Much has changed in the last century or so – especially when it comes to advertising. Ads that we’re used to seeing everywhere, be it on TV, in newspapers, magazines, flyers, billboards, or online, all require approval from specific governmental regulatory boards. This is to ensure that ads being published aren’t overtly offensive and follow a set of defined standards.
While the ads of today are fairly tame, things weren’t quite the same in the early years of advertising. Back in the day, there were no specified rules or regulations that determined how ads were supposed to be made or what standards had to be upheld. Because of this, we see numerous ads from back in those unruly days that are either sexist, racist, or downright offensive in some other way.
Keep in mind this was a time period when it was common to see cigarette ads making bold and questionable claims such as “more doctors smoke Camels”. Today, such ads wouldn’t fly. If advertisers even dared attempt to run them, they would be quickly taken down faster than you can say ‘deceptive marketing practices’.
In this video, we’ll be taking a look at some of the most offensive, inappropriate, and shocking advertisements of all time. Be aware, however, that the ads were about to show you are pretty offensive. As such, we’re only presenting them to you for educational purposes.
Facts Verse Presents: Shocking Vintage Ads that Would be Banned Today
She’ll Follow You Anywhere
This ad from the 1950s depicts a man blowing his “Tipalet” cigarette smoke directly into a woman’s face. The guy behind this ad clearly must have had a few screws loose because, obviously, there had to be a far better way to market the product.
As you can see in the picture, the man is blowing said smoke in the lady’s face in an attempt to impress her. It’s implied that by doing such a dastardly act with this particular brand of smokes, a woman would fall madly in love with you and follow you blindly wherever you went. Evidently, people back then weren’t all that concerned with their health or common decency.
More Doctors Smoke Camels
The notion that doctors would actually recommend any particular brand of cigarette above another doesn’t get any less puzzling no matter how many times you’ve seen this infamous advertisement. When this ad ran, virtually everyone smoked and didn’t think twice about it. The fact that the manufacturers of Camels thought it would be a good idea to take a survey of what kind of smokes doctors preferred seems outlandish by today’s standards, but then again, it obviously happened.
The ad was banking on the fact that doctors are often seen as the ultimate source of healthcare-related information, and while there probably are still a few docs out there that smoke Camels, you can bet that they aren’t advocating for the practice.
Baby Guzzling 7-UP
In the modern world, sugar is often seen as one of the supreme evils! Forget trans fats, alcohol, and tobacco, sugar has become public enemy number one.
With that in mind, this ad takes on a whole new shocking level. In it, a baby who has clearly not even started teething is seen gulping down a bottle of 7UP soda. A woman’s hand can be seen holding the bottle, clearly not thinking about the consequences of her actions.
The Harder A Wife Works, The Cuter She Looks
The flippant misogyny reflected in this ad for Pep Vitamins speaks for itself. In the comic panel in the bottom right corner, the husband is shown inquiring how his wife manages to get all the housework done without getting ‘all tuckered out’ by the end of the day. Of course, she responds by saying that she always gets her vitamins!
Men Love Fannies
We’re just going to present this one without saying much. Really, what more could be said? Guys like butts! Therefore buy our slinky lingerie!
The Cure For The Common Toothache!
This ad from the early 1900s promotes the use of Cocaine Toothache Drops produced by Lloyd Manufacturing. Nowadays, such an ad would end up sending someone to jail, but in the early 20th century, cocaine was regularly seen as a magical panacea for all sorts of different aches, pains, and conditions. Granted, it’s also widely known that drugs, regardless of their legality and intended purposes, were being heavily abused by the masses.
Get Them Started While They’re Young
This ad for Gillette razors should be pretty alarming to anyone with even an ounce of common sense. No matter what angle you look at it, the ad makes you scratch your head and wonder what the advertisers were thinking!
Sure, it’s probably a good idea to start shaving early, but do you really think that literal babies should be handling razor blades? Once again, however, this was long before the days of class action lawsuits and public outcry over such things.
The Perfect Christmas Gift
Tis the season to be locked and loaded! This ad for Colt firearms suggests that the perfect way to bring in the Holiday season is by gifting yourself a brand new handgun! Now, as we all know, Americans love their guns, and we’re not trying to say that they shouldn’t, but there’s something a bit unnerving about depicting guns as being the ideal things to set underneath the ol’ Christmas Tree. Clearly, they’re better suited as stocking stuffers!
Innocence is Sexier Than You Think
This ad for Love’s Cosmetics is pretty startling. Anyone that looks at it has to stop and wonder what the heck companies were thinking back then. How in the world is sexualizing a literal child going to sell deodorant? Even by today’s standards, this is disgusting and unnecessary.
Show Her It’s A Man’s World
Ahhh, good old fashion sexism, just like dad used to love! This ad for Van Heusen branded neckties depicts a woman on her knees serving her man breakfast in bed. As she presents the food to what’s presumably her husband, it almost looks like she is worshiping him like some sort of god.
First off, why is the guy wearing a dress shirt and tie in bed? Second of all, is he even wearing pants? And last but not least, why are his hands behind his head? It makes you wonder if there is another guy standing just out of the frame who’s holding him up with a loaded gun that he purchased for himself last Christmas!
If your baby doesn’t like shaving or drinking 7UP maybe they’ll enjoy the smooth, cool flavor of a Phillip Morris cigarette. On second thought, we can’t even joke about such a terrible thing. Still, this ad from the 1950s shows a mother gently cradling her infant with a pack of stogies right next to them.
The ad’s text suggests that young mothers and smoking go hand-in-hand. These aren’t just cigarettes, they’re apparently “gentle cigarettes” – gentle just like a mother’s tender embrace.
Flip’N Style Hair Dryer
The text of this ad says that the hair dryer that they’re selling is fun even if you can’t use it. Panasonic drives the point home by cruelly showing a woman that’s either suffering from alopecia or just got done watching V for Vendetta holding the appliance. Regardless of why she is bald, the message is clear. This hair dryer is so great, you’ll love it even if you don’t have hair!
Real classy Panasonic! Way to insult everyone that’s ever suffered from hair loss. I guess they figured that they wouldn’t be losing too many prospective customers from that demographic.
World’s Largest Lemons
In this ad for “Quick Way” bar mix, it’s stated that only the world’s largest, ripest and juiciest lemons are used in the manufacturing of the product. See what they did there?
In this ad, a young white girl is asking her little black friend why her mother doesn’t wash her with Fairy Brand Soap. Obviously, it’s being implied that the white girl doesn’t realize that the other girl’s skin tone isn’t a result of her being dirty. The racist implications are clear and appalling. Let’s move on before we get demonetized.
Jeans That Turn A Dude Into A Stud
Yup, according to this ad for H.I.S. brand jeans, only real men were these bell-bottomed bad boys. If you don’t like it, then you might as well go off and get yourself a pair of those girly Levis.
Keep Her Where She Belongs
This ad for Weyenberg shoes is a slap in the face to anyone that was fighting for Women’s Liberation. Not only is it essentially saying that women need to learn to stay in their lane, but it also implies that any woman worth her salt will fall for a man donning a pair of these gaudy things.
It’s Nice To Have A Girl Around The House
This ad for men’s trousers shows a man stepping on a woman’s face. Not only that, but the woman in question doesn’t even have a human body. The message seems to be that women should be tamed by brute force and animal magnetism. The only way, evidently, this can be accomplished is by wearing a pair of synthetic polyester slacks.
A Woman Can Open It?
The running joke back in the day was that women would always ask men to help open things like tin cans, pickle jars, and pesky ketchup bottles. Alcoa Aluminum tapped into this sexist sentiment by marketing a bottle that even a poor little woman could open all by herself. Ironically, just a few years prior, women were making tanks, guns, and bombs for the war. You think they needed help working the machine presses? Heck no they didn’t!.
If Your Husband Ever Finds Out
What better goes with your morning cup of joe than a nice dose of domestic violence? This ad for Chase & Sanborn coffee pretty much gives men the go-ahead to beat their wives if they dare purchase an inferior grind.
Elliott’s White Veneer
While many cosmetic companies of the day promoted how their soaps could whiten dark skin, this ad for white paint takes the concept to a whole new level by implying that it’s perfect for completely covering up black skin. Everything about this ad is nauseatingly disgusting, from the racist depictions of the two characters presented to the incredibly dangerous idea of coating oneself with a lead-based paint.
Reduce Psychic Tension
Hey ladies! Has serving your husband tirelessly, appeasing his every waking need, got you feeling stressed out? Well, there’s a pill for that! Just pop a Valium and let all your worries melt away! You’ll be back to folding shirts and cooking dinner in no time!
We’re just about out of time, but the ads we’ve covered in this video are just the tip of the iceberg! If you found these offensive, then you should know that we only showed you ones that wouldn’t result in us getting kicked off YouTube.
While we tried to approach this subject with a little bit of humor, it should be stated that sexism, racism, and blatant disregard for public health are no laughing matters. Sometimes when presented with something so unabashedly shocking, the only way to deal with it is by cracking a joke and forcing a smile. At the end of the day, you should feel at least somewhat pleased by the progress we have made in the last fifty or so years. Is the world an egalitarian utopia? Well, no, but ast least we’re no longer living during the era of the Mad Men.
Which 20th-Century ads do you find to be the most offensive, and do you think that today’s advertisements are any better? Let us know in the comments, and as always, thanks for watching!