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culture

Vintage Toronto Ads: Scared Stiff by Scotch

Could Buchanan's Black & White induce terror?

Source: the News, January 31, 1913.

Source: the News, January 31, 1913.

How to sell Scotch a century ago: hire a pitchman with Cheshire Cat grin to hide in a dark room. (The disembodied head and mutton chops flying out like long whiskers only add to the feline effect.)

While it’s conceivable that this man might have charmed Scotch drinkers into investing in a bottle of Black & White in 1913, nowadays this ad might suggest a psycho killer preparing to pounce on his victim. Sinister smile lit by candlelight, bottle clenched in hand, no other parts of the body visible, possible Lewis Carroll obsession accompanied by purring voice: the stuff cinematic nightmares are made of.

Perhaps the ad agency should have stuck with the drink’s traditional black and white terrier mascots. Launched as Buchanan’s Blend by James Buchanan in 1879, corporate legend has it that the brand earned its name when customers in dimly-lit drinking establishments asked for “that black and white whisky,” based on its dark bottle and light label. An animal lover, Buchanan added the terriers to the label a few years later. “Some people believe it was these lovable Scotties that made the whisky so famous,” a 1968 ad noted. “But those who have tasted this classic Scotch know it’s really the other way around.” Either way, grinning disembodied heads didn’t factor in.

Additional material from the July 19, 1968 edition of Life.

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