Never underestimate the selling power of a cute kid with an eye on the prize.
For a quarter century, the Red Deer Advocate successfully boosted its circulation by promising Central Albertans prizes if they were able to sign up 10 or more new subscribers to this newspaper.
From 1929 to the early 1950s, the lure of a new pair of skates, new boots or a brand-new bonnet-ed baby doll worked like a charm: Children (and some adults) across the region eagerly signed up their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends and neighbours, for Advocate subscriptions in the hope they would be winners.
And the paper’s readership grew in the process — doubling to 4,200 subscribers by the mid 1930s, said local historian Michael Dawe.
Of all the prizes offered, the most popular one, by far, was the so-called ‘Red Deer Advocate doll.’ Although made by various doll-makers over the years, she was always a beauty.
For kids, who didn’t own a lot of toys, especially during the Depression, winning a doll from this newspaper might have represented the only way to get their hands on such a gorgeous creation.
“How could any grandparent resist when their little granddaughter asks, ‘Please, if you take a $2 subscription to the paper, I can get a doll!’” added Dawe, with a chuckle.
The prize was usually 25-inches tall, with sleep eyes. With coiffed hair, frilly dress and bonnet, she proved an irresistible draw. The first Red Deer recipient, young Josephine McBride from 55th Street, was quoted on the Advocate’s front page in 1929 as saying she was “mighty proud” to win her.
Another doll winner from 1951 was Helen Anderson, who decided in 2010 to auction off her former toy. Former Advocate publisher Fred Gorman bought this dolly for posterity, donating her to the Red Deer Museum, where she will be an ever-present reminder of this newspaper’s connections with the community.
That particular Red Deer Advocate doll is so striking, in her yellow and blue cotton dress, that her image now graces the exterior of the Red Deer Museum and Art Gallery, along 47th Avenue.