Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Cheers! Selling Health and Happiness: Advertising Alcohol in New Zealand, c.1900-1945

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posted on 2023-03-14, 02:47 authored by Duncan, Marie

Abstract At the turn of the 20th century New Zealand’s newspapers were filled with advertising material offering information on a wide variety of products. Among these advertisements were those for alcohol, a commodity which the advertisements claimed to have multiple benefits, including those of a restorative and curative nature. This thesis will examine how two product groups, alcoholic beverages claiming medicinal value, and patent medicines containing alcohol, were advertised in selected New Zealand newspapers and magazines during the years 1900-1945.  The advertising of these two groups was, in many ways, similar. Both used evocative text and images, with the images changing from drawn illustrations to photographs, and both targeted groups, linking these to specific drinks. For example, tonic wine advertising was aimed at women suffering from psychological distress, while beer and spirit advertisements targeted men and sporting codes, and patent medicine advertisements were designed to attract mothers and those suffering from respiratory illnesses. While both alcohol and patent medicines were subject to legislation this was not always effective. The Quackery Act 1908, which should have impacted on both alcohol and patent medicine advertising had no effect on either group. Patent medicine advertisers however, responded to the Physical Welfare Recreation Act 1937, and the Social Welfare Act 1938 with images of active, healthy children. The Medical Advertisements Act 1942 impacted immediately on alcohol advertising. but was not as successful with patent medicines.  Both groups had significant changes affecting their advertising. For example, patent medicine advertising was dramatically altered by the discovery of vitamins. This, to a large extent, moved the impetus of many of these advertisements from illness to health. Two factors influenced alcohol advertising: the first being Prohibition Referenda which saw the emergence of advertising focused on placing alcohol in the household medicine chest. This highlighted the use of alcohol as a commodity commonly used in the home for medical and other emergencies and these advertisements informed readers of what could be lost if prohibition were passed. The second, and most significant change came about with the Medical Advertisements Act 1942 when any mention of cure or relief became unlawful.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Master of Arts

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Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations


McAloon, Jim; Abouh-Nemeh, Catherine