Better Living Through Radio

How effective can radio advertising be? Could a radio ad sell a product 75 years after it aired? The answer is a surprising yes.

Vintage radio ads often vary between enduring brands that exist to this day and continue to be brand name staples  such as Chevron Gasoline, Wrigley Gum, Camel Cigarettes, or Pepsodent to the brands you can’t find anywhere. There’s nowhere you can buy Petri Wine (at least not the Petri Wine by the original Petri family) and good luck finding a Clipper Craft suit anywhere.

Most radio ads are of value only for a nostalgic value, a recapturing of the values of the era in which it was produced, the music, the phrases, the culture. No one listening to an episode of Richard Diamond today is going to be more likely to find their way to a Rexhall Drugs. And of course, it should be noted that its quite easy for some radio ads to wear on listeners. Hearing about how its wise to smoke Fatimas week after week can be irritating and repetitive.

However, one radio ad was so effective, it sold me on trying on the product.

As I’ve written before, I’ve become quite the fan of Lum and Abner. One of the show’s early sponsors was Horlicks, a maker of malted milk. They sponsored Lum and Abner five days a week, and they did radio sponsorship right. Unlike other shows that would repeat the same messages, they included original ads in each episode, so no two ads were the same.

The announcer, Carlton Brickert would read an a testimonial, or occasionally, there’d be a little drama performed to illustrate the point. Some of the more powerful segments included testimonials from parents with sickly children who had given their children Horlicks.

In some ways, there seemed to be some contadictory claims in Horlicks in ads. The sponsors said that Horlicks could help the obese lose weight, while helping sickly babies gain weight, and sickly adults gain it. It said it could increase your energy in the daytime, while helping you sleep better at night.

While, Petri Wines may merit a passing curiosity, I had to learn more about Horlicks, and what I learned about it was that Horlicks is no longer sold in mass quantities in the United States. It was acquired by a British company and it was more popular in the developing world than anywhere else. However, I actually went to the trouble to find a bottle of Horlicks for sale on Amazon and I bought a copy.

I did find that Horlicks had changed since its radio days. They’d boasted that Horlicks was made from whole milk, not skim milk as other “inferior brands” were. But 21st Century Horlicks is made with skim milk.

Beyond that, I tried Horlicks and found it to be good tasting. The one claim I can confirm is that it will help you get to sleep. The first night I had some Horlicks before bed and I was out like a light and I’m not usually the sound-sleeping sort. Of course, I’m told there’s not a scientific basis for the conclusion, however I think perhaps science hasn’t explained it.

I finished my experiment with Horlicks and found I’d learned a little, but not a whole lot. It’s really hard to tell from a 300 mg container. I’d need to order more, but was reluctant. My wife asked if we were going to get more. She enjoyed the malted milk. I didn’t tell her about the Horlicks Order I’d put in and she picked up some Nesquick brand. Following the advice of the Horlicks ads, I teased my wife about having bought a lesser brand.

Of course, whether we contine the Horlicks experiment really depends. Even if it’s good, it’s still expensive to ship and to buy. I could be getting “inferior brands” for some time. Still, I have to tip my hats to the folks who made the Horlicks commercials. It takes talent to come up with an ad that makes your listeners curious enough to buy…seventy-five years  after the fact.

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