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Medicine and Madison Avenue Research Guide

Case Studies

Student Guide: Case Studies

To illustrate the last four points from section 1 more clearly, we have developed three case studies of specific product campaigns: Fleischman's Yeast, Scottissue, and Listerine. These documents track the complexity of an ad campaign from inception through reception.

1. Fleischman's Yeast

Historical Background:

The popularity of yeast eating in the interwar decades reflected two American health obsessions: vitamins and constipation. The isolation of vitamins in the early 1900s focused new attention on the importance of nutrition. Between 1920 and 1940, scientists identified over twenty different vitamins, and the popular press began to carry many articles about the dietarydeficiencies of the modern diet and the importance of these trace nutrients. But before the late 1930s, vitamins were not available in an easily swallowed tablet form. Instead, people sought to get additional vitamins by taking cod liver oil and other tonics (Apple 1996). During these same decades, Americans were very concerned about the danger of constipation. Since ancient times, bowel regularity has been equated with good health. At the turn of the century, changes in diet and exercise patterns associated with advancing industrialization made many Americans even more concerned about their patterns of elimination. Physicians and health reformers offered many remedies for constipation in the early decades of the twentieth century (Whorton 2000).

Starting in the 1920s, the J.Walter Thompson Company began a campaign designed to promote the eating of yeast cakes as a way both to get vitamins and prevent constipation. This campaign successfully used medical and personal testimonials to increase the sales of Fleischmann's Yeast. Many elements of this campaign, including the use of testimonials and the invocation of medical authority, were widely copied. But the yeast campaign also attracted negative attention from the Federal Trade Commission, resulting in several investigations and disciplinary actions against Standard Brands, the company that owned Fleischmann's Yeast. With the development of soluble vitamin tablets in the 1930s, yeast eating declined in popularity.

The following group of documents allows you to appreciate the rise and fall of the yeast campaign. Before reading the documents, we recommend that you look through all the yeast ads. For a good historical overview of the Fleischmann campaign, see Marchand 1985, pp.16-18. For a personal account of the campaign's end, see Pierce 1991, pp. 273-280.

>To trace the development of the Fleischmann's ad campaign, read the following documents:

JWT Account Files: The Fleischman Company, 2 January 1926.

JWT Staff Meeting Minutes: 18 July 1928 Yeast for Health campaign.

JWT News Bulletin: Stanley Resor, "Personalities and the Public," 138 (April 1929)

JWT Newsletters: 13 August 1925: "Fleischaman sales continue upward trend," 11 February 1926: "Fuller Brush Salesman eating yeast to gain pep," 23 April 1926: "How we get yeast for health photographs."

Now read the criticisms of the Fleischmann's campaign outlined in the FTC's findings:  FTC complaint against company; Flesichman's reply; depsostions taken from Rudy Vallee and Mabel Kinneer; sample letter of complaint and reply

Yeast Stipulation

The following are extracts from a release distributed by the Federal Trade Commission regarding a stipulation agreed to by Standard Brands, Inc., maker of Fleischman's Yeast.

The company "agrees to cease representing that the product will cure or prevent constipation, bad breath, boils, acne, pimples or other manifestations of irregular digestion, and that it will 'clear' skin irritants out of the blood, unless limited to such skin irritants as competent scientific tests prove can be removed from the blood by using such product... Other representations to be discontinued are that Fleischmann's Compressed yeast will prevent or correct underfed blood, or increase the capacity of the blood to perform its functions, except insofar as competent scientific evidence demonstrates that the vitamins and other constituents of the product affect the composition and functions of the blood and supplement and enhance the biologic values of food."

[Text reprinted in Printers' Ink, vol. 184, no. 5 (Aug. 4, 1938), p. 53.]

2. Scottissue

In the early 1930s, the J. Walter Thompson Company also developed what became a controversial campaign to promote toilet paper for the Scott Paper Company. Ads emphasized the danger of rough, chemical laden toilet paper and suggested that its use might lead to the need for rectal surgery. This campaign aroused the ire of the American Medical Association, which published a highly critical editorial in JAMA about it. A market survey of Scottissue done in the same time period documents the difficulties in gauging consumer reactions to a selling platform. So this series of documents illustrates the complexities of using the science sell, both from a regulatory and consumer standpoint.

JWT Staff Meeting Minutes: 10 November 1927: Overview of Scott campaign.

AMA Bureau of Investigation, "Scot Tissue," JAMA 16 July 1932.

JWT Staff Meetign Minutes: 28 September 1932 Creative staff discussion of Scottissue controversy.

3. Listerine

The Listerine advertising of the 1920s was another groundbreaking use of the science sell. The J. Walter Thompson Co. did not develop this campaign, but when Warner Lambert became their client in the 1950s, the agency came into possession of an extensive run of Listerine ads, a sample of which has been included in the MMA database. The documents below suggest the complexity of interwar concerns about germs and bad breath. As the documents make clear, the American Medical Association (AMA) took public issue with Listerine's claims to kill germs. At the same time, an article published in the AMA's own popular health magazine,Hygeia, reinforced the belief that bad breath could be a sign of a serious physical disorder. For secondary literature on the Listerine campaign, see Marchand 1985, pg. 18-21

Chemical Laboratory, AMA, "Report of Chemical and Bacteriologic Investigations" JAMA 18 April 1931.

[Editorial],"Listerine and other mouthwashes," JAMA 18 April 1931.

Robert Brotman, "Halitosis," fr. Hygeia 1932.