World War I profiteering advertisements

World War I advertisement

Translated from NOS TV in the Netherlands:

World War I advertisements shameless ”

Monday 11 Nov 2013 , 09:37 (Update: 11-11-13 , 11:43)

By our editor Lambert Teuwissen

The pharmaceutical company Dr. Cassell had no objections to using soldier Riordan for an advertising campaign. “‘Gassed’ at Ypres“, was the headline above a list of all Riordan’s ills. “But then my wife suggested to use Dr. Cassell’s pills. Now I’m back on the mend.” It’s a bit like a sports brand boasting how someone wearing its shoes managed to escape from the burning World Trade Center on 9/11.

Not only for Dr. Cassell, but also for Parker pens, Wrigley’s chewing gum, Kodak cameras and Decca gramophones, with the end of the First World War, 95 years ago today , came also an end to the possibility to use the war for advertising. The Belgian authors writers Anthony Langley and Bert Govaerts prove that this happened frequently in the book ‘Profit! Profit!’. In the Belgian town Poperinge there is an exhibition about it.

Business opportunity

“The war was just a business opportunity,” says Govaerts. “Life goes on and soldiers need soap, fountain pens and cigarettes too. So, these companies profited.” That led to a cigarette advertisement with a gas mask or a Wrigley’s ad with a machine gun spitting out chewing gum. “Shameless”, Govaerts calls the advertising by Dr. Cassell.

Advertising was relatively new at the beginning of the 20th century, as was this form of warfare. “It was the first war where everyone was involved, whether you wanted to or not. Before that, wars were more like professional affairs of short duration. But this time, the draft meant that everyone had a father or an uncle with whom one kept in touch. So, the home front could feel about with what was going on there.”

“Every officer would need to purchase a Kodak pocket camera” , an Italian advertisement therefore advised. German civilians were given the suggestion to send luminous watches “to our loved ones on the battlefield”. British officers were tempted to buy waterproof trench coats (!) at Burberry’s. “The front had become a market.”


Prominently in the book, there are also advertisements for companies which had nothing to offer. For example. Triumph motorcycles said proudly in 1917: “Our entire stock is claimed by the British Army”. “That kind of advertising was meant to mean: Remember us when the war will soon be over, we have contributed.”

In the course of the war Govaerts sees a shift in advertising language in Belgium. “In the long run, people became sick of the war and there were less patriotic symbols or war propaganda in the ads. There came brand names with pax in it. A few Germans who still wanted to continue had slogans like “Carry on” and “Until the final victory”, but these were exceptions.”

Kassa! Kassa! Reclame in de Eerste Wereldoorlog – Anthony Langley , Bert Govaerts – Davidsfonds – ISBN: 9789058269676.

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