Few things tell us more about where we’ve been, culturally speaking, than vintage advertising. Consider that while sex, violence, shock and awe are routine elements of everyday 21st century advertising, assumed rules of political correctness keep out certain elements now that back in the day weren’t so shocking. Other messages in vintage advertising, like sexual references, were more concealed, and it’s interesting to compare those approaches with ones we see all the time.
The first ad below falls in the barely concealed sexual reference category. The product is “Bright and Clear” lipstick, and it seems to be targeted to men who might be inclined to buy their lady friends lipstick. I’m not sure how else to explain this.
The ad below is for a Pitney Bowes postage machine. Apparently the woman isn’t complying with the frantic man’s demands (for postage?), prompting the question in the ad’s header. I don’t think any form of that question in a modern-day ad would make it to final draft.
The next one illustrates how particular words have been outlawed in modern advertising–at least when they’re being used seriously, as in the sample below. “Chubby” in this context is meant to describe exactly what it says without the least sarcasm or irony.
This one is a double whammy of reprehensibles. Most obvious, the use of the antiquated word “fag” instead of cigarette. And then there’s the overall message of the ad: you could die anytime, so why worry about the dangers of smoking?
Next we have an example of over-the-top realism: a pig dicing itself into sausage. Not only is the image gruesome, but the pig seems to be perversely enjoying the self-mutilation, which presumably means the buyer is going to REALLY enjoy the sausage.
The next two are part of a collection of ads I have all with the same message: doctors endorse smoking, as long as it’s a particular brand of cig. The tactic was pervasive in the 50s and 60s, though from our vantage point it’s hard to believe anyone would take it seriously. I love the use of the word “fresh” to imply a health benefit in the first example. In the second, notice the blatant endorsement of smoking as something kids needn’t avoid.
Here we have another smoking ad, this time featuring the ubiquitous appeal to science. If “science” is telling you it’s good, then it must be.
Finally, a book cover for a pulp fiction paperback. Not advertising, strictly speaking, but noteworthy nonetheless. Imagine seeing this on a newsstand at the grocery store. I wonder if it would have stood out very much back when it was published.