Wednesday 24 September 2008

Celebrity Endorsement Victorian Style

This is the great Emile Zola, boyhood friend of Cézanne and pioneer of French Naturalism, in 1894 giving his support to a marketing campaign for Mariani Wine. By the time this advert was published Zola had completed his Rougon-Macquart series of novels, Captain Alfred Dreyfus had been arrested and the final chapter of Zola’s career was underway. Zola’s grave expression suggests that he might have some premonition of the great miscarriage of justice that would engulf the last 5 years of his life. According to Zola, Mariani Wine was “The Elixir of Life, which combats human debility, the one real cause of every ill – a veritable scientific fountain of truth, which in giving vigour, health and energy, would create an entirely new and superior race.” Even his harshest critics never accused Zola of understatement. Zola’s destiny, tragic as it was, could not be compared with that of his fellow celebrity endorser, the composer Charles Gounod. Despite the benefits of “The admirable Mariani Wine, which has so often rescued me from exhaustion”, Gounod had been dead for over a year by the time this advert appeared in the press.

As for Mariani Wine, it was a powerful concoction fortified with 6 mg of cocaine per fluid ounce of wine. Little wonder it was so popular with sovereigns and pontiffs. Leo XIII and Pius X and Queen Victoria herself were all known to be satisfied consumers. There’s even a story that, stripped of alcohol and carbonated, it was an ancestor of Coca-Cola. Given that Coca-Cola had been in existence since 1886 and its origins are shrouded in mystery, it’s not a claim that’s easy to verify.

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