Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Pauline stories, or, how to get readers to read the ads

As early as 1903, Good Housekeeping was running advertising-related puzzles. Readers could win cash prizes and advertiser merchandise by solving the puzzles and finding the associated Good Housekeeping ads. Beginning in 1906, Good Housekeeping ran a series of advertising puzzle stories. The stories featured Pauline, as narrated by her husband, James, in a variety of domestic situations. Thornton Burgess wrote the stories.

Here's an example from June 1906

Look through the ads before and after the Pauline story. Got the answer?
No, it's not "Hand-I-Hold Babe Mits."
(By the way, as in all advertising from this era, there will be much to offend the contemporary reader).

Here is the answer, pretty simple in my opinion.

Here's the ad itself

The Pauline stories work in two ways. First, in an era of increasing advertising clutter (yes, this was a problem even 100 years ago), the contest was a way to focus attention on magazine ads. Second, this was essentially branded entertainment. While the stories are not strikingly original, they are well-written and lightly humorous. Good solid slice-of-life long copy ads, really.

This was an era in which the relationships between media, advertisers, and readers were still being worked out. In the same (June 1906) issue, you can see the editors of Good Housekeeping promoting their principle of "reciprocity."

Indeed, in addition to the Pauline story in the June 1906 issue, there was another advertising puzzle (these were all devised by Burgess, apparently). Here are the rules:

Here is the puzzle itself.

For several years, Good Housekeeping had previously run a "rebus contest" that basically operated the same way. Note the clause that requires readers to write about their knowledge of or experiences with Good Housekeeping advertised products in order to win. I do not have the answer (the bound library volumes of Good Housekeeping that Google scanned have most of their advertising pages removed).

So let's play the Pauline story game. I'll embed a story below and it's your job to find the right ad. I'll provide the answer tomorrow.

The ads start here

UPDATE: Here's the answer

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