Blinded by Science? Constructing Truth and Authority in Early 20th-Century Virol Advertisements

Ohagan, Lauren (2021). Blinded by Science? Constructing Truth and Authority in Early 20th-Century Virol Advertisements. History of Retailing and Consumption, 7(2) pp. 162–102.



This paper conducts a case study of the marketing of Virol – a malt extract preparation that was popular in early twentieth-century Britain – using advertisements from British newspapers. Using multimodal critical discourse analysis, it explores how marketers drew upon linguistic/semiotic resources to embed Virol in discourses of scientific knowledge and how these discourses were made to appear true. Through targeted marketing campaigns, Virol established consumer bases framed around three health concerns: malnutrition, constipation and anxiety. Using testimonies, buzzwords, photographs and infographics, Virol created an illusion of scientific rationality, yet the studies or authority figures behind their findings were never explicitly specified, leaving consumers to make assumptions about the product’s benefits using their own limited understandings. As women were the primary household shoppers, ‘scientific motherhood’ (and ‘wifehood’) was also drawn upon, producing a dichotomy that framed women as responsible for their families’ health, yet incapable of this responsibility without expert intervention.

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  • Item ORO ID
  • 84870
  • Item Type
  • Journal Item
  • ISSN
  • 2373-5171
  • Keywords
  • history of science; marketing; modality; multimodal critical discourse analysis; advertisements; Great Britain; health
  • Academic Unit or School
  • Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies (WELS)
  • Copyright Holders
  • © 2021 The Authors
  • Depositing User
  • Lauren Alex O'Hagan