Mad Men And Oarsmen

Pic 1. At the 2011 Henley Royal Regatta, HTBS Editor Göran Buckhorn (left) and contributors Tim Koch (centre) and Chris Dodd (right) discuss ‘all aspects of the rich history of rowing, as a sport, culture phenomena, a life style, and a necessary element to keep your wit and stay sane'.
At the 2011 Henley Royal Regatta, HTBS Editor Göran Buckhorn (left) and contributors Tim Koch (centre) and Chris Dodd (right) discuss ‘all aspects of the rich history of rowing, as a sport, culture phenomena, a life style, and a necessary element to keep your wit and stay sane’. Photo: Hélène Rémond.

Tim Koch writes:

When ‘Hear the Boat Sing’ (HTBS) started in March 2009, it was posted on ‘Blogger’, the free weblog publishing tool from Google. In August 2014, after more than five years and nearly 1,700 blog posts, the site and its archive moved to ‘WordPress’ and became ‘heartheboatsing.com’. Sadly, this did not mean that HTBS contributors became ‘dot com millionaires’ (to use a rather dated phrase). The advertisements that appeared at the bottom of the .com posts were put there by WordPress to compensate them for providing a ‘free’ service and they took whatever little income that the pop-ups produced. However, at the end of last month HTBS had an upgrade. We are still with WordPress but the new arrangement will mean that we have a larger storage capacity and have new possibilities for the site. Most of these are in the future but one immediate and very welcome effect is that adverts, many ugly and intrusive, will no longer appear on ‘Hear The Boat Sing’. Had we been able to pick which promotions appeared however, we may have allowed them to continue as images of rowing have long been a favourite for the advertising ‘Mad Men’ (and probably ‘Mad Women’) to include in their efforts.

My search for advertisements that include rowing has been fairly cursory but the two below are the earliest that I have found.

Pic 2. A British ad for Cadbury’s Cocoa dating from 1885. While the text markets it as a drink for athletes needing ‘strength and staying power’, the picture, showing a fashionable Henley type regatta, sells it as something for the wealthy and sophisticated.
A British ad for Cadbury’s Cocoa dating from 1885. While the text markets it as a drink for athletes needing ‘strength and staying power’, the picture, showing a fashionable Henley type regatta, sells it as something for the wealthy and sophisticated.

 

Pic 3a. This American ad from 1905 urges the consumption of ‘Shredded Whole Wheat Biscuit’ as we all ‘must pull an oar in the race of life’ and ‘need Brawn and Brain for the master stroke that wins’. What ever they ate, this crew would do better if they all had their outside hands on the end of their handles.
This American ad from 1905 urges the consumption of ‘Shredded Whole Wheat Biscuit’ as we all ‘must pull an oar in the race of life’ and ‘need Brawn and Brain for the master stroke that wins’. What ever they ate, this crew would do better if they all had their outside hands on the end of their handles.

Interestingly, the early advertisements illustrated above already include the two most common reasons to include images of rowing in an advertisement for a product unrelated to the sport – even today. Firstly, an association with rowing is often used to add some ‘class’ to a product’s image. Secondly, a rowing crew is frequently used as an analogy of life and its struggles.

Using rowing to add so-called ‘class’ to the image of a product is still, sadly, thought of as effective today. Certainly in both Britain and the United States, the sport is still associated by many with so-called ‘elitist’ educational establishments such as public (i.e. private) schools and Oxford / Cambridge in the UK and prep schools and the Ivy League Colleges in the U.S.

Pic 3b. In 1936, sport and smoking could be associated without complaint. This one shows Henley Royal Regatta, one of the ‘fashionable gatherings’ where Player’s cigarettes ‘are always in a majority’.
In 1936, sport and smoking could be associated without complaint. This one shows Henley Royal Regatta, one of the ‘fashionable gatherings’ where Player’s cigarettes ‘are always in a majority’.

 

Pic 4. This American ad from 1948 equates rowing with ‘good taste’ by illustrating a race on the Schuylkill River in about 1836. To be fair, I suppose it is not unreasonable to associate Philadelphia with boat racing – especially for a ‘heritage whisky’ that ‘draws on treasured pre-war reserves’.
This American ad from 1948 equates rowing with ‘good taste’ by illustrating a race on the Schuylkill River in about 1836. To be fair, I suppose it is not unreasonable to associate Philadelphia with boat racing – especially for a ‘heritage whisky’ that ‘draws on treasured pre-war reserves’.

 

Pic 5. Another American ad, this from the 1960s. Because he ‘coaches crew’, this man (who spends $4.95 on ‘the skinniest slacks under the sun’) is clearly a sophisticated type whose judgement can be trusted. I would usually be suspicious of a coach who wore very tight trousers and no shirt but, judging by his pink socks, this one is a member of Leander and so must be alright.
Another American ad, this from the 1960s. Because he ‘coaches crew’, this man (who spends $4.95 on ‘the skinniest slacks under the sun’) is clearly a sophisticated type whose judgement can be trusted. I would usually be suspicious of a coach who wore very tight trousers and no shirt but, judging by his pink socks, this one is a member of Leander and so must be alright.

In the past 99% of advertisements for cars were aimed at men and their manly aspirations (today this could be down as low as 90%) and associating an allegedly up-market and macho sport with a new car was an obvious thing to do.

Pic 6. 1959: Perhaps the cox is saying ‘I’ll park this for you Honey, the 1960s haven’t started yet’.
1959: Perhaps the cox is saying ‘I’ll park this for you Honey, the 1960s haven’t started yet’.

 

Pic 7. 1967: ’What emissions problem’? The Plymouth ‘crew-size Fury wagon’.
1967: ’What emissions problem’? The Plymouth ‘crew-size Fury wagon’.

 

Pic 8. 1980: MG tries to sell to America using the appeal of heritage in both cars and sport. Approaching the end of the island at Henley is a coxed four verses a coxless four race.
1980: MG tries to sell to America using the appeal of heritage in both cars and sport. Approaching the end of the island at Henley is a coxed four verses a coxless four race.

As I have already suggested, to use a rowing crew as an analogy for some aspect of life’s endeavours is an old idea – in fact, one so old and so overused that it has become a cliché. Providers of financial services seem to be the ones most fascinated with this trite idea.

Pic 9. 1924: The Continental and Commercial Banks of Chicago proclaim the virtues of ‘everlasting team work’.
1924: The Continental and Commercial Banks of Chicago proclaim the virtues of ‘everlasting team work’.

 

Pic 10. 1949: The London and Lancashire Insurance Company ‘pull together in unison – mind and body bent in common effort’.
1949: The London and Lancashire Insurance Company ‘pull together in unison – mind and body bent in common effort’.

 

Pic 11. 2013: Rentguard Insurance, ‘pulling together’.
2013: Rentguard Insurance, ‘pulling together’.

Finally, humour is not something that I immediately thought of in relation to advertisements that use an association with rowing – but I did find the examples below.

Pic 12
While ‘pulling together’ is much overused, this late Victorian example shows the humorous results of failing to pull together. Perhaps it was also a reference to an impending local regatta?

 

Pic 13. This advertisement from the 1984 Los Angles Olympics was a nice idea, but not properly thought out. I do not think that I am being pedantic when I say that there should have been (say) four squares of cheese – which would have thus represented a quadruple scull. Six squares do not mean anything – or am I missing something?
This advertisement from the 1984 Los Angles Olympics was a nice idea, but not properly thought out. I do not think that I am being pedantic when I say that there should have been (say) four squares of cheese – which would have thus represented a quadruple scull. Six squares do not mean anything – or am I missing something?

 

Pic 14. A slightly strange effort from 1997. Second from the left is Jamie Koven, these days a Henley Steward.
A slightly strange effort from 1997. Second from the left is Jamie Koven, these days a Henley Steward.

 

Pic 15. In 2012, the South African arm of condom manufacturers Durex put this picture on Twitter immediately following the splendid win by the country’s lightweight four at the London Olympics. There is also a probably unintended sub-joke for the initiated – who has not put on a new rubber grip on the end of the handle of a sculling blade without giggling? Not just me, I hope. While the ad may be slightly puerile viewed in retrospect, the secret of comedy is, of course, timing.
In 2012, the South African arm of condom manufacturers Durex put this picture on Twitter immediately following the splendid win by the country’s lightweight four at the London Olympics. There is also a probably unintended sub-joke for the initiated – who has not put on a new rubber grip on the end of the handle of a sculling blade without giggling? Not just me, I hope. While the ad may be slightly puerile viewed in retrospect, the secret of comedy is, of course, timing.

Rowing historian Bill Miller has put together a nice collection of rowing advertisements on the Friends of Rowing History website. He writes: ‘It is impressive to see how much rowing was in the public eye up through the mid-20th century. This is supported by the use of rowing images and rowing heroes in advertising’. View Bill’s collection here.

4 comments

  1. To see Guinness ads from the 1950’s : https://heartheboatsing.com/2010/03/22/guinnesss-rowing-ads

    I have a copy of an advertisement which promotes Maypole Soap (dating back to the 19th century). The picture features young children in an eight. There are good grounds for saying they are pupils who would “get their blues” as the caption reads “Maypole Soap Dyes All Colours”.

    A few weeks before the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, an advertising insert published in the Funday Times associated Olympic rower Greg Searle to Kellogg’s National Breakfast week.

    After the Olympic Games, Matthew Pinsent lent his name to a poem advertising Gordon’s Gin with the slogan “You can only be truly great at one thing”.

    In March 2001, both Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent appeared on TV advertising Adidas Footwear. Pinsent promoted a Vauxhall car and Redgrave endorsed Flora margarine. In his autobiography, Steve Redgrave recalls having promoted “everything from apples to an Australian wine” after his achievement in the 1996 Olympic Games.

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