Just What the Pediatrician OrderedOn June 26, 2019 by Elyse
While I would no doubt enjoy living in an era that considers beer a health food and bread boxes a threat to public morality, when it comes to well-being and safety, the 21st century can’t be beat. Not only do we have cat memes, but we also benefit from modern medicine and robust public health protections to ensure those drugs are safe and effective—especially for children.
As a kid, I gleefully chugged sickeningly sweet orange-flavored cough syrup at the first sign of a sore throat. My biggest fear was not that the medicine would harm me but that the formula would be changed to reduce its sugar content. However, in the pre-U.S. Food and Drug Administration world, parents had no such guarantees. In 1906, this headline might have inspired confidence rather than ridicule:
I don’t know about you, but “absolutely harmless” doesn’t have me running out to the pharmacy to buy that particular medication. At the time, efficacy must not have been a very convincing selling point; it gets only a lackluster mention at the bottom of the advertisement.
Scare tactics, on the other hand, have never been out of style:
If a doctor had diagnosed me with an “evil disposition,” I like to think my parents would have forked over whatever it took for a product that “vitalizes and enriches” my blood—whatever that means.
Without rigorous clinical trials and regulatory oversight, why stop at treating one ailment when you can sell a cure for “all derangements of the stomach and bowels:”
The magic—er, active—ingredients in some of these miracle drugs were apparently veggies:
Then and now, superfoods are a sound marketing tactic, but are they really a “boom [boon?] to suffering humanity?” When you discover “family medicine” seems to have been a euphemism for constipation, perhaps you’ll agree.
If vegetables don’t cure that particular ailment, try taking candy from a stranger pretending to be your grandma:
But perhaps the best advertisement is the one you don’t realize is an advertisement, which I hope you’ll agree is easy to do if—like me—you miss the fine print at the top.
Initially, I was a little puzzled about why the pros and cons of child abuse were being debated in a newspaper comic; things didn’t get any clearer when the doppelganger of KFC’s Colonel Sanders entered the frame and started lecturing about laxatives. Come to think of it, I’m still confused.
Regardless, Fletcher’s Castoria deserves a round of applause for creating the most memorable children’s laxative ad in my admittedly limited sample of more than a century of advertising history. I’ll see you in the digestion aisle of the pharmacy.
Disclaimer: The modern era is far from the first to grapple with rampant “fake news.” As I am neither a historian nor journalist, I make no claims about the accuracy or lack thereof of the above historical articles. I assert only that they make for a good story.
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