Wednesday, Jul. 17, 2019

Try This One Weird Trick to Repeat History

By Carol Acquaviva · September 28, 2018

Marin Journal, October 3, 1918 <span>&copy;  </span>

Marin Journal, October 3, 1918

Marin Journal, July 18, 1918 <span>&copy;  </span> Dr. Ray Vaughn Pierce of Buffalo, NY <span>&copy; Project Gutenberg </span>

We’ve all seen those online advertisements. Worded and designed to look like an impartial news article, they are disguised, sandwiched among legitimate news items on mainstream news outlets. These "articles" promise to show you how to trim your belly fat, make you look and feel younger and cure ailments you didn’t even know you had.

Examining the Marin Journal from 100 years ago, you see that this strategy is nothing new. Take a look at these clippings, which at first glance look exactly like the articles around them. With legitimate-sounding headlines and a convincing journalistic tone, the advertisements sneak in their objective: to promote a health remedy, here in the form of Doan’s Kidney Pills. If they are good enough for your San Rafael neighbors, they must work, right?

In 1893, a mail-order pharmacist named Dr. Ray Vaughn Pierce, of Buffalo, New York, foresaw that readers might be skeptical of the concept of a miracle pill. His product "isn’t a ‘cure-all,’" he said, but it did assert to "cure all diseases of the stomach and other organs." Like today’s claims of removing “toxins” from the body, “Dr. Pierce’s Pleasant Pellets” promise to “purify the blood” and are as “easy to take as candy.” Dr. Pierce's product was consistently advertised in the Marin Journal for over 45 years.

More on Dr. Pierce and his Miracle Pellets can be found here and here. Aren't you tempted to follow these links? You won’t believe what we found! (Spoiler: his medicine initially contained opium.)

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