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CHAPTER VII Advertisement
“The man who would in business rise must either bust or advertise” is the American’s article of faith. In civilised countries advertising is confined to its proper limits, that is to say, it is part of the business of a tradesman. In America everybody advertises, and advertises through a megaphone.

The United States appears to have been created for the pure purpose of advertising itself and everything that occurs in it. In England of late we have been a little overtroubled with the persistent and flamboyant advertiser. His flaring posters, his disconcerting circulars, and particularly his promises of fabulous prizes if one will but buy his soap or his half-penny paper or his gaspipe bicycles have jarred upon most of us. The London hoardings blaze with all sorts of invitations to drink cocoa, swallow pills, go to the theatre, and demand bottled trouble of one label or another.

The plague is upon England, and probably we shall not get rid of it for a couple of generations or so. In the meantime, however, we may console ourselves with[62] the knowledge that gaudy and excruciating as London advertising may be, it is a mere tea-party compared to the orgie of announcement that is always in progress in every bright American city. Furthermore, while the English advertiser has admittedly done his best to destroy for us the mild delights of a railway journey by erecting in every second meadow funereal signs with the names of liver pills and cattle foods upon them he has not yet attained to the audacities of his American confrère who, in his delirium of publicity, paints the names of nostrums on the sides of innocuous cows and adorns the scenery with purple and yellow posters that are positively zoo-like in their noise.

The rocks and hills of America are daubed over with wild entreaties to the passer-by to fix up his liver with some newly invented mixture, or to sow someone’s invaluable hair seed on his bald head. Each country barn is decorated with huge signs bearing disinterested advice as to what sort of medicine a wayfarer should use in the spring. In no part of any State can one escape the huge advertisement. If you penetrate into the recesses of the highest mountain and find there the hut of a bewhiskered hermit, the chances are that when you approach him he will give you some[63] handbills containing details of the marvellous cures effected by So-and-So’s sarsaparilla. The sails of yachts are adorned with statements as to medicines. Landscapes serve but to promulgate the claims of the quack. If a man plants a bed of geraniums the chances are that the flowers are arranged in such a way that they immortalise the fame of somebody’s ipecachuana. The gardener is induced to do this by a present of free seeds.

In the trolley cars of New York one is always in danger of finding a seat under some such notice as, “The gentleman sitting beneath this sign is wearing a pair of our inimitable three dollar pants. They fit him beautifully. Don’t you think they do?” Or, “The gentleman sitting below has a very yellow complexion this morning. He looks as if he had drunk too much last night. If he had had proper advice he would have taken a dose of Green Jackdaw Effervescent before breakfast, then he would feel very much better than he does now.”

Pills, potions, pick-me-ups, blood purifiers, liver mixtures, lung tonics, corn cures, and preparations for tender feet appear to be the only articles of commerce that half the population of the United States trade in and manufacture. You[64] cannot move in America without having these nostrums cast violently into your teeth and shoved down your throat by every species of reminder that printers’ ink and the ingenuity of the devil are capable of compassing.

With a view to the maintenance and upkeep of this extraordinary jumble of publicity the country is patrolled year in and year out by thousands of advertising vans, each accompanied by a considerable staff of “old hands.” American papers commonly contain paragraphs like the following: “Advertising car No 2 of Pawnee Bill’s Wild West has the following people: Al Osborn, manager; Doc Ingram, boss billposter; A. Clarkson, lithographer; J. Dees, banners; N. C. Murray, J. Judge and twelve other billposters; B. Balke, paste-maker; and R. Richardson, chef.” That the boss billposter should rank after the manager and the chef after the paste-maker is a choice American touch.

When you turn to the question of newspaper advertising you encounter pretty much the same characteristics, supplemented by a great deal of top-speed bellowing. In a high-class paper that lies before me as I write, a gentleman in the wholesale way announces in indecently tall black type that he is the “only live hardware man on earth,” and that he[65] has “figured out a way to boost the business of his customers as well as build a good foundation.” Another dweller in the land of brotherly love—an artiste this time, if you please—announces himself as “The Death Defying Daredevil King of the High Wire” and assures us not only that he has been “the Feature Attraction for Three Seasons in Succession at Luna Park, Coney Island,” but that his “Reputation Talks for Itself.”

The tone of these announcements is typical. Every American advertiser insists that he is the greatest man of business alive, and that the article he is so anxious to get rid of is the only fine thing in the world. You note, too, with a certain restrained joy, that every second advertisement appearing in an American paper or magazine starts off with the magical words: “It Will Pay You.” Thus if we are to believe the veracious publicity-monger it will pay you to wear So and So’s Collegian clothes which “are the only garments made in this entire country with real dash to them”; it will pay you to buy Thingamy Suspenders because they will make your boy “comfortable and good-natured”; it will pay you to go about in Thingamy Shoes because when you pay three dollars for the Thingamy Shoe “you can know that all of your[66] money goes to the purchase of protection for your feet”; and it will pay you “to keep step with nature and tempt the fussy appetite with ‘Ten Liberal Breakfasts for Ten Cents.’” The authors of these touching suggestions evidently understand the public with whom they have to deal. They have learnt the sublime lesson that the American has but a single inducement in his nightmare of a life, namely—the inducement of money or noise.

I shall now consider the advertising feats of that class of American persons who advertise not for financial gain, but for the sweet sake of notoriety. A great lady of American birth is said to have advised her sons that if they were to succeed in life they must make a point of getting their names into the papers at least once a day. The sons of the lady appear to have taken the hint, with the result that they have made themselves fairly snug out of very small beginnings.

In the United States the bare getting of one’s name into the papers is a comparatively easy matter. Pretty well any American reporter will arrange that much for you in return for a ten cent drink, while for two such drinks he will run to a photo-block and a description of yourself as “a prominent society and club man who made his pile in Wall Street.”


You must always remember, however, that the accomplished American private advertiser has a soul vastly above the mere elements of the game. Usually he is rich and often his life has contained episodes which an ingenious press can work up into scandals with half a column of sensational headlines—pin new and piping hot—on the shortest notice. Most wealthy advertising Americans, and indeed many of those who do not advertise, have been treated to this beautiful brand of publicity.

As a matter of fact it is an ancient and over-worn fetich, and as the newspaper-reading American is no longer to be excited by it, there is little or nothing in it for anybody. Consequently the American who is thirsty for advertisement is compelled to have resource to what are called “stunts.” So far as one is able to make out you are considered by American society to achieve a “stunt” when you do something that nobody but a lunatic could possibly have thought of doing. For example, if you give a dinner party at a big New York hotel and let it be known that the guests were all of them chimpanzees you have done a “stunt.” And the reporters of every paper in the city will rush to you as one man to find out the facts. They will describe you as a multi-millionaire and a[68] high-life club man whose existence is a sort of perennial grand slam. They will assert that your notion of bringing together a company of chimpanzees for dinner is wildly and unprecedentedly clever. They will go on to explain that the number of chimpanzees present was 47, that they turned up in the very smartest evening dress, that they ate and drank off plate of solid gold and that the champagne bottles were studded with rubies. And they will wind up by announcing that one of the most distinguished of the chimpanzees, who made his entrance to the dinner party out of a balloon made of fifty dollar bills, has just found a $500,000,000 gold-brick mine in a remote district of Omaha, where he was “raised,” and is as a consequence about to be elected President of the National Bank.

Result: your dinner becomes the talk of America for at least a few hours, and you consider yourself a fortunate and public man. That is, if you are an ambitious American. Of course, this sort of advertising requires a good deal of coin to keep up the pace. And while there is not an hotel keeper in the union who cannot supply you with a steady succession of idiotic freak ideas, the cost is a trifle heavy, and you soon find yourself growing rather tired.

But the American is nothing if not[69] clever. For a change, perhaps, he acquires an affinity or elopes with another man’s wife in a series of gorgeous motor cars and specially reserved steamships. He writes letters to his own wife explaining in ecstatic language what he has done; and she, good soul, serves them out to the reporters like so many doughnuts. Again, he gets his boosting—his roaring, rolling advertisement. Two months later the whole affair may turn out to have been a merry little “plant”; but your bright American has had his glad columns in the papers, and nothing in the world can take them from him.

Of course, the “stunts” I have here indicated are really of a rather out-of-the-way sort. The common or garden “stunt” usually takes the shape of an appendicitis dinner, pies with girls in them, fountains running champagne, or Adam and Eve suppers.

American women’s “stunts” are generally giddier still. One lady compassed social distinction by having her sunshade heavily embroidered with diamonds, another has tiny musical boxes fitted into the heels of her shoes that play when ever she puts her feet up—which is often—and a third wears a live newt in her hair, and has a boudoir full of snakes and lucky bears.

But the soul and essence of it all is[70] advertisement. “Be singular and you will get talked about; get talked about and you will be happy” is America’s golden rule.

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