10 Most SHOCKING Vintage Ad Campaigns


These days, there are strict rules and guidelines when it comes to television, radio and magazine advertisements, but things weren’t always this way. During the golden era of the marketing and advertising industry, women were commonly portrayed as inferior, smoking cigarettes was no big deal, and consumers didn’t bat an eye at racists ads.

In 1947, Pitney Bowes released this postage meter ad that was the epitome of sexist. The ad ran alongside a short story about a male and female co-worker who bumped heads over the postage machine. The story is full of misogynistic terms, and it described the woman as too incompetent to learn how to use the machine correctly. In the end, the woman ties a pink bow to the machine, and scurries off to the ladies room to listen to the latest gossip. The man then asks himself in frustration, “Is it always illegal to kill a woman?” There’s absolutely no way a sexist ad like this would ever be acceptable today.

These days, seeing a “Smoking Kills” ad is common, but in the 40s, smoking was considered cool and acceptable. In 1946, Camel brand cigarettes began a new ad campaign to convince consumers that their product was not only better than the rest, but it was completely safe. The ads depicted several doctors lighting up with the tagline, “ More doctors smoke camels than any other cigarette.” We still can’t believe that this ad was given the green light, especially considering that tobacco ads today are one of the most highly regulated advertisements.

Many ad execs used adverts to poke fun at woman and to depict them as clueless and subservient, like this Van Heusen ad for ties. A wife is kneeling down and serving her husband breakfast in bed. In big bold letters, the ad reads, "Show her it's a man's world." Sexist, crude and downright ridiculous, don’t you agree?

Another ridiculous ad with sexist undertones is by Chase & Sanborn. The ad shows what could happen when a wife forgets to bring home coffee to her husband. The outdated gender roles depicted in this ad are outrageous - with the woman being displayed as subservient and the husband having complete control over her. The fact that she is getting spanked by her husband for disobeying her is absolutely ludicrous.

Racist ads were very common in the early-1900s, like this ad by Elliott’s White Veneer. To show just how white the paint is, there are two African-American cartoon characters in the ad, and one is painting the other’s skin. The quote at the top of this racist advertisement reads, “See how it covers over black.” It’s still unbelievable that this ignorant advert actually existed.

Which of these vintage ad campaigns are the most shocking to you?