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Looking Back

Ads from the old world

Asuncion Lopez Bantug, granddaughter of Narcisa Rizal, was a fountain of family lore. Her stories, collected over many visits, the best ones recounted as I sat beside her at a mahjong table, made the National Hero real to me. From her the Rizal of marble and bronze was turned into one of flesh and blood, a man made heroic by his very humanity.

While I gathered much from Mrs. Bantug, I am sure much that she had forgotten was written down in a journal she had kept daily from prewar to the martial law years. But that pile of notebooks is now lost because an overzealous housekeeper had cleaned her bedroom while she was abroad and discarded all the old notebooks on her bedside table. “Wala na pong silbi, Señora,” the housekeeper argued; in her innocent eyes, the notebooks were useless because they were all filled with writing and had no space for anything new!

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I remembered Mrs. Bantug as I pored through old notebooks rediscovering previous research from old books, periodicals and manuscripts, much of which I had completely forgotten about. One notebook contained notes on Philippine Magazine cherry-picked from issues that ran from January to December 1930. Titles and page numbers of important articles were listed down for future reading or reference. Relevant texts were excerpted and accurately copied out, and scattered in between what was important were jottings regarding advertisements of the period.

Some products like Castorfina, for example, are either extinct or known today under a different name or formulation. Others like International Harvester, Crisco, Jacob’s Crackers, San Miguel beer and San Miguel products are still around nine decades later.

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Imports like Del Monte canned fruit and vegetables, or Libby’s Corned Beef, were put into a Philippine context by advertisements drawn by Fernando and Pablo Amorsolo. San Miguel, which started out brewing beer, had branched out into softdrinks like Royal Tru-Orange and Magnolia Ice Cream.

I did not know that Royal was a whole line of softdrinks that once had 23 different flavors; only Royal True Orange has survived to our time. It may boast pulp bits, but this carbonated drink is far from true orange juice. Then as now, its main sales pitch was that it was a thirst-quencher, but in 1930 what we now know as “RTO” was sold as a clean and safe bottled drink compared to colored liquids bought by the roadside, scooped from garapon with ice by itinerant vendors. This practice was blamed for a host of diseases by American health inspectors. Factory-made Magnolia Ice Cream was likewise supposed to be more sanitary than that sold by vendors, known to us today as “dirty ice cream.”

Bear Brand Swiss Milk (Marca Oso in Spanish) came in paper-wrapped cans and was advertised to be cleaner and safer than unpasteurized cow, carabao or goat milk, which came fresh from the animal and sold streetside and unpasteurized from containers made from gourd or bamboo (not refrigerated) by lecheros. Unlike today where a mother’s breast milk is promoted as safest for babies and superior to powdered infant formula, Marca Oso was then said to be the best. Its trademark depicts a bear feeding a cub with a bottle, making me wonder if some people actually thought this clean milk came from bears.

Del Monte vegetables and fruit were considered fresh, not from the farm but from the can. These were ready to eat, like Libby’s Corned Beef and other meat products, straight from the can without cooking. No doubt this revolutionized the Pinoy kitchen, as sliced bread, instant noodles, rice cooker and the microwave freed the Filipino woman from much cooking, giving her more time for herself and other things.

Speaking of women, would you believe Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum was advertised in 1930 as a beauty product? “Probably no woman ever lived who surpassed the glorious Aztec beauties for exquisite teeth and youthful, preppy lips. Yet their simple, inexpensive Beauty Secret was merely chewing gum daily to keep a perfect mouth.” Gum eliminated unsightly facial wrinkles, especially around the lips, by the simple exercise exerted in chewing!

Old ads may be obsolete, but studying them underscores how different our world is from that of our great-grandparents. From that, we can ask ourselves if our complicated world is indeed better than the simpler one of yesteryears.

Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu

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TAGS: ads, ambeth ocampo, Bantug, Bear Brand, Looking Back, Magnolia, MRS, old world, Rizal, San Miguel
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