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The House Live All
By Ben Guerin
Press releases

This election is sorely lacking proper political adverts

4 min read

Ed Davey has employed some unusual methods of drawing attention to his election campaign. He has not (yet), however, decided to endorse a range of of multi-vitamin tablets. 

How do you keep up with the election news?

In 1929, according to an advert in the Mail, what you needed was a “Radio-Receiver that gets the election campaign speeches”. “Have you a loud speaker that will announce the results perfectly on the Great Day?”, it wanted to know. “Don’t leave it too late – buy a Burndept Screened Portable and share all the excitements of the General Election”. And if the election wasn’t your thing, it turned out that your “Brundept Screened Portable can cut it out and put you in touch with twenty or third continental stations”.

Adverts which tied in a product with the election used to be very common in the press.

In 1910, Maypole Tea suggested you put a X in their box, rather than for any other tea. Allison bread was the “Prime Minister of Health… elected by a big majority as the chief representative of wholesomeness and nourishment on the nation’s meal table” (1922). There was no “swing of the pendulum where Shredded Wheat is concerned. It has headed the poll in popularity amongst foods for years” (1929). “The candidate’s dream – the division bell. But the motorist only dreams of Shell…” (1950). These are just a tiny sample.

Occasionally, a bit more thought went into them.

In 1922, Wolsey Pure Wool Underwear suggested that you couldn’t do better than a Wolsey government. “Wolsey Pure Wool Underwear is honest through and through, free from fads and weaknesses, sound from first to last. Fancy a Government like that!” Another five such declarations followed. You can make the obvious joke about having a pants government yourself.

(British Newspaper Archive)

In 1935, the Gas Light and Coke Company invented Mr Therm “the candidate who never lets London down”.

Fay Weldon’s Go To Work on an Egg campaign for the Egg Marketing Board is well-known. On eve-of-poll in 1970 they ran “Go to Vote on an Egg”, above pictures of the three main party leaders on eggs shells.

Austin Morris’s “Five Safe Seats” campaign from 1974 was more impressive than the cars.

Ads explicitly appealing to those campaigning in the election now seem to have vanished, but in 1923 Peps suggested that “all canvassers and platform speakers should carry with them a few “silver-jacketed Peps”, to fight off “Election Coughs and Colds”. (A year before Bonar Law, Lloyd George and Asquith had all had to cancel speaking engagements suffering from what a headline called “Election throat”.)

(British Newspaper Archive)

In 1929 the Mail carried an ad that said: “Candidates! If your constituents strain at a gnat – give them MUSTARD and they can digest a camel!” (No, we don’t really know what that means either).

Use pens! “Use Biro for all election purposes. All parties vote for Biro” (1950). Eat biscuits! “Biscuits Keep You Going”, claimed an ad from The Cake and Biscuit Alliance in 1950, together with a picture of a candidate on the stump. Shine your shoes! “On his way to the top… brisk manner, purposeful step – and a Cherry Blossom shoe shine” (1959).

(British Newspaper Archive)

And smoke! “The candidate was in great form – so too the Hecklers”, ran one ad from Sunripe cigarettes in 1923. “One facetiously asked if the Candidate favoured Protection for SUNRIPES. Like a flash came the answer – SUNRIPES are amply protected by their Quality and Size and the more Free the Trade in them the better for all Smokers! That the whole audience heartily concurred was evident by the applause”. Advertising standards were different then.

In 1929 there was an ad for Plus Two cigarettes that featured Lloyd George’s face, along with the slogan “Liberal Value”.

But there were also genuine examples of politicians helping to flog things.

(British Newspaper Archive)

You will almost certainly not have heard of Cllr F. A. Smith. But in the 1930s he featured in an extraordinary advert for Yeast-Vite tonic tablets. “Popular Southwark Councillor Praises Yeast-Vote” ran the headline, next to a photo of Cllr Smith. Yeast-Vite, according to him, was “Invaluable for Keeping Me Fit to Carry Out Important Duties as Borough Councillor”. We have no idea why Mr Smith was chosen for the ad or what arrangements passed between him and Yeast-Vite. Maybe he just really liked it?

Similar questions occur with an ad Sanatogen ran in 1910 – which involved glowing testimonials from eleven MPs. The Rt Hon Sir H G Aubrey-Fletcher, MP for Lewes, said that he had “used Sanatogen for some time and appreciate its qualities”, although he was to die a few months later so it clearly didn’t do him that much good.

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