a 'Mom') Band-Aids her worried looking pre-teen son in the right frame.

In the left frame , grim-faced (and dirty-faced) GIs and medics apply Sulfa-Thiazole to a wounded soldier in a stretcher, not far from a Pacific War battle scene.

The posing and expressions of the wounded man, the onlooking soldiers and the medic makes it appear as if the medic is applying the Last Rites, rather than saving the man's life !

The cutline praise Thiazole as one of the famous Sulfas, 'the drugs everybody's talking about' .

If the ad had come out even a month earlier, this would be definitely true.

Most doctors hadn't even laid their eyes upon a sample of the original sulfa drug until about seven years earlier and each year had brought a major new addition to the sulfa family , curing more and more hitherto unreachable bacteria types.

All were synthetics, totally man-made and the chemists kept coming up with new creations - almost 5000 registered new variants in America alone between 1936 and 1944.

It seemed like an Oil Well that would never run dry.

And then in the space of a month, it was bang-bang, dead.


Because even behind the Nazi held lines, the occupied peoples were hearing about Penicillin in terms that made it sound like a literal, not just figurative, Miracle.

Madison Avenue's stock in trade is figurative Miracles but not even it was prepared for a real Miracle it seems...

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