Bile Beans & BS

Bile Beans….

Appetising name, eh?

Not quite Heinz (and other brands are available). So why am I showing you this photo?

Bile Beans advert on house

For two reasons…

Firstly, there is the marketing lesson.

Secondly, there is the story behind this iconic ghost sign – an advert painted on the side of a house. A story with a warning.

Let’s start with the marketing being shown here.

One of the key principles of marketing is to know your target market and discover where they hang out.

This painted advert is like a modern-day billboard or poster site. It’s placed on a busy road in an historic city. People walk past it every day. Motorists drive by it every day. Location, location, location.

The purpose of the advert is to grab attention – and get people to buy (into) the brand.

Let’s look at the detail.

We have black lettering on a yellow background… it stands out a mile. You’re not going to miss this sign on the side of a house.

We have the product, Bile Beans, in bold. In huge letters. In the centre of the sign. With an upward slant to the words. This is what the eyes focus on first…

… then you notice the sharp, clever wording.

You are given the benefit of the product. It helps you be healthy, bright-eyed and slim. And note the rhythm of threes being used here. Three benefits. All positive. All desirable. All easy to remember.

Bile Beans means… Healthy. Bright-eyed. Slim.

Notice the two words before the trio of benefits… “Keeps you”. It tells you the benefits are long lasting.

Finally, that first word. “Nightly”. It tells you how often you should use the product.

This is clear and powerful messaging.

This is stripped back marketing. It says all it needs to say and no more.

That’s the first reason for sharing this photo. Now let’s turn to the second reason.

The story behind the brand.

Whilst we can applaud the quality of the advertising and the copy in the advert, there’s a darker side to Bile Beans.

The product was a tonic and a laxative. First marketed in the 1890’s, it sold for generations until the 1980s.

Bile Beans were said to contain a vegetable source known only to Aboriginal Australians, extracted by a chemist called Charles Forde. Unlike other cure-alls, it also claimed to “disperse unwanted fat” and “purify and enrich the blood”.

The company’s marketing strategy was to flood the country with advertisements, placards, pamphlets, these ghost signs on the sides of houses and more. Sales relied heavily on newspaper adverts.

And by and large it worked pretty well. Despite one problem.

It was all based on a fraud. A piece of BS.

The Bile Beans chemist Charles Forde was a fiction. He was made up to give the product scientific authenticity. So was the ‘special’ vegetable source.

The product’s ingredients were discovered to be not unique to the Aboriginals. Cascara, rhubarb, liquorice and menthol were commonly found in pharmacies of the time.

A court case in 1905 established the Bile Bean Manufacturing Company’s business was based on a fraud… and being run fraudulently.

Perhaps surprising to us today, the finding did NOT stop the product being sold. It only stopped being sold in the 1980s. Such is the persuasiveness of marketing and the ‘stickiness’ of long-standing loyalty to a brand.

The company’s advertising included some unusual marketing promotions.

A musical march was composed and newspaper readers could apply to receive a free copy of the sheet music for it. This gave Bile Beans people’s address details for follow-up marketing. There was a cookery book. A puzzle book. Both given away freely to build the brand and the database.

Advertising and marketing increasingly targeted women… attempting to seduce them with that triple pledge of “healthy, bright-eyed and slim”.

What do we take from all this?

Firstly, of course, buyer beware.

Easy to say from hindsight, of course. I’m sure many many sales of Bile Beans were down to word of mouth. Whether the product worked because of its ingredients or the placebo effect of its claimed special qualities is neither here nor there. If people thought it worked they would keep buying it. It’s no different today.

Setting aside the untruths for a moment, what else can we learn and look to use in our own businesses?

Grab attention. Hold attention.

Use simple words. Use fewer words where more are not needed to say what you want to say.

Promote the benefits.

Use the rhythm of threes.

Invest in marketing. Get your brand recognised. Build brand loyalty.

Have a story behind the company, product and service.

Use lead magnets to build your database for follow-up marketing.

Be different.

Try the unusual.

Just look what’s been uncovered here from ONE photograph.

So another suggestion is to keep your eyes and ears open. See what’s around you. Stop. Pause. Observe.

Get curious.

Notice how one photograph, snapped quickly on a smartphone during a stroll around town, has provided me with the source and spark for a blog article.

Simple content marketing.

How will you use what you see around you to help promote your business or share something of value with your audience?

Want to know how to do it consistently, week after week, month after month?

Want someone to do it for you?

Let’s talk.

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