Kristen Turner: “Coca-Cola Goes to the Opera”

The Avid Listener is back after a long holiday weekend and we’ve got yet another new author for you. This week we feature Kristen Turner. Her essay is about the practice of celebrity endorsement when it was still new. You’re probably already familiar with the idea of the celebrity endorsement, but did you know that 19th century opera starts helped to brand products such as coca-cola?

Here’s a teaser: “At first, advertisers tapped famous musicians to endorse pianos and later phonograph machines and recordings. It made sense—a skilled musician would surely know which brand of piano is the best, or which phonograph generates the most beautiful sound. But by the end of the nineteenth century, musicians were endorsing products that seemed to have little to do with them or their musicianship such as nerve tonics, bicycles, hand lotions, and even vacuum cleaners. Most commonly, advertisers turned to famous female opera singers when they wanted to use a celebrity endorsement. But why would marketing executives think that an opera singer could persuade anyone to buy a bicycle or a vacuum? The answer to that question lies less in who the celebrity was and more in what they represented. An advertisement is not just a document designed to convince someone to part with their money; it is also an artifact that can tell us about the value and social status people assign to artists, art forms, products, and the people who might buy those products.”

Kristen focuses on Lilian Nordica, soprano extraordinaire, who endorsed a number of interesting products. Read the entire essay here, and enjoy the images of 19th century advertisements.

As we worked on Kristen’s essay, we noticed that we have unintentionally developed a soda canon on the site. For fun, take a look at these great essays, too: Josh Busman’s essay about Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Joanna Love’s essay about popular music in television commercials. But as a disclaimer: The Avid Listener takes no sides in the age-old Coke vs. Pepsi debate. Essays published on the site are not endorsements of products. 🙂

The Avid Listener: Listen. Write. Discuss. Repeat.

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