June 1977 | Volume 28, Issue 4
Back in the early years of the present century the advertising industry cooked up an art form that had a quaint and brief life.
Which is to say that the industry used to get out pamphlets using fictional situations to draw attention to the merits of the product that was being advertised. These were aimed straight at the ten-year-old mind, and inasmuch as I was just ten when I first met them I became a devoted reader.
I remember one gripping little story produced by some company that sold baking powder. It showed various scenes in the life of a Mr. Brown. He was grumpy, moody, verging on failure in business, and there were pictures showing him sitting at his desk staring at nothing; obviously a man who was rapidly going down the drain. And it developed, before too long, that his loving wife was entirely responsible. She was using the wrong kind of baking powder; her biscuits were leaden or soggy, her pancakes were even worse, her cake was all but inedible, and with the best wishes in the world she was slowly poisoning her good husband.
Fortunately, before it was too late, someone introduced her to Our Sponsor’s baking powder. (It either had cream of tartar, or it did not. I cannot remember which, but whichever it was, that was the key.) This made all the difference. Mr. Brown perked up no end, became happy and cheerful, kind to his family, and a jewel in the eyes of his boss. I was totally converted, and begged my mother before it was too late to switch to the right kind of baking powder. It turned out that she was dedicated to the other kind and she refused to change, pointing out that people who ate her bread, biscuits, pancakes, and so on were well and happy. So much for that. …
The best story of all came in a pamphlet advertising an automobile. This, I remember, was in the early days when the auto industry was no older than I was, and not much clearer in its mind about where it was going; and the auto promoted by this fable was of a hopelessly obsolete type that I can only call a motorized buggy. It looked exactly like a high-wheeled, hard-rubber-tired buggy except that it had no horse. The one-lunged motor was under the seat, the driver steered with a tiller, and even in those innocent days the type clearly was on its way out. But the advertising man had devised a most fascinating story.
The hero was a young man with his way to make; the heroine was the daughter of the local magnate, who refused to approve this romance because he wanted his daughter to marry a man who had made a lot of money. Foiled, the young couple planned to elope. Late one night, the hero drove his car—and the essential point is that his car was one of these high-wheeled buggies, which he had bought partly because it was cheaper than conventional autos and partly because, being very bright, he sensed that it had great virtues.
Anyway, the girl met him and they drove away, heading for the county seat, where they could get a license, a justice of the peace, and entrance to the blessed circle of the duly wed. The rich father had his chauffeur, wheel out an expensive touring car from the family stables and set off in pursuit, vowing that he would intercept the errant couple before they got to the county seat. He knew he could do it, because he had a 45-horsepower car, whereas the elopers were riding in a queer thing with hardly any horsepower at all.
Alas, it was raining. This was before the days of paved roads, and the highway quickly turned to what the author (a ready man with an apt phrase) termed “a sea of mud.” And behold—the one-lunger with high wheels straddled its way through the mud and reached its goal, while Papa’s costly car bogged down and had to be towed home by horses. Young love triumphed; furthermore, after the marriage, the rich man concluded that this son-in-law must be worthy after all—he owned a car that did not get stuck in the mud—and so everybody was reconciled and the young man wound up as president of Papa’s company.
This was convincing. The only trouble was that by the time I was in a position to buy an automobile the high-wheeled-buggy types were no longer being made.