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Updated on June 9, 2008

Freud Bleuler Breuer, Inc.: The First Medical Ad Agency

by Helen Borel

Shortly after the turn of the century (the 19th to the 20th, that is), I was privileged to witness the start-up of the very first medical advertising agency. It was lunchtime in Vienna, between noon and 3 p.m. just like these days on Madison Avenue. I was reading the Wiener Zeitung in the Kleine Wiener Weinstube on Kinderkirchekuchenstrasse, gaily humming a Walz as I sipped my Wiener Wein.

Across the Strasse was a Krankenhaus. Walter Krankenhaus, just like our own Walter Reed Hospital in Washington.

As I leafed the Zeitung's strudel-flaked pages, I was pained to see the proliferation of advertisements by quacks selling their panaceas and snake oils. Not a few Krankenbuggychasing lawyers were also represented there. A gulp of wine took the edge off my anxiety. You must remember, those were the days before Valium(R) (diazepam). B.V. Also before caffeinism, a recently discovered psychiatric entity for which that benzodiazepine seems to have been, fortuitously, brought to market.

Are Juan Valdez, the coffee industry icon, and Roche Laboratories in cahoots?

Sipping coffee at the Kaffeeklatsch (which was also pre-Starbuck's), just like on our coffee breaks these days, was innocent enough to the gentle WeinerVolk in the early 1900s. Nor did they compound their caffeine addictions with Pepsi(R) or Coke. Although I fault the Schokoladenmacher for their attraction to chocolate, another culprit those days, and these.

Just about this time at 19 Bergasse, a conference was being held in the Wohnzimmer, the room choked with smoke emanating from the discussion leader. The other conferees were spellbound because he looked the spitting image of Montgomery Clift. They couldn't have known that, as Duke University's clairvoyance studies were not yet available to help them.

Still, the 46-year-old doctor was a good presenter. The moment heralded those moments to come when the Drs. Sackler created William Douglas McAdams and when Dr. Barnum founded Barnum Communications, both much later in the United States.

But these serious doctors sipping Frau Martha Freud's Kaffee couldn't have known of their meeting's pioneering significance. What they did know was that the Vienna Medical Society had an aversion to sex. Everytime he opened his mouth with a case history, the moment sexuality arose from Sigmund's lips, learned medical men with tight, starched collars, which probably accounted for their splenic comportment, jumped up in the lecture hall and hurled epithets of the Wurst kind. Unending. Until Herr Professor Freud was laughed and booed into silence.

"A fitting demonstration of ego crushing id," Sigmund told himself, stroking his beard as he strode from his detractors. Little did he suspect his colleagues were anxiety-ridden caffeinists. But this, as I said before, was B.V., before Valium, and all the other psychopharmaceuticals for that matter, and anxiety was then almost as popular as hysteria.

"There must be a better way to make a living," his unconscious burst forth.

Now, racing feverishly, Sigmund's mind formed the elements of yet another universal system - the medical advertising agency. Then he gathered his cronies Eugen Bleuler and Josef Breuer around him - Wilhelm Fleiss was out of town on a nose job - and appointed himself Herr Kreative Direktor.

As is often the case nowadays, the writer was Jewish so, for fair balance, the fledgling group felt compelled to call in an Italian Art Direktor. (Also often the case nowadays, Italians are talented ad agency artists.) Breuer mentioned a young adolescent he'd seen drawing in Montmartre cafes. "Amadeo, they call him. Very talented fellow."

Bleuler put a damper on this immediately, reminding them, "He's the crazy one who threw his sculptures into the Venetian canals."

"Here, here, Mein Herr Doktor Bleuler. In psychiatry we don't label people crazy. Especially when they're artistic. This is one reason I summoned you here to form this new agency. It will be a haven from mental asylums for such personality types."

"But back to the substance of our discussion. With mass production, it can ease the lives of millions. Our job is to announce it in the medical journals and to creatively market it."

Josef Breuer volunteered again, "This Modigliani is our boy to do the graphics. None of us can draw."

"Right, Joe. And you're tops with hysterics. You could mesmerize the Mona Lisa, baby. You be the executive for the account. Hypnotize the product manager at the client drug company if you have to."

"And Gene, you research the markets. Get the figures, the demographics. It's a numbers game all the way, bubby."

At which Bleuler stood up and smoothed his pants, affecting a doctorly tone, "I suggest a comprehensive name for our, er, agency. Panaceas & Snake Oils." He pronounced this without faltering although no one had ever taught him how to get the ampersand into his speech.

"Gene, baby, you're too literal. It's our job to make the client seem legit. Let's stick to the medical model. A group of symptoms makes a syndrome, no? Sneezing, Wheezing, Itching is an allergic syndrome, yes? So we become FREUD BLEULER BREUER, Inc. Thus we are free of the overcritical interference of the Vienna Health Administration.

Little did Freud know that myriads of medicolegal committeemen would soon evolve to gum up the creative works.

"Now let us repair to the Kleine Wiener Weinstube to seal our partnership with some Wein." And this is how I came to witness the inception of Freud Bleuler Breuer, Inc.

A horse-drawn carriage pulled up beside my table. Three short, serious men stepped down, one puffing on his cigar as he counted out change for the driver. (It was the era before blue jeans, the fashion for advertising talent these days.)

Basically, they looked like doctors. Doktors to be exact. Not a very wild start for fellows pioneering a new creative field.

As fate would have it when you're writing your story in the first person, the formal little group requisitioned the table next to mine. I watched them through the hazy eyes of a lazy Wein-filled afternoon. Or was it the other way around?

When the waiter marched away for their drinks, one of the austere Austrians whispered, "But Siggy, what is this product we will be marketing to the whole world?"

"My dear new partners...boys, trust me. I'm not at liberty to say until the client is ready to launch. They're waiting for the NDIs and VHA approval. I can tell you it's a terrific local anesthetic whose only known side effect is a transitory euphoria. I have myself done research with it and can vouch for it. It will become very popular and we will be richer than from psychoanalysis."

Bleuler and Breuer raised their eyebrows in unison, baffled, but shrugged their collective shoulders, unconsciously...acceptingly as Freud tried to quell their fears.

"Not to worry, boys. It's pure as the driven SNOW."

The waiter brought their Wein. Sigmund Freud, Eugen Bleuler and Josef Breuer raised their glasses.


Medical Advertising was born that moment on that little Viennese street with the very long name.

I lifted my own nearly empty glass in salute and caught a twinkle in the eye of the new Kreative Direktor.

(c) 1998-2008 copyright Helen Borel. All rights reserved.

Wish to contact me about this fiction?

To read my nonsatirical writings on all aspects of mental health, I invite you to visit


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    • macbeth25 profile image

      macbeth25 8 years ago

      I like it. I'll be reading more of your work and I hope you have a chance, and an inclination, to read mine. Irish Blessings upon you and yours. May your enemies be afflicted with itching without the benefit of scratching.

    • sixtyorso profile image

      Clive Fagan 9 years ago from South Africa

      Fantastic Hub excruciatingly funny! Your faction (fiction interwoven with fact) is a great device and helps educate uninformed readers while giving the informed a bit of a "nudge nudge, wink wink". I love this piece please write more in this medical vein (pun intended).

      Thanks for the interesting comments on it seems I have Stumbled upon (sic) a great forum in hubpages with some really nice people.

    • pjdscott profile image

      pjdscott 9 years ago from Durham, UK

      Dear Helen (if I may address you),

      I thoroughly enjoyed this work, particularly the notion of an 'Italian Art Direktor'! There is a market for historically-based fiction - I have just finished reading a book by Frank Delaney that skilfully mingles fact and fiction. So long as it is clear that we're reading fiction (specifically, historically-based fiction), then I see no problem.

      I'm glad you are enjoying the HubPages community - of all the social bookmarking and writing sites to which I subscribe, this is easily the best.

      Finally, no need to be so formal - my name is Peter!

      Warmest wishes to you and yours - I look forward to reading some of your other hubs later.


    • pjdscott profile image

      pjdscott 9 years ago from Durham, UK

      This is a skilful and extremely engaging piece of work - you obviously have a great flair for historical writing.

    • Constant Walker profile image

      Constant Walker 9 years ago from Springfield, Oregon

      No wait... this "satire." Fiction, correct?

    • Constant Walker profile image

      Constant Walker 9 years ago from Springfield, Oregon

      Creativita, "(19th to 20th that is)."  So, you're close to 100 years old. Good for you!

      Good hub, too.