Monday, June 20, 2011

How many faces can you find?
(A vintage advertising scam)

Originally, I was going to get cute and follow up yesterday's post on common poultry diseases by diving into some tattered old copies of Poultry Tribune1. But then my plans ran a-fowl. I flipped over my copy of the October 1934 Northeast Edition of Poultry Tribune2 and found myself fascinated by the full-page advertisement on the back cover, which has nothing to do with chickens.

The illustration above is part of that full-page advertisement from Paramount Products Inc. The text in the red-and-black pitch screams: "HOW MANY FACES CAN YOU FIND IN THE PICTURE BELOW? We are looking for Smart People. ... SEND ONLY THE COUPON BELOW AND WE WILL TELL YOU HOW TO .. Win $2,250.003 or Buick Sedan and $1,250.00 Cash!"

What was Paramount Products trying to do? Get a list of names and addresses so they could bombard those people with junk mail? Or maybe find suckers to participate in an early version of multi-level marketing? Those would be my guesses.4

Here are some more excerpts from the advertisement. (The full page is pictured below, and you can click on it to see a larger image and read all of the text.)
  • Yes -- we are looking for smart people. We want smart people everywhere to to help us advertise our business and distribute our products. We are going to award several thousands of dollars in big cash prizes to people everywhere.
  • Here's a lot of cash for someone. Would you like to have it? I am going to pay $5,000.00 in big cash prizes to advertise our business quickly. Someone, maybe you, will receive new Buick Sedan and $1,250.00 cash extra for promptness...
  • Study this interesting picture and see how many of the faces hidden in the tree, clouds, etc., you can find. Some look straight at you, some are upside down -- others are sidewise. It is not as easy as some people may think, but don't give up -- keep looking and you may find them.
  • Oh boy! What you could do with $2,250.00 all cash at one time. I will be glad to pay it to you if you are adjudged the winner.
  • Remember, send not one penny with your answer -- all you do now is to find as many faces as you can, and mail the coupon. We will answer you right away and tell you how you can win.5
  • The money to pay every prize is on deposit in a big strong Des Moines bank. Three prominent Des Moines business men will see that the prizes are awarded honestly and promptly.
So, how many faces did you find in the illustration?

1. Poultry Tribune is still around and describes itself as "a gathering place for urban and backyard chicken enthusiasts and an authority on raising chickens since 1895." Its website was undergoing maintenance when I wrote this post.
2. This magazine originally belonged to subscriber G.W. Libhart of RFD 1 in Hellam, Pennsylvania. He or she might be related to the family that ran the Libhart Mill in Hellam Township. According to Hellam Township's website: "Millstone Road refers to the stone from the ridge in the Hellam Hills that was apparently used for making millstones for early mills that once operated along the Township’s creeks. The Libhart Mill, for which Libhart Mill Road was named, was one such mill. Built in the 1700s it was once a four-story stone and frame grist mill and distillery, a thriving enterprise along Kreutz Creek in the southwestern part of the Township."
3. A prize of $2,250 in 1934 would be the equivalent of more than $36,000 today.
4. I did find a trace of evidence that Paramount Products Inc. later found itself in some legal trouble. (Stunning, I know.) There is a tiny excerpt from a late 1930s issue of the legal journal North Western Reporter that alludes to the case.
5. Hmmmmm.

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