Monday, August 14, 2006

Hadacol and radio

One of the FTC's least favorite "customers" during the summer of 1950 was a Louisiana state senator named Dudley J. LeBlanc, an opponent to the infamous Huey P. Long. He had a scheme, involving the massive power of radio advertising and Hadacol. It became the most popular snake-oil [non-homeopathic ] product ever.

It proved to be an elixir of 12 per cent alcohol, plus some of the B complex vitamins, iron, calcium, and phosphorus, dilute hydrochloric acid, and honey. he claimed the alcohol was a preservative. LeBlanc mixed the first batches in big barrels behind his Abbeville, Louisiana, barn, nearby farmers' daughters stirring it with boat oars. He charged $3.50 for a bottle of Hadacol. (With 12% alcohol by volume In some areas of the South, dry by local option, druggists sold Hadacol by the shot)

Dudley decided to bombard rural America with Hadacol advertisements and endorsements on the radio. Hadacol sponsored Hank Williams on Health and Happiness shows, broadcast daily across the airwaves in the early 1950s. The senator boosted sales for his own product throughout the Cajun country by reading testimonials in French over a radio stations like KAOK. LeBlanc even guested on Groucho Marx's radio program...

Half a dozen bands were "inspired/bribed to write odes to it. Country music recording artist Slim Willett wrote a song about Hadacol Corner, about an Upton County, Texas town supposedly almost named for the elixir. Bill Nettles and his Dixieland playboys wrote a big band tune about it as well. The Treniers wrote Hadacol (That's All), Professor Longhair wrote Hadacol Bounce, Little Willie wrote "Drinking' Hadacol", the Cajun artist Harry Choates even wrote a tune in french called Valse de Hadacol... you can hear that one here:

In entering new markets, LeBlanc blanketed the area with radio spots before he shipped any of Hadacol to the city. He ran a radio contest, which required the listener to identify "Dixie," and winners were sent coupons good for a bottle of Hadacol...

The Hadacol bubble began to expand enormously, growing out from the romantic delta land to cover the broader South. Lafayette became a boom town, as LeBlanc tore down houses and a school to enlarge his plant. Experts at promotion were hired from major proprietary concerns in the East. And as sales grew fast, LeBlanc's advertising campaign grew faster. Toward the end of 1949, he found he owed a tremendous tax bill which be did not have the ready cash to pay. So LeBlanc told his advertising manager to wipe out the bill by plunging the whole sum in new advertising. LeBlanc's advertising bill ran to a million dollars a month running ads on as many as 528 radio stations including WCIC, WSM in Nashville, WWVA in Wheeling, WCKY in Cincinnati in addition to a slew of stations in LeBlancs own Arcadian backyard.

Toward the close of the year, LeBlanc's advertising bill ran to a million dollars a month, taking in about 700 daily papers and 4,700 weeklies and 528 radio stations. Then Leblanc sold the whole company to the cash to run for Governor of Louisiana against Huey Long. More Dudley here.