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Kaiserlian, Michelle

Omar sells - American advertisements based on The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, c.1910-1920. Michelle Kaiserlian.
Early Popular Visual Cultur, 60 (2008), nr. 3, p. 257-269.

During the first decades of the twentieth century, a time when modern advertising grew in response to a burgeoning consumer culture, American stores displayed products tied to the name of Omar Khayyám. Motivated by Omariana, the intense response to the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám that contributed to an outpouring of illustrated editions, literary parodies, musical scores and dramatic productions, advertisers found a market ripe for Omar-related consumables and ephemera. While typically discussed among other Oriental-themed advertising schemes of the time, Omar products were unique in their attachment to a single text. Omar ads responded to the cultural phenomenon of Omariana by relying on the public’s familiarity with the text itself and contributing to the popular persona that had already formed around the imagined Omar. Two case studies – Maxfield Parrish’s design for Crane’s chocolates and the marketing of American Tobacco’s Omar cigarettes – investigate how these products appealed to consumers through both visual and literary connections with the Rubáiyát that tapped into popular perceptions about the author and his philosophy. Advertisers of these products drew on themes presented in the text, including Khayyám’s prescription to live in the moment and his penchant for worldly pleasures, and connected them to the public’s own desire for gratification and escape from their workaday lives. Both companies smartly included free gifts with the purchase of their Omar-related products, from keepsake boxes, to posters, to popular fiction – fueling the desire for Omar ephemera and thus perpetuating the craze. Collecting and consuming Omar products contributed to a sense of group affiliation; Omar fans were participants – even comrades – in a uniquely modern cultural experience. These products responded to society’s search for harmony and a sense of community in an increasingly fragmented world.