War and Advertising
In February 1916 the local St. John’s business T. J. Eden’s, the official agent in Newfoundland for “Bovril” announced with great fanfare that “fresh supplies were just received”. The news was delivered in the form of a large advertisement in the local newspapers. It was one of the first times that an advertisement featured a large drawing, containing a sketch showing the trenches of France.
Bovril is blended meat extract, originally created in 1870–1871. From the start, the product creator Johnston sought to associate Bovril with ‘strength’ or what he called the ‘vital principle of prime ox beef.’ In the early days of the First World War, Bovril positioned its product as meat extract used to make gravy and drunk as a warming and strengthening beverage.
The advertisement was quick to catch the imagination of newspaper readers. Newfoundlanders were starving for news of the war and this advertisement brought the war home to them in an illustration. The caption on the advertisement read:
“Bovril at the Front”
Not only were readers drawn to the advertisement because it captured in an illustration a realistic war scene, the advertisement also included a testimonial “from a letter at the Front.” The testimonial read:
“But for a plentiful supply of Bovril Idon’t know what we should have done. During “Neuve Chapelle” and other engagements we had big caldrons going over log fires, and we collected and brought in the wounded we gave each man a good drink of hot Bovril and I cannot tell you how grateful they were.”
Bringing attention to the Battle of Neuve-Chapelle was no accident. The first time that the Canadian Expeditionary Force had been fully involved in action with the enemy was at Neuve-Chapelle. The same Canadian troops trained with the men of the Newfoundland Regiment at Salisbury Plain, England. Many Newfoundlanders knew from letters from their sons about these young Canadian’s.
These were the days before ‘advertising standards ‘were established and advertisers often laid claim to improbable cures. The Bovril advertisement uses the horror of war to stress the benefits that a hot, comforting drink can bring.
Bovril, was appealing to soldiers and their families as an aid to staying healthy, these soldier boys would be fit and warm when on duty.
What Newfoundland mother, with a son in the trenches with the Newfoundland Regiment or on the seas with the Royal Navy would resist going down to T.J. Eden’s and getting a supply for her son?
Advertisers had entered the war.
Recommended Archival Collection: From your home visit the website, The Great War: http://www.rnr.therooms.ca/part1_entering_the_great_war.asp This site contains the military files of over 2200 soldiers ( we have another 4000 on microfilm) from the Royal Newfoundland Regiment who served in the First World War. These files are searchable by name or by community and will therefore provide invaluable information for all viewers, but will be of particular interest to those who are conducting either family or community research.
Recommended Exhibit: Pleasantville: From Recreation to Military Installation. Level 2 Atrium. With the declaration of war, Pleasantville quickly emerged as a tent city, the home of the storied “First 500”. It was here that the First Newfoundland Regiment recruits began preliminary military training.