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Post-Prohibition Hangover: Why Booze Marketers Were Slow to Advertise

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MillerCoors might be trying to make hay out of the 80th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition. But in the days following the repeal on Dec. 5, 1933, surprisingly few booze and beer marketers were launching ads.

Ad Age, which was three years old at the time, covered it.

Our lead story on Dec. 9 noted that "while the 14-year-old Prohibition dyke broke with a loud 'pop,' ... national advertising placed by distillers, importers or national sales agencies was extremely scarce, most of the copy which appeared having been placed by local retailers and dealers."

Meanwhile, we reported that "beer advertising, which had been in declines for several weeks, reappeared with copy stressing the new strength of the beverage." (Prohibition allowed "near beer" sales.)

It seems that one reason for the slow roll-out of booze ads is the fact that some state legislatures did not act immediately to approve regulations. For instance, despite Wisconsin being "one of the wettest of the wet states," prohibition repeal meant "nothing to residents or advertisers" in the state because the legislatures special liquor session did not convene until Dec. 11. But things were much different in wine-producing San Francisco, which put on a repeal celebration, while evening papers on Dec. 5 and morning papers on Dec. 6 ran "special wine and liquor sections running as high as 16 pages, and well-filled with advertising."

One funny footnote: Bristol-Myers Co., really stepped up advertising in the wake of repeal. Why? "Executives forecast many headaches following repeal celebrations."

The company ran 1,000-line ads in cities with the biggest parties telling sufferers to "put the sun back in the sky -- with Sal Hepatica," which was a laxative brand that the company also marketed as combating acidity (heartburn).

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