Crafty companies’ suspect sales tactics throughout history will be unveiled in a new exhibition delving into the evolution of advertising.

Dubbed “The Power of Persuasion,” the exhibition will scrutinize the dubious assertions made by past firms, occasionally landing them in hot water and contributing to the establishment of today’s stringent advertising standards.

Scheduled to debut at Abbey House Museum later this month, the showcase will also delve into the stories of enduring iconic brands from Leeds and beyond, cementing their place in history.

One narrative highlighted in the exhibition revolves around the deceptive claims made by Leeds-based C.E. Fulford Ltd during the early 1900s. Their Bile Beans, promising relief from various minor ailments, were exposed in court in 1904. The supposedly miraculous properties of the beans were debunked, revealing that the secret ingredient, supposedly discovered by a fictional Australian explorer, was nothing more than locally grown rhubarb and liquorice.

Another brand under scrutiny is Vibrona Tonic Wine, produced by Fletcher, Fletcher and Co. Ltd around 1905. Marketed as a medicinal product available at chemists, it was, in reality, an extra-strong alcoholic beverage, leading unsuspecting buyers to unintentional intoxication.

The exhibition will also showcase the historical marketing of tobacco as a health product, with a 1914 snuff company claiming that “a pinch a day keeps flu away.”

In contrast, the exhibition will shed light on the stories behind trusted brands, logos, and packaging that have become synonymous with their products. Vintage signs once adorning Leeds streets, such as a giant pair of spectacles from Dyons jewellers, a golden Tetley’s brewery sign, and a large wooden arm and hammer advertising a Victorian gold beater’s shop, will also be on display.

Kitty Ross, Leeds Museums and Galleries’ curator of social history, said: “The tactics companies have used to try and persuade costumers to part with their money have varied dramatically over the years in line with consumer trends, economics and the way in which advertising itself has been regulated.

“Victorian and early 20th Century companies had a tendency to either wildly exaggerate or outright fabricate the health benefits of their products, often leading to quite outlandish claims which did not stand up to scrutiny.

“With the development of much stricter standards, modern adverts have placed more emphasis either on luxury or value.

“What’s been a consistent, common thread has been the desire to convince customers that your product is the best and most dependable, and it’s the products which have achieved that which have developed that all-important brand identity that’s withstood the test of time.”

Councillor Jonathan Pryor, Leeds City Council’s executive member for economy, culture, and education, expressed fascination with exploring the city’s role as the birthplace of iconic brands that have contributed to its national and global recognition.

“The Power of Persuasion” is set to open at Abbey House Museum on January 20, 2024.

Councillor Jonathan Pryor, Leeds City Council’s executive member for economy, culture and education, said: “Leeds has been the birthplace of some truly iconic brands which have helped put the city on the map nationally and around the world.

“It’s fascinating to explore how those brands and others have become part of our history and to see some of the many enthralling objects in our world-class collection.”

More details are available at Abbey House Museum – Leeds Museums & Galleries