Industry : Misc 1

Celebrity Endorsements

A marketing strategy that involves well known people promoting a product or service, the history of celebrity endorsements dates back to 1765 when British Queen consort Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz gave official permission to call a Wedgwood china item “Queen’s Ware.” During the late-1800s trade cards (either handed to the customer or inserted in the packaging) helped popularise celebrity endorsing, and from the early 1900s some cigarette companies also used the image of famous people to help sell their product.
Performers from the Australia variety, theatre and film industries began to find celebrity endorsement opportunities from the early 1900s through both newspapers and trade magazines. Among the prominent companies to employ this strategy within the Australasian region were G.W. Hean, Clements Tonic, Rexona and Dr Sheldon’s.
Another form of marketing that utilised variety artists during the same period is known as cross-promotion. This tactic sees customers of one product or service targeted with promotion of a related product. As with marketing today, cross-promotion during the golden years of Australian vaudeville also took many different forms, including product placement, tie-ins, joint advertisements, joint contests and events.



Incl. Dewhurst & Halloran

In 1912 the Sydney firm, Dewhurst and Halloran imported 70 cases of 1904 vintage champagne from French winemaker, Ayala, and the following year both companies briefly aligned themselves with Australian variety theatre through a cross-promotion campaign featuring Ivy Schilling and her “Champagne Dance.”



Australian-born chemist and businessman George Bonnington (1837-1901), concocted his famous seaweed remedy for coughs, cold, asthma, influenza and bronchitis while living New Zealand in the mid to late-1850s. It initially proved popular in the town and after establishing his business in Christchurch Bonnington became a very wealthy man because of it. The remedy’s success was also due to the widespread marketing campaign that began in the mid-1870s and continued well into the next century, both in New Zealand and Australia. Celebrity testimonials began appearing as early as 1889. Among those to appear in advertisements were Priscilla Verne, Ernest Fitts, Gladys Moncrief and Bland Holt. In the 1940s Bonnington’s sponsored Dan Agar‘s radio comedy, Mrs ‘Obbs.



(ca. 1914-1920) W.H. Curtis founded Curtis Catarrh Cure Ltd in Brisbane in either late-1913 or early-1914. The first advertisements for his “cure for catarrh, bronchitis, asthma and all coughs” were published in the city’s Catholic Advocate from March 1914. Soon afterwards his ads were appearing in other Brisbane newspapers as well as in many regional Queensland tabloids. Curtis’ publicity strategy focused heavily on testimonials, mostly from the general public (including policemen, railway employees, clerks, mercantile managers etc). In late-1915 he also briefly published testimonials from two high profile thespians – character actor Jefferson Tait (Oct.) and dramatic actor/stage manager and vaudevillian Dan M. Dunbar (Dec.). Curtis rebranded his business as Invicta Remedies in 1920. Advertising for the Invicta catarrh, asthma and bronchitis cure continued up until at least 1932.

1. Catarrh is a build-up of mucus in an airway or cavity of the body. It usually affects the back of the nose, the throat or the sinuses. While mostly temporary, some people experience it for months or years. Curtis later included influenza as an ailment successfully treated by his remedy.
2. Curtis’ initial business address was the Telegraph Building, Queen Street, Brisbane. In 1915 he moved to the City Buildings in nearby Edward Street. Invicta Remedies operated from 40 College Street Sydney. In 1932 its business address was 10 St. Marks Road, Clovelly (Sydney).
3. In 1918 Curtis arranged with the Washington H. Soul Pattison Company to represent his company. It is not known how long this arrangement lasted (ctd. Newcastle Sun 29 May 1918, 4). Publicity for the cure around this time expanded to include some select New South Wales centres (notably Newcastle and Gosford).
Image source: Daily Standard (Brisbane) 10 Dec. 1915, 2.



Dr Sheldon's - Harley Cohen [ARG 30 June 1916, 5]American-born chemist Samuel Sheffer, co-founder of the Sydney-based Sheldon Drug Company, began producing and marketing the coughs and colds remedy known as Dr Sheldon’s New Discovery in 1904. Later products marketed under the Dr Sheldon’s brand included Gin Pills (back aches, kidney and liver ailments), Magnetic Liniment (rheumatism, lumbago, insect stings etc), and Digestive Powder/Tabules. Advertising for the various products often involved testimonials from everyday users (including soldiers during the war years) and sometimes celebrities. Among the latter were soldier/variety entertainer Harley Cohen, stage/film actresses Dorothy Cumming, Muriel Starr and Sarah Allgood, actresses/variety entertainers Marie La Varre, Ada Reeve, Maud Fane and Pearl Ladd, songwriter Marsh Little, and theatre-industry cartoonist Donald MacDonald (known professionally as “Pas“).



Freeman & Wallace [STS 15 June 1902, 8]

Doctors Howard Freeman and Richard Wallace established their Electro-Medical and Surgical Institute in Sydney in 1897, and quickly set about organising a widespread and high-profile publicity campaign throughout Australasia. The Institute’s advertisements promoted its ability to cure nervous and chronic complaints, blood and skin diseases, heart, kidney, liver, bladder, Rheumatism, sciatica and other problems, and from the early 1900s they began using endorsements, including celebrities. While the most popular were sportsmen, they also used Australian and visiting international variety artists, notably trick cyclist Arthur Hill (Hill and Sylvainy) and pianist J. H. Brown.

Image: Sunday Times (Sydney) 15 June 1902, 8.



Incl. Hean’s Essence / Heenzo

HeenzoFrom its founding in the late-1890s, the company known as G.W. Hean orchestrated a long-term advertising and publicity campaign for its various medicines and remedies that helped make it one of the best-known chemists in Australasia during the early to mid-1900s. Much of company’s publicity focused on its most popular product, Hean’s Essence (aka Heenzo). For the first decade or so Hean’s utilised a basic product/description/price form of advertising, before focusing on a brand-based strategy that favoured endorsements. Initially these endorsements were provided by average consumers, but from 1914 they began to utilise celebrities. The most popular were returned soldiers (during World War I), actors, singing teachers, and variety entertainers.

Image: Theatre Magazine (Sydney) Dec. 1909, 29.



The extent to which product placement occurred in the Australian variety industry may never be known as very few instances have been located to date. In reporting on the Tivoli Follies in 1916, however, the Theatre Magazine indicates that the practice had become “distressingly evident” throughout the show. The article records, for example, that some patter between Vera Pearce and Walter Weems was linked to a prominent brand of tea. The concept of inserting brand names into sketches and patter was likely confined to prominent (including international) artists who were already endorsing products in newspapers and magazines, and may have become more frequent from the early-1910s.

1: Ivy Schilling‘s “Champagne Dance” from the Quaker Girl (1912-1913) became the subject of advertisements by French winemaker Ayala in 1913. It is unclear if this connection was made apparent in the show, however.
2: The Australian Variety Theatre Archive would be keen to hear from anyone who has identified instances of product placement in Australasian theatrical performances/productions during between the 1850s and 1930s.



Rexona logo

The Rexona brand was established in Australia in 1908 by Alice and Samuel Fuller Scheffer. Over the next two decades the Rexona company carried out an aggressive advertising campaign for its “Rapid Healer” ointment, and later its beauty soap and shaving soap lines. In addition to testimonials by everyday users of the products the company also utilised entertainment celebrities, among them vaudeville artists like Sadie Gale, George “Hermie” Ward, Phil Smith, Grace Rothert, and Noel Geddes. Other high profile thespians and entertainers included actress/author Marion Marcus Clarke and musical comedy star Dorothy Brunton.


Image citation details for entries without expanded biographies are noted at the bottom of the overview. All other image details are provided in the expanded PDF biographies.
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Published on October 23, 2012 at 9:02 pm  Comments Off on Industry : Misc 1