I don’t know how much this dates me, but I can recall being a kid and watching Saturday morning toons interspersed with commercials for Nestle’s Quik.
They intrigued me not so much because of that obnoxious rabbit, but because they actually seemed to make claims that Quik was healthy. Add it to milk to make it more tasty — and hey, there are extra vitamins too! I was pretty sure my parents wouldn’t fall for it. They didn’t.
We actually had some of the stuff for a while, but there was no pretense whatsoever about its health merits. It was a chocolate flavoring added to the milk; it had nothing to do with increasing the food value. After a while we started using Hershey syrup instead.1
While poking through an archive of advertising that spans from 1932 to 1969, I stumbled across some materials that seem to indicate Nestle’s strategy was hardly new. For instance, this:
Jean used to hate drinking milk but now she begs for it! One wonders if, amongst its additives that made milk “70% more” nutritious, Cocomalt didn’t contain some Vitamin N.2 Or if maybe Mommy just decided to stop feeding little Jean for a week or so. How do you like your milk now, huh, little Jean?
Yeah, I thought so.
As it turns out, though, Cocomalt had it easy. Would you drink something like this?
Vitavose. Vitavose, from a company called Squibb. The only way to make it less attractive would be to say it was made using the steriseptic process for extra cleanliness, packed into individually cleansi-sol’d containers to ensure absolute protection from every malady.
Squibb takes a different angle from Cocomalt — they aren’t trying to claim milk tastes better, but that Vivatose contains vitamin B, which they say is essential for appetite.
Oh? Do we have some research to back that up?
I thought not.
Give him Chocolate Vivatose instead of ordinary chocolate milk drinks. It’s so much better for the children.
And for God’s sake, won’t someone please think of the children?
The undisputed king of milky nostrums, though, is surely Ovaltine.3 And boy did they not hold back. From 1933:
“Spindle-Shanks” — he hated milk and couldn’t put on weight. Nice. Ovaltine was another product that claimed it stimulated appetite, though in this particular ad it doesn’t say how.
When were methamphetamines discovered, again?4
I wonder how many kids saw this ad in Good Housekeeping, saw themselves as being denigrated by Spanky and Our Gang in panel 1, and decided life wasn’t worth living and they’d be best suited to a joyless existence as a bank clerk or accountant.
Of course the strong, healthy boys ended up going to war less than a decade later, and a hell of a lot of them didn’t come back. Thanks, mom. And thanks, Ovaltine.
Nonetheless, as odious as these products might have been (Quik is the only one I had any experience with, and if it’s typical the others didn’t taste foul, just odd), it could have been worse, I suppose. Far worse. And for some kids I fear it was.
Mint flavored? Really? In the name of all that’s holy, why?5
1. So you could think of Quik as being the gateway drug, I guess.
2. The same vitamin found in products made by RJR.
3. Not the least because they’re still in business, and they still make health claims. (And are owned by Nestle, who still make Quik. Coincidence?)
5. I don’t mean why the mint flavoring, so much as why drink the stuff at all?
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