“Bob West, Who IS This Woman?!?”
I am still enjoying, and sharing, my copy of Comics Ad Men by Stephen Brower. It’s a fantastic recent book, published by Fantagraphics, that celebrates the advertising work created by comic book artists like Neal Adams and Frank Robbins. I wrote about it recently here.
There’s a certain irresistible charm to those old ads. And that’s coming from someone who just loves new ads and all the innovative marketing that surrounds us today. With that in mind, let’s take another look at vintage ads with a comic book connection.
The White Rock Fairy
The White Rock Company has been selling spring water for 150 years. The idea is that spring water, in this case from Waukesha, Wisconsin, is a little better for you than Royal Crown, Nehi or even Nesbitt’s sodas. This independent company continues to innovate and keep afloat in an incredibly competitive market. They are still independent.
Back in 1894, the company showcased a version of the Geek goddess Psyche as a spokesperson. She is often considered the Goddess of Purity. That’s why they chose to use her in that iconic pose, leaning over a rock peering into a spring. The corporate logo they created was based on the painting “Psyche at Nature’s Mirror” by German artist Paul Thumann.
The cynic in me can’t help but think that the strategy may have been more straightforward. It doesn’t’ take a marketing genius to realize that a topless blonde is simply bound to be memorable.
In mythology, Psyche was gorgeous and that enraged her boyfriend’s mother, who happened to be Venus. And when the Goddess of Love gets into a catfight with you, you know you have real problems. In the end, it all worked out and she married Eros. (Only he wasn’t a baby like you imagine when you use his other, more popular name: Cupid.)
The product itself, White Rock Seltzer, would enjoy an aura of glitziness, Celebrities of yesteryear, including Gloria Vanderbilt (aka Anderson Cooper’s mom), Charles Lindbergh and the King of England, served White Rock in a showy way.
And that’s why this series of comic-style ads are so enchanting and perplexing. In the 1940s, White Rock launched this series of print ads, employing traditional panel-by-panel storytelling traditions (that’s comics to you, me, and Scott McCloud) to push the narrative forward. It looks like Holm Grey was the artist.
These ads are so kooky that if Darren Stevens tried to pitch them to the client, I can’t imagine even Larry Tate would’ve approved ‘em.
Take a look for yourself:
And there’s a few more that will raise your eyebrows…
They all seem quite clueless and bonkers from today’s POV. They are kind of charming, but certainly wrong-headed and exploitive too. I have so many questions about these comic -style ads. And the one big question is – did they really drive White Rock seltzer sales?