The chemical saccharin has not changed much since it was first discovered in the late 1900s. Today’s saccharin is almost chemically identical to the original substance. However, when looking at the product through a social lens, one will see that saccharin has been put through a rollercoaster of public opinion. During the twentieth century, the vacillating American opinion on sugar substitute—its health risks, its health benefits, and its economic benefits—launched the product into the forefront of the nation’s attention and scrutiny. Many of the fluctuations in saccharin sales were due to the events occurring in the country at the time: wars, social movements, et cetera. By the late twentieth century, it would have been difficult to find a circular not announcing discounts on saccharin, pills, liquid, or powdered. Due to its strong ties to American culture, saccharin advertisements came to reflect the events and mindsets surrounding the nation during their respective time period.
During the sugar shortage of World War I, many saccharin advertisements focused on the patriotism of purchasing the substance. One particular advertisement found in the October 24, 1919 issue of The Washington Post, boasts the headline “SACCHARIN—THE PUREST OF ALL SWEETENERS—IS RELIEVING THE SUGAR SITUATION” (Classified Ad 1). The ad immediately throws credibility at the reader, claiming that it is not only a sweetener, but it is superior to all others. The ad—which is simple, box-shaped, linearly structured—then goes to read that not only is saccharin a supernal sweetener, but also it is patriotic product, “aid[ing] to American health and economy” (Classified Ad 1). Much like many other advertisements during this particular time period, the logos of the advertisement appeals to American patriotism, explaining how this product will end up helping the war effort, assuming that the reader is both in support of the war effort and wanting to support the country in any way possible. Claiming that buying sugar substitute is supporting the war effort and the American economy, however, is a stretch to say the least, but given the mindset of the period, this classified was probably very effective.
After World War II—and the respective sugar shortage that came with it as well—saccharin evolved from being purely a sugar substitute to a diet regiment around the time that dieting became popular in the United States. In a 1958 issue of the Los Angeles Times, a saccharin advertisement was strategically placed next to two ladies’ fashion pictures. The saccharin bulletin—which is clearly aimed at females explaining that the company’s upgraded saccharin is perfect for “cooking, canning, baking too” (Display Ad)—assumes women seeing the adjacent advertisements will feel a want to look like the models in the picture. Chauvinistic, shallow-minded, but sadly accurate, this particular posting is expertly placed and worded. At the time in American history when dieting was just becoming popular and women were striving to look like the models pictured, an easy, cheap way to cut calories is conveniently next to their goal. The way it is laid out, it appears as if saccharin is the precursor to the skinny bodies that the models possess.
Not too long after the second ad mentioned was published was the American Feminist movement, which caused advertisements to veer away from appealing to women dieting and to general dieting instead. A classic example was published in a 1970 issue of the New York Times. This particular classified still boasts the no calorie advantages of saccharin; however, it instead addresses its audience as “dieters!” (Classified Ad 369). This ad, which did not have any other paid advertisements surrounding it, focuses on the health benefits of its saccharin-based products, the delicious taste, and even medical benefits of using their saccharin hot chocolate and milk shake mixes. The only pictures displayed are of a mug of hot cocoa and glass filled with what is presumably a milk shake. Because of the Feminist Movement occurring that the time, the publishers strategically made the decision to omit any gender bias.
Nowadays, the saccharin ads of the early to mid-twentieth century seem plain, unflashy. When the bulletins are put into the context of the time period they were published in, however, it becomes apparent that obnoxious, attention grabbing, flash-appeal was not needed when the words and placements used were so heavily significant. Saccharin was already deeply rooted into American culture, which caused a dilemma for advertisers. Marketers did not need to announce what their product was, but needed to convince consumers why they needed to buy more product. The answer to the advertisers’ problems lied in the politics of America. Armed with the current issues of their time, these marketers were able to produce advertisements with incredibly strong pathos. Much like saccharin, which was sweetness without consequence, this marketing technique was advertising without social consequence.
“Classified Ad 1 — No Title.” The Washington Post (1877-1922) 24 Oct. 1919: 10. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post (1877-1997). Web. 1 Dec. 2014. <https://login.proxy.library.emory.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.proxy.library.emory.edu/docview/145724200?accountid=10747>. Copyright – Copyright The Washington Post Company Oct 24, 1919 Last updated – 2010-05-29
“Classified Ad 369 — No Title.” New York Times (1923-Current File) 08 Mar. 1970: 1. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010). Web. 1 Dec. 2014. <https://login.proxy.library.emory.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.proxy.library.emory.edu/docview/119105899?accountid=10747>. Copyright – Copyright New York Times Company Mar 8, 1970 Last updated – 2010-05-24
“Display Ad 22 — No Title.” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) 29 Dec. 1958: 1. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Times (1881-1990). Web. 1 Dec. 2014. <https://login.proxy.library.emory.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.proxy.library.emory.edu/docview/167375242?accountid=10747>. Copyright – Copyright Times Mirror Company Dec 29, 1958 Last updated – 2010-06-01