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Geritol liquid tonic first appeared in 1950, marketed by Serutan Co. as "a remedy for those who felt tired because of iron poor blood." Formed in 1935, Serutan—which used the tagline "Nature's spelled backwards"—introduced Geritol iron tablets with vitamins in 1952. The brand remained the No. 1 iron and vitamin supplement until 1979.

Franklin Bruck Advertising initially handled advertising for Serutan, until Edward Kletter Associates was formed in December 1952 and became the agency for many of Serutan's products. In 1953, Serutan changed its name to Pharmaceuticals Inc.

Preventing iron-poor blood

To advertise, Geritol turned to the new medium of TV, embracing its most popular format of the 1950s, the game show. Shows such as "Twenty-One" and "To Tell the Truth," with Ralph Bellamy touting Geritol's ability to prevent iron-poor blood, were among many programs sponsored by Pharmaceuticals Inc., but the quiz show scandals of the late 1950s soured this marketing approach for sponsors.

In 1960, Pharmaceuticals Inc. changed its name to that of a subsidiary purchased in 1957: J.B. Williams Co. Coinciding with that purchase, the company had created Parkson Advertising as a new house agency. Edward Kletter briefly became president of the new Parkson Advertising before moving on to director of advertising for J.B. Williams Co.

In 1963, the Federal Trade Commission charged J.B. Williams Co. with deceptive advertising, maintaining that the "tired blood" campaign from Parkson could mislead people suffering from fatigue due to disorders more serious than iron deficiency. In 1967, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati upheld the FTC's decision. Williams was required to make affirmative disclosures in its advertising stating that most people who had the symptoms described were not suffering from iron deficiency anemia and would receive no benefit from Geritol. Geritol was reformulated that year to include seven vitamins in addition to the iron.

In 1971, Parkson Advertising created a memorable TV campaign featuring contented, middle-age couples, with the husband quipping, "My wife. I think I'll keep her." That same year, Nabisco Co. acquired Williams.

The FTC and J.B. Williams Co. reached a final settlement in 1976, with the marketer agreeing to pay $280,000 in fines. That was the largest settlement ever collected by the FTC in a false advertising case, although the case was settled without a trial and therefore concluded without Williams admitting any violation of law in its advertising.

Despite its troubles with the FTC, Geritol still dominated the $25 million tonic market, accounting for 90% of the market. J.B. Williams Co. spent more than $15 million on advertising in 1976.

In the early 1980s, ads by Parkson featured tennis star Evonne Goolagong taking Geritol to enhance her on-court performance. Beecham Products acquired the Geritol brand in 1982, and Grey Advertising took over the account.

"New, improved Geritol"

In 1983, Beecham introduced "new, improved Geritol" with nine vitamins and minerals in addition to iron. The shift away from the brand's identity as an iron supplement continued the following year when Beecham introduced Geritol Complete with iron plus 29 vitamins and minerals.

After a number of years without advertising, Geritol turned to Grey again in 1994. The new ads focused on the beta-carotene content of Geritol and emphasized what was not in the product—added sugar, lactose and artificial sweeteners. The featured tagline was "Complete for what's in it. Special for what's not." Geritol switched agencies to Creative Advertising Solutions in 1999 and spent approximately $2.5 million on advertising that year, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

In 2000, the company, then SmithKline Beecham, merged with Glaxo Wellcome to become Glaxo SmithKline. By 2004, GSK’s spending on Geritol was down to less than $50,000 a year.

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