April 4, 2016, by Kathryn Steenson

Early Boots Adverts

“Gorgeous”. “Colourful”. “A real trip down memory lane”. These are just some of the comments from the 7000 people who have visited the Inspiring Beauty exhibition at Weston Gallery in Lakeside this year. As the quotes suggest, it is a gorgeous, glittering exhibition of advertising used by Boots to promote their No7 range of cosmetics, which celebrated its 80th anniversary last year, and has proved to be the most popular exhibition we’ve ever put on. Unfortunately, none of them will apply to this post looking at an earlier period of Boots’ history, focusing on the way the original pharmacy branch of the business was marketed. Marketing was still very basic and was a far cry from the sophisticated, large-scale industry that it is today.

Advert for M and J Boot from a newspaper listing all their patent medications15-26354mbotcrop

Boots was founded in Goose Gate, Nottingham in 1849 as a chemists by John Boot. In 1877, shortly after son Jesse took over the family business, Jesse paid for the largest advertising space the Nottingham Daily Express offered, an entire full-length column. The advert (Boots the Chemist advert, Nottingham Daily Express, 12 March 1877. Ref: EMSC Periodicals:NOT) ran in several editions and consisted of an exhaustive, alphabetised list of 128 branded products. The list comprises numerous tinctures, tonics, pills and potions that claimed to do everything from ease teething, soothe troublesome coughs and invigorate various internal organs, but the emphasis was on the reduced prices rather than their effectiveness. Profits doubled within a month, proving that newspaper advertising was lucrative, even comparatively dull and lengthy ones by today’s standards.

Printed Boots the Chemists advert headed 'Patriotism' from 'Notts Patriotic Fair' handbook, mostly text 1917

Boots the Chemists advert from ‘Notts Patriotic Fair’ handbook, 1917 (Ref: Uhg X 5)

All marketing emphasises the benefits of their products, but during World War I, companies stressed how and why their customers were also helping their country, and turned purchasing into an act of patriotism. Rather than emphasizing any one product, this first advert is a general promotion of Boots as an ‘all-British’ company and encouraged patriotic consumers to purchase Boots products to support home production.

And finally, this second advert was published throughout 1915 in the Nottinghamshire Guardian. It’s for Eau de Cologne, which is not a product normally be considered especially medicinal or of vital importance to the war effort. Even with the Armed Forces discount to tempt customers, Boots were keen to advertise their Eau de Cologne as a useful hygiene product. Under the product name and price list is this Important War Notice:

“Boots the Chemists will supply every Hospital and Nursing Home established to receive either British Soldiers or Sailors or Territorials with Boots Eau de Cologne at specially reduced rates…[it gives] an exquisite refreshing odour, grateful alike to Patient and Nurse, and, what is more important, a powerful antiseptic…Comparison of data revealed the astonishing truth that the essential oils contained in BOOTS EAU DE COLOGNE are equal in germicidal value to over four times the quantity of Pure Carbolic Acid….”

Newspaper clipping for hygiene and cleaning products that could be posted to soldiers

Advert from the Nottingham Daily Express, 1915

I’m not sure that the germicidal values of Eau de Cologne would have been the main selling point in peacetime, but it’s a lovely example of how advertising adapted for wartime. It would be another two decades before No7 was launched, and although Boots did have a small range of beauty products for women, there were no newspaper adverts for them in Nottingham’s local press. In comparison, there are plenty of adverts for beauty products from WW2, examples of which are in the exhibition.

Inspiring Beauty: 80 years of Making Up the Modern Woman runs until the 17th April in the Weston Gallery at Lakeside Arts. Admission is free. To book a ticket for our final lunchtime talk ‘Rejuvenate: Anti-aging in the twentieth century’ by Dr James Stark on 12 April 2016, please contact the Box Office on 0115 846 7777.

Posted in Exhibitions