By Jeanne Ruderman M.D.
Napoleon is one of the most well known characters in History and more books have been written about him than any other man in modern times. Therefore, it should not be surprising that the business world has made use of the public’s fascination with Napoleon for its own financial gain. Napoleon has consistently appeared in commercial ads from the late 19 th century through the present day. This author has collected over one hundred magazine ads from the United States and Europe that display Napoleon’s persona. It may be possible that as with books, more ads feature Napoleon than any other man in History.
Napoleon’s unique name and physical attributes are easily recognized and ideal for print advertising. His personality traits, some real and some a reflection of the Napoleonic legend, provide the foundation for advertising themes. This author will present her collection of ads with attention to Napoleon’s personal attributes and how they are used to sell products.
The personal attributes selected for advertising have changed over time depending on the needs and moral climate of the era. Honor and Education were 19 th century themes that subsequently disappeared. Modernization figured prominently in the first half of the 20th century with an emphasis on communication and transportation. Napoleon certainly would have been proud and agreeable to find his persona connected with these motifs. In contrast, the 1960s featured irreverent humor (Napoleon had none) and sex (Napoleon had plenty), and the 1980s featured feminism (not one of Napoleon’s strong points). Above all, themes of luxury and superiority pervade the decades and centuries of ads.
The majority of ads are from the United States where the public’s fascination with Napoleon has extended to his family who appear in ads as well. Ads from France, Italy and even pre-revolutionary Russia reflect the themes of luxury and superiority while the Spanish ads offer love and romance. But as yet, this author has not found one ad in the magazines of Napoleon’s lifelong foe, the British!
Napoleon, who longed to be remembered by the generations to follow, surely must be enjoying his success in the modern media.
Jeanne Ruderman fell in love with Napoleon as a young girl while reading the novel Desiree. Years later as a physician, Dr. Ruderman came to suspect that Napoleon had traits of Autistic Spectrum Disorder. She embarked on a quest to prove her unique theory that Napoleon did indeed suffer from this disorder and that it contributed to his rise and fall from power. Dr. Ruderman now teaches other physicians and the lay public about Autistic Spectrum Disorder using Napoleon as an example, with the secondary gain of introducing her audiences to her favorite historical character! Dr. Ruderman has also found evidence of Autistic Spectrum Disorder traits in Napoleon’s relatives and gives a follow-up lecture on the Bonapartes.
In addition to collecting autographs that focus on intimate correspondence of Napoleon and the Bonapartes, Dr. Ruderman collects magazine ads that feature Napoleon and his family. The collection reflects over a century of the public’s fascination with Napoleon and the Bonapartes. Dr. Ruderman has created another lecture that illustrates the public perception of Napoleon’s character traits and how this has been used to sell products.
Dr. Jeanne Ruderman has been a member of the Napoleonic Historical Society since 2003 and a Fellow of the International Napoleonic Society since 2008.