Something you might not know about Dorothy L. Sayers

The main officers of the Mustard Club. From left to right: Miss Di Gester (secretary), Lord Bacon of Cookham, Master Mustard, the Baron de Beef, Signior Spaghetti and Lady Hearty.

The main officers of the Mustard Club. From left to right: Miss Di Gester (secretary), Lord Bacon of Cookham, Master Mustard, the Baron de Beef, Signior Spaghetti and Lady Hearty.

Poet, novelist, playwright, translator, essayist, Holmesian: there is a lot to know (and like) about Dorothy L. Sayers. This I didn’t know, though: her first writing that made a real splash was part of her early career as an advertising copywriter for the London advertising agency of S.H. Benson*. And in this mode she was possibly one of the first participants in a campaign of guerrilla advertising, and one of the earliest examples of an integrated advertising campaign. It ran for seven years — which is a good long time for any ad campaign, then or now — and worked its way deep into the fabric of UK popular culture of the last century.

It started when mysterious posters began to appear inside and outside London buses and then in buses and on advertising hoardings elsewhere around the country. These posters said, simply, “Has Father joined the Mustard Club?” Mystified, people started talking about them. Gradually other aspects of the campaign began to emerge: newspaper ads and magazine articles about the Mustard Club and its members.

Rules of the Mustard Club

There was a club newsletter you could subscribe to (apparently Sayers wrote this as well) and club badges that you could send for. By the time the club closed in 1933, half a million of these had been sent out: in mid-campaign there was an office staff of ten people who did nothing but handle the two thousand badge-requests that came in each week. There was a recipe book for which Sayers did the writing (still on sale at Colman’s Mustard Shop and Museum in Norwich: though original editions are still to be found, and must be fairly collectible, to judge by the prices…). There were even spoof newsreels about the doings of the club, and numerous marketing spinoffs — among them playing cards and (no surprise) mustard pots. All through the campaign, a lot of care was taken to make the club seem real, even if (as our copy of A Dash of Mustard says) the ads themselves were “just clever nonsense”. The whole point was that they kept the product, Colman’s Mustard, in the forefront of people’s minds. And Sayers’ droll and witty concepts and writing were at the heart of it.

…So that’s today’s Thing I Didn’t Know About. The only problem with doing this particular kind of research is that it’s now made me hungry for something I can put mustard on. (sigh) A good thing it’s lunchtime…

*It turns out she was also responsible for the tremendously popular Guinness “Zoo” ads, with art by Gilroy (who was working for the same London ad agency), and wrote the well-known poem for the Guinness Toucan:

Toucan

If he can say as you can

“Guinness is good for you”,

How grand to be a toucan –

Just think what Toucan do!

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Diane Duane

  • Marchbanks

    I’m a bit startled to learn you weren’t aware of Mustard Club, which I learned about sometime in the ’90s (and I thought I was late to the game). That’s why she could write so convincingly about Lord Peter’s Whifflets scheme in Murder Must Advertise–she’d literally ‘been there, done that.’

    I’ll freely admit I did not know about the Guinness Toucan et al.; that’s a bit of information I’ve now added to my store of miscellany.

    • Diane Duane

      Yeah, I missed this whole business somehow.