Advertising Methods

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“Jumbo Feeds Baby Castoria,” ca. 1885. Jumbo the Elephant "endorsed" a variety of consumer goods. Courtesy of the Boston Public Library via Digital Commonwealth.

Patent medicine advertisements appeared in the back pages of American newspapers and magazines and were also distributed via pamphlets and full-color trade cards. Patent medicines were often sold via rigorous advertising campaigns. A number of themes consistently emerged in patent medicine advertising. These included images that portrayed Native Americans as purveyors of secret herbal remedies, images of “learned medical advisors” who were often scholarly-looking white men, and a large number of celebrity endorsements.

Various nineteenth century notables such as the reporter Nellie Bly, the actress Sarah Bernhardt and the widely-recognized Jumbo the Elephant all lent their names to various patent medicine concoctions. Patent medicine advertising also employed a number of gimmicks to ensure repeat customers. These included giveaways such as pamphlets and cardboard novelties, games, jokes, cartoons, and puzzle cards.