The good old days, when life was simple for married couples because everyone understood their own place. Those who didn’t know what was expected from them would be reminded by offensive and obscene advertisements everywhere; setting the moral standard extremely low. It can leave many wondering what our own descendants may think of us as they look back in history.
In the modern era we live today, it is almost impossible to imagine a world where men would be frighteningly encouraged to beat their wives, women were supposed to be in the kitchen and children were to be seen but not heard. Looking back it’s hard to vision such a life but it was only less than fifty years ago we began to move away from all the problems of the past.
Up until 1978 a woman could be fired if she was pregnant, refused a credit card until 1972 and also dismissed from running in the Boston Marathon until 1971. So basically running marathons, getting pregnant and applying for a credit card would be seen as breaking the law in the good old fashioned days. Sexism has not vanished completely, but it is safe to say we have come a very long way since then.
Although it is always embarrassing to look back, there are pieces of history scattered all around that remind us how we once were. The following collection of vintage adverts can be humorous at times, but in some cases quite dark and disturbing to think that this was our mind-set back then…
12. When Your Husband’s Mistress Had Better Breath Than You
Advertising is at it’s most influential when it follows these three easy steps: 1) Find a problem, even if it’s a problem people didn’t know they had; 2) Exaggerate anxiety around the problem; 3) Sell them the cure. This is often referred to as ‘advertising by fear’ and during the late 1920’s/early 1930’s one of the most common anxieties women had was poor dental hygiene.
Chlorodent toothpaste then ran with this genius idea. The anxiety was a woman may feel as if her breath, especially first thing in the morning, isn’t fresh enough. They exaggerate the problem by bullying the consumer into believing their husband is running off with a different fresh-mouthed fancy. Then in for the kill: simply buy Chlorodent toothpaste and get one up on your husband’s mistress; it’s a no-brainer.
The tagline under the main image reads, “No wife wants her husband to carry the memory of her morning breath to work with him. The attractive women he meets during the day don’t have it.” This also entices the emotion that women are constantly in competition with each other and may the freshest woman win.
11. When Babies All Loved A Bottle of 7UP
The idea today that high in sugar, fizzy drinks could be promoted as a healthy option for babies is unbelievable, but in the 1970’s 7Up encouraged mothers that their product was so wonderfully pure – it was completely safe for newborns. The adverts tag line boldly declares they have “the youngest customers in the business”.
The smaller print on the advert actually reads:
“This young man is 11 months old and he isn’t our youngest customer by any means. For 7Up is so pure, so wholesome, you can even give it to babies and feel good about it. Look at the back of a 7Up bottle. Notice that all our ingredients are listed. (That isn’t required of soft drinks, you know — but we’re proud to do it and we think you’re pleased that we do.) By the way, Mom, when it comes to toddlers — if they like to be coaxed to drink their milk, try this: Add 7Up to the milk in equal parts, pouring the 7Up gently into the milk. It’s a wholesome combination — and it works! Make 7Up your family drink.”
The campaign came after several unsuccessful attempts to market the drink (they tried everything from using ‘7UP to freshen up’ and also claiming it was an incredible hangover cure) the company finally struck gold when they targeted mothers.
Throughout the years the company has changed ownership many times; originally owned by Philip Morris, then Cadbury-Schweppes, and then becoming part of the Dr Pepper Snapple Group. During the change of hands the adverts were pulled as the executives of each group wouldn’t dream of showing a soda-guzzling toddler in their adverts.
10. When Your Doctor Would Recommend You Smoked
If you weren’t already a smoker back in the 1940’s, then the tobacco industry was always thinking up smart new ways to turn you into one. The public were worried that, if rumours were to be believed, smoking could be damaging to your health. How did they deal with it? They pictured doctors in their adverts because, well – everyone trusts a doctor.
However, here’s the trick: any doctor caught engaging in advertising would lose their licence so the image of the trustworthy man above telling you to grab a packet of Camels is someone who doesn’t actually exist. The campaign ran throughout the 1940’s.
The claims the brand made would have to be true if they wished to have the advert printed. In order to gain the statistic, the surveyors would give doctors free packets of Camel cigarettes. Then when they exited the building there would be another surveyor outside asking them which brand of cigarettes they carried in their pocket. This then showed that many doctors did prefer camel cigarettes as nearly all questioned were surprisingly carrying a packet, what are the chances?
9. When Only Girls Could Spread Syphilis
The poster which was circulated during World War II was one from a large campaign warning soldiers against contracting VD. An innocent looking woman is depicted with the screaming headlines “She may look clean, but pick-ups, ‘good time’ girls, prostitutes spread syphilis and gonorrhoea.”
Every advert is this series was set in this propaganda-like, anti-women style which scared soldiers into believing their enemy wasn’t just on the battlefield; but they also had STD-spreading women to worry about too. The campaign set out to urge young soldiers not to go anywhere near this type of woman and risk their health.
In other adverts women were portrayed as the ultimate seductress, wearing heavy make-up and smoking cigarettes. Each image entices the males to not trust women, all they want is to give you deadly diseases. One even showed a lady with a gun along with the tagline “loose women may also be loaded with disease.”
The adverts were created when the military, during the First World War, discharged more than 10,000 men because they had contracted an STD. This was the biggest case of loss of duty next to the great spread of influenza throughout 1918 -1919.
8. When We Were Told What Wives Are Really For
In the 1950’s advert’s used female stereotypes to sell their goods that were just preposterous. During this decade Kenwood launched their food processor which is still popular now – this image of a stay-at-home wife hasn’t stood the test of time thankfully enough.
Before the sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s, sexism was not only expected but was also encouraged through many adverts such as this one that would scream out exactly what women were good for; which was mostly just getting the dinner on the table. The idea seems incredibly dated now but at the time it was a way of life.
These advert’s are normally used in social studies to give an example of how far we have progressed in modern society. If this was printed today, or shown online, there would be absolute uproar and a trending hashtag on Twitter to boycott Kenwood products completely – the power has been restored to the people.
7. When Buying The Wrong Coffee Would Have You Beaten
Don’t cry over split milk and certainly don’t let a pot of coffee result in domestic violence. The advert reads, “If your husband ever finds out you’re not ‘store-testing’ for fresher coffee… if he discovers you’re still taking chances on getting flat, stale coffee… woe be unto you! For today there’s a sure and certain way to test for freshness before you buy”.
During the 1950s it appears Chase and Sanborn believed the best way to sell coffee would be to place the fear of spousal abuse in women. Their message is clearly – this is what a woman deserves if she dares to serve stale coffee. The solution to the problem? Buy their coffee and save yourself from a beating.
Young ladies were taught a good wife was a submissive one. Those who were set to marry could read the following extract from a 1950’s American High School Home Economics book titled ‘How To Be A Good Wife’ – their duties would include:
“Don’t greet him with problems or complaints. Don’t complain if he is late for dinner. Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes. Speak in a low, soft, soothing and pleasant voice. Listen to him: You may have dozens of things to tell him, but the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first. Make the evening his. Never complain if he does not take you out to dinner or other pleasant entertainments.”
6. When Wrapping Babies In Cellophane Was A Cute Idea
Cellophane was first introduced to the public in 1927. Throughout the 1930s the stuff was flying off the shelves as every housewife thought it was the greatest invention ever made, which turned it into a huge money-spinner for company giant DuPont. The idea behind the product was that no more food had to be wasted as everything could now be kept fresher for longer.
Sadly there are downfalls to marketing the product as wrapped up pieces of food just don’t look ‘fresh’ and ‘tempting’ enough when in print. So they thought: What level of cuteness will stop ladies from turning the page and pay attention to our great product? The answer was: Let’s wrap a baby in cellophane and slap a slogan on it reading, “The best things in life come in Cellophane”. Their maternal instincts will surely kick in and they’ll read more about the product.
The thought of any company producing an advert now with a newborn baby wrapped in a bag of cellophane to market their product is unbelievable; MumsNet would be going insane.
5. When Mother and Baby Really Needed A Beer
Never had a beer been advertised before with the tagline “obviously baby participates in it’s benefits.” Sometimes you do have to question the common sense of our ancestors and ask – did anyone actually believe such ridiculous sales copy? Did they really think a baby would benefit from malt and hops? Just to be very clear; alcohol when you are nursing a baby is not, and never will be, a good idea. No matter what the vintage beer adverts once told us.
Nowadays there are state and federal laws in place which help to protect naive consumers from this form of false advertising; any deceptive claim is illegal. So it’s fair to say if this advert was ever published today, the beer company would certainly land themselves a court date.
4. When Women Didn’t Have A Clue How To Drive
The respected and popular motoring company Volkswagen have come a long way since the time they announced, “women are soft and gentle, but they hit things.” The target market: American men who were petrified their wife would get behind the wheel of the car and cost him a fortune in repairs. In those days a new fender would you set back ‘$24.95 and labour’ so it was always good to be prepared.
Volkswagen clearly hadn’t been listening to the National Traffic Highway Safety, as they published the following statistics: “Males of all ages accounted for 61 percent of all vehicle crashes and females 33 percent (where sex was reported).” Men are also three times more likely than women to be killed in a car crash.
Although it was unusual throughout this era that a woman would be behind the wheel of a car, it was always advised for her to learn. This was just in case of serious emergencies such as she needed extra butter from the store or her husband was too drunk to walk home.
3. When There Were Cigarettes That Could Cure Your Asthma
In the old days, smoking wasn’t seen as damaging to your health but as a benefit. If there were adverts everywhere with doctors recommending them – how harmful could they be? Joy’s cigarettes didn’t contain tobacco but instead an array of crushed and dried herbs including; solanaceae, datura strammonium, atropa belladonna, the hyoscyamus niger and Lobelia inflata. Sounding basically like witchcraft.
The cigarettes strangely enough did not cure asthma and instead would bring on a bronchial attack; which is likely to happen to anyone who inhales herbs. Although the advert does read ‘they may be safely smoked by ladies and children,” it is always best if you’re suffering from breathing difficulties to just stay clear of smoking at all.
2. When A Bad Hair Day Would Make You Consider Suicide
Women were convinced not to kill themselves over a bad hair day by this charming advert. They were frustrated for a lot of reasons and it’s probable that their hair style was the last thing on their minds. In another extract from the 1950’s American High School Home Economics book ‘How To Be A Good Wife, it explains how women should behave:
“Have dinner ready. Prepare yourself. Touch up your makeup, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh looking. Be a little gay and a little more interesting. Clear away the clutter…run a dust cloth over the tables.”
Women were not trusted with money, even their own husbands would manage the finances and give them an allowance. Their role was not to have a career or their own earnings but instead be an obedient wife, a doting mother and an excellent homemaker – this was the social standard back then.
It is all an illusion that women enjoyed living up to this stereotype as they were often bored and depressed; lacking stimulation. Their looks and house-keeping skills were all society would praise them for. Adverts such as the above would be constantly reminding them that beauty was a life or death matter.
1. When Children Were Sex Objects
Love’s Baby Soft was a product which was very popular with girls from the 1970s right through to the mid-90s. This fragrance was for young girls who didn’t want to be viewed as children anymore but were not yet old enough to become women. The limbo between leaving childhood behind and discovering their more mature identity.
The company marketed their product in an incredibly creepy way, using the tagline: “The new way for big girls to baby their bodies.” There was even an awfully awkward advert which had a male-voiceover declaring that the scent captures, “a cuddly, clean baby… that grew up very sexy.” This brings most people to a shudder.
They really went all out in the creep charts when this advert ran with the tagline, “because innocence is sexier than you think.” The main image being the youngest and weirdly – sultriest – girl they could find. There is no doubt that magazines would refuse to print this if it was a campaign running today.
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