The Boer War: Presented by Bovril

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The Boer War: Presented by Bovril

BovrilAdvertising in Victorian times was in its heyday. It was more or less unregulated too,offering manufacturers, business and the unscrupulous many opportunities.

Much of this was what we’d call guerilla marketing today. The population was growing tired of the advertising hoardings that bombarded them. Because advertising was so often misleading, if not downright fraudulent, then they looked at other ways to promote brands and company names.

For example, Beecham’s who made medicinal powders and pills, provided free sails to boat owners at popular resorts -plastered with their company name and slogans, of course.

On one occasion, a Beecham’s-sponsored boat went to the rescue of two people who were in danger of drowning in the sea. Naturally, the company made the most of this in their advertising material.

But Bovril ‘sponsored’ an entire war

Bovril was, and still  is, a meat extract, usually used mixed with hot water to produce a savoury drink or to add flavour and ‘beefiness’ to stocks, soup and sauces.

The Boer War was the first conflict to take place as a ‘media event’. For the first time, theatregoers could see newsreel footage of the war. (Much of this was faked and filmed by actors on Hampstead Heath).

But the manufacturers of Bovril saw this as huge opportunity. They took out full page ads in newspapers, claiming that the company had sent 85,000 pounds of the beverage, plus ‘hundreds of thousands’ of emergency rations to South Africa to revive the British troops.

These were illustrated with drawings of the grateful, weary soldiers enjoying Bovril drinks and being restored to health and fitness.

“Doctors, nurses,officers soldiers and newspaper correspondents unite in bearing testimony to the great popularity of Bovril at the front as an invigorating and nourishing food,preparing the soldier for battle and aiding him to recovery when weakened by wounds and disease”.

Samuel H. Benson, the advertising supremo of the day, devised another advertising campaign for the company. This was the Bovril War Cable Scheme. The population longed for news but with no television,radio or internet, there were opportunities available to make the most of the advertising potential.

Benson’s scheme involved setting up thousands of ‘Bovril Boards’ in participating grocery stores throughout Britain. When war news broke, this was conveyed to the stores by uniformed messengers belonging to an extensive cycle fleet. The messengers would speed to their allocated stores and pin the latest war news on the ‘Bovril Boards’.

Furthermore, if individuals paid a small fee – and handed in several Bovril labels as proof of purchase – they could have the war news delivered directly to their own homes.

This clever advertising campaign provided excellent public relations, increased sales and kept the product in the public eye.






Jackie Jackson, also known online as BritFlorida, is a highly experienced designer and writer. British born and now living in the USA, she specialises in lifestyle issues, design and quirky stories. You can see a wide range of articles here, or visit her website Tastes Magazine. See The Writer’s Door for more information.

Author: Jackie Jackson

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