‘If the package is right, the pills are right’: Proprietary medicines, branding, and advertising, 1650-1850 - British Library Research Repository
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Conference paper (unpublished)

‘If the package is right, the pills are right’: Proprietary medicines, branding, and advertising, 1650-1850

2012

Abstract

Medical products, predominantly sold by newspaper and book printers, became the most heavily advertised branded good throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This fact, combined with the ever-increasing availability of digitised contemporary newspapers, has generated important work upon their advertisement and distribution. These studies have considerably enriched our understanding of the market for medicine between 1650 and 1850. My focus, however, is upon the ‘branding’ of these products and the various ways, non-textual and textual, in which this was transmitted. Proprietary medicines were big business and therefore counterfeits were rife; protecting the brand name was of the utmost importance. As such, proprietors of medicines invested a great deal of time and effort into the physical materiality of their product. The graphic culture of pharmaceutical packaging had a broad range: it included the design and colour scheme of bottles, pots and boxes, the material culture wrapped around these objects, as well as the marks embossed, stamped or handwritten upon these surfaces. Its purpose was to convince consumers of the medicine’s authenticity, its reliability, and on occasions, its safety and efficacy. As this paper will highlight, these aims were, in part achieved in the physical fabric of the product and its packaging, and through careful advertising and distribution. I will firstly consider the ways that proprietors used branding as a mechanism for establishing the authenticity of a medicine. The second part of the paper will analyse how branding reassured consumers of the efficacy and safety of a medicine, a process that was heavily reliant on the reputation of manufacturers themselves. Both goals were achieved through the materiality of the product in conjunction with careful advertising and promotion.

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