Banned Vintage Advertisements That Took It Way Too Far
By | January 5, 2023
You won’t believe what they used to claim in advertisements of the past! From outrageous claims to total falsehoods to blatant sexism and racism, it seems the Mad Men of days gone by could get away with being insensitive, inaccurate, and politically incorrect all in the name of advertising.
The chef does everything but cook
Even though women were advocating for an equal share of the workforce, societal norms still dictated that women be dutiful housewives. The sixties and seventies were filled with cultural references sharing the belief that women should stay at home, keeping house and raising the children, and advertising played into this old-fashioned notion with ads like this one that states that women are supposed to cook for their husbands. It seemed as though advertising companies were doing their part to reverse any progress that women’s lib made by continuing with sexist ads like this one.
Coca-Cola used to claim that they can cure headaches.
Coca-Cola was once marketed as a headache remedy. If we remember that the original formula for Coke contained cocaine, then we could possibly believe this claim. Coke also contains caffeine, and if you have ever tried to kick a caffeine addiction, you know that there are days of headaches in store for you as the caffeine leave your system. The best relief for a caffeine withdrawal headache is nice, big glass of ice-cold Coca-Cola.
Heroin used to be prescribed for cough relief.
Nothing quiets a cough like heroin! At least that's what this old ad claims. It is even from Bayer, a trusted pharmaceutical company that has been in business for a long time. Heroin has a long history of medicinal uses, but it is also highly addictive and dangerous when not used properly. This is why, in 1924, heroin joined a list of other drugs to be banned in the United States. That, of course, didn't stop people from using the drug illegally. We are still fighting the battle against heroin addiction today.
If your wife can't cook
The inability to cook must have been a divorce-able offense back when this ad was created. Of course, the role of a housewife was to cook, clean, and care for the children, so if she shirked her duties in one of these areas, it was only natural for the husband to want to 'fire' her. But this ad urges husbands to keep their ineffective wife We aren’t sure what this ad is trying to promote. Maybe is it an anti-divorce PSA or an ad for take-out dining.
Jockey underwear advertisement
When this ad came out, no one thought twice about the image of a little boy with a gun. But today, most people would blow a gasket to see a mainstream media ad showing a child so casually handling a firearm. Guns, once a staple in every home, are now such a hot-button issue that many people are proposing that we get rid of all of the guns in the country. Of course, the issue is a complex one and the various sides will never totally agree with each other. What they all can agree on, however, is that small children, like this underwear-clad boy, should not have access to weapons until they are much older and much more responsible.
Mentos ad created in 1948 - Einstein died in 1955
This ad claims that Albert Einstein, the famed scientist, was endorsing Mentos. The fact is that Einstein never endorsed any products and actually hated the practice of celebrity endorsements. He called them the “corruption of our time”. Einstein was regularly offered large sums of money to promote products, but he turned down every one. Yet that didn’t stop this ad, and many others, from using his image. During the 1940s, licensing laws were lax or unclear, allowing for companies to use a person’s image without having to get their permission and without having to pay them. Fortunately, those laws are much clearer now.
Santa smoking Lucky Strike cigarettes
Since everyone was smoking in the 30s and 40s, I suppose it is only natural to assume that Santa Claus was as well. Good ol’ St. Nick is often featured in advertisements. Even today, we see the jolly ol’ elf promoting soft drinks, GPS units, fast food, and more. But, today, we don’t expect to see St. Nick with a cigarette in his hand. One positive we see…the smoke won’t make Santa’s red suit smell like a chimney. It probably already reeks of smoke from all of the chimney climbing he does on Christmas Eve!
Suicide is nothing to joke about, yet this ad is making light of it by implying that a girl may be tempted to commit suicide if she has nothing new to wear. This ad is insensitive, but there may be a ring of truth to it. Teens who are bullied are more likely to consider suicide as a solution to their bullying problem. Often, teens are bullied because of the clothes they wear…because they don’t have the latest styles or because their style doesn’t fit in with the rest of the students. So we can see an indirect link between clothing and suicide in this ad…but it is still insensitive and in poor taste.
A girl-sized hand needs a girl-sized pen
I am sure that the CEOs of Parker Pens thought they were creating a product that solved a problem when this introduced their new girl-sized pens, but in fact, they were feeding into the belief that females were smaller and weaker and not capable of competing in a man’s world. The smaller pens that were supposed to be designed to fit a woman’s smaller hand did not help to promote gender equality. If anything, it tried to show that women could not keep pace with men unless they had special accommodations made for them, like diminutive office supplies.
Captain Morgan Ad
Do that today and you'll probably get slapped. When this ad came out, however, the word was not viewed that way. Captain Morgan's was using an old pirate phrase, 'yo ho ho', to illustrate the swashbuckling legend of Captain Morgan. The 17th century Caribbean pirate, Captain Henry Morgan, for which the rum is named, probably used the phrase yo ho ho when he was hauling rope or scrubbing the deck or any other tedious job. The phrase was meant to help the sailors keep pace.
Good thing he kept his head
Mr. Legg’s Pants was known for releasing some of the most provocative and sexist print ads in the 1950s. Many of their ads, like this one, is loaded with sexual innuendo and double meanings that take the ad from edgy to sexist and perverted. In this ad, the obvious double meaning is on the word ‘head’ but we also are a bit creeped out that the guy is burying the woman alive. And more so that he ‘saved the head.’
Good things are twice as good in cellophane
There’s a reason why there are warning labels on plastic bags saying not to put small children inside the bags. It is because people actually did what ads like this suggested and put their infants in air tight plastic bags. Really! The ad copy promotes the sanitary qualities of the cellophane, noting that it provides a great protection from dirt and bacteria. Unknowing parents, wanting to protect their children, did what they were told to do…seal their kids up in plastic. The public had to learn the hard way that plastic is air tight.
Kellogg's Ad Promoting Pep
Here is another ad that seems to push the idea that women should be at their happiest when they are cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, and caring for the children. How does she do it all? Is she some kind of wonder woman? No…she’s just loaded up with vitamins and energy pills! According to this ad, the vitamin pills will even give the happy housewife enough energy to keep on cleaning, even after her husband gets home from his 9-to-5 job. On top of that, the pills will even make her prettier! It sounds far-fetched, but the ad states that a husband’s number one desire is to have a cute, hard-working cleaning-machine for a wife.
Loose women may also be loaded with disease
Clearly targeted for men, this public service announcement is a reminder to lonely traveling businessmen, returning sailors and servicemen, and curious boys that ladies with loose morals are as dangerous as loaded guns. The ad even points out that V should stand for victory, not venereal disease. Curiously, the PSA doesn’t mention pregnancy as a possible side-effect to one-night stands. Instead, the focus seems to be on the men and the ramifications to them if they get involved with promiscuous women.
Why doesn't your mamma wash you with fairy soap?
A truly racist ad, the message here is that white is clean and black is dirty. The little girl seems to think that the other child has black skin because her mother is not using the right soap and not washing her properly. It is totally cringe-worthy. This ad is a good example of how the media shapes our beliefs and how is has relegated African-Americans to a ‘lesser’ status in the past…showing them as poorer, dirtier, and dumber than whites. Ads like this only serve to reinforce unfair stereotypes.
Chase and Sanborn Coffee ad
Coffee with a side of domestic abuse! Far from being partners in a marriage, this ad seems to reinforce the idea that the husband is the head of the household and the one in charge. The wife is his subservient. Like a misbehaving child, the wife should be punished if she defies her husband’s wishes…like giving him the wrong kind of coffee. The image in this advertisement shows the husband spanking his wife as a form of punishment…not in a kinky sort of way.
Co-Le Sales Company
A booklet explaining the benefits of wife beating? Written by an (unnamed) eminent practitioner of wife beating? We are shook. The husbands of yesteryear were the family disciplinarian and apparently, this extended to the wife as well. This booklet discusses why husbands should employ the 'manly art' of wife beating as a way to maintain the upper hand in the marriage, as a way to show his wife who is in charge, and as a way to show the children that men are dominant. It is scary to think how many of these booklets were sold.
With her long, tanned legs and short dress, this young lady doesn’t fit the image of a computer nerd at all. Office machines were revolutionizing the American work place in the sixties, but as this ad shows, no matter the innovation, there should be a sexy secretary on hand in every office. Ads, commercials, and even TV shows, movies, and books, of the decade often featured the sexy secretary trope to play on the virile businessman’s hot secretary fantasy.
Gold Dust washing powder
At last…and ad that understands that a woman’s work is never done and that the average 1890s housewife put in more hours of work than her husband. This ad notes that men work eight hours a day and women work fourteen hours a day. What is didn’t mention is that the men of the day typically had Saturday and Sunday off, while the housewife was still supposed to cook and clean and care for her children, seven days as week. We doubt that the washing powder being advertised here is miraculous enough to cut six hour off her day, though.
So totally sexist! Hardee's is really saying that fast food is for bachelors who don't have a woman around to cook for them. After all, if a man was married, he would have a wife enslaved in the kitchen, spending all her time preparing food for the husband and he would, therefore, have no need for fast food. The ad even says "We all know a woman's place is in the home, cooking a delicious meal." No wonder women felt unsatisfied and underappreciated.
Love's Baby Soft
Admittedly, there is a certain degree of sexiness to innocence, but that definitely doesn’t apply to a five year old little girl. No matter how much make up she is wearing, how done up her hair is, and how revealing her clothing is, there is nothing sexy about a child. This young girl is dolled up to look way older than she is and the fragrance is supposed to add to her appeal so that men find her innocence to be attractive. In all, this ad seems to be problematic, to say the least.
It sure looks as though this ad is poking fun at women who have lost their hair, perhaps due to chemotherapy or alopecia. If the intent was to try to sell hair dryers to anyone and everyone one…because, hey, who wouldn’t want a hair dryer?...this ad might have carried things a bit too far. Mocking people with illnesses or disabilities is in poor taste and advertisers should know to be more sensitive, even in the sixties.
It is a running joke…a housewife who can’t cook and burns all the dinners. Advertisers seem to delight in mocking the failure of a housewife in their ads. It is as if they are reminding to housewife that she has one job…and she messed it up. . The husband in this scenario is not putting the wife across his knee and spanking her as punishment for her burned dinner, at least. In fact, he is pointing out the plus side…that the beer was not burned, too. Looks like they will be having a liquid dinner.
Sooner or later, your wife will drive home one of the best reasons for owning a Volkswagen
Even car manufacturers hopped on the bandwagon to make fun of terrible women drivers. In this advertisement, the company implies that, if anyone in the family is going to get into a fender bender, it would be the wife. The age-old joke about women being the worst drivers is sexist and archaic. You know why insurance rates are higher for male drivers than they are for female drivers? Because men are statistically more likely to get into car accidents. Take that, Volkswagon.
This is no shape for a girl
This ad doesn’t preach a “you’re beautiful just the way you are” message. Just the opposite, in fact. It is telling pear-shaped women, with smaller busts and larger butts, that their body shape is not desirable and should, therefore, be changed. Wire-reinforced girdles and padded bras will conceal the wearer’s God-given body and present her is a more flattering silhouette. This ad is a prime example of how advertisers have defined beauty standards and caused generations of women to suffer from poor body image and low self-esteem.
Does this ad take things a little too far? Perhaps. While it is innocently saying that women are attracted to the smell of cigar smoke and will follow a man who blows smoke at her, there is a much more salacious double meaning being implied. It seems startling that innuendos like this were so blatant, but the sexual revolution of the 1960s meant that people were more open in talking about all sorts of bedroom activities.
According to this ad, Total Cereal will solve two of the biggest problems facing 1960s housewives...how to stay slim and how to get all the housework done. During this era, there was a certain mold that women were expected to fit in to...certain societal expectations. One was that they look young, slender, and stylish. The other was that they keep an immaculate house. This cereal brand played into these expectations by telling housewives they could watch their weight while also having the energy they needed to clean all day long. A true sexist win-win.
There is nothing more misogynistic than the image of a caveman dragging his woman around by the hair and we are reminded of that image in this advertisement. We understand that the ad is explaining that the new Warner corset is made without bones which were traditionally sewn in as stays. Instead, the stays in this 'modern' girdle are made of a man-made, plastic material that is a lot more comfortable and eco-friendly (a word that hadn't been coined when this ad first appeared). But the image of a woman being dragged across the floor by her hair is degrading and sexist.
We're pushing leotards
In an ad that seems to pre-date the legging craze, this print ad is promoting the use of man-made spandex material as tights or leggings that can be worn under any type of clothing to provide a degree of warmth and modesty. We wonder if the creators of these legging-like tights realize how popular this garments are now, not as an undergarment, but as pants. Women of all age and body shape wear leggings today and, when worn with the appropriate length top, the outfit is more and more acceptable in the workplace. Now if we could just keep people from inappropriately touching butts…
We were never fans of appliances as Christmas or birthday gifts…it just seems uncaring and wrong to give someone a work-related tool instead of a personal gift. But this ad carries it even further by providing a list of kitchen appliances and instructions telling the housewife to circle the items she wants and give it to her husband. It even suggests shedding a few tears if necessary to get what is wanted. In all, the vibe we get from this ad is that the housewife is almost enslaved in the home, spending all her time cooking and cleaning, and is so financially dependent on her husband that she has to resort to crying to get what she wants.
This ad seems to be all about male dominance. We see the man engaging in unwanted physical and sexual contact, yet he still gets the girl. In the “no really means yes” era, men thought that women desired a strong, take-charge kind of guy that flaunted his superiority and masculinity every chance he could get. And doing it all while wearing a sharp, tailored dress shirt.
Lux Stockings ad
After marriage, it is not uncommon for the couple to be more relaxed with each other and become sloppier in their personal appearances. In this ad, the stockings manufacturer is admonishing wives who let their appearance down after the wedding by reminding them that husbands love wives with run-free stockings. Even when she is just working around the house, the wife should wear hose that are fresh, clean, and hole-free. And she should take care to keep them snag-free as she cooks and cleans and chases the children around.
Listerine Saves Marriages
Divorce was such a stigma in the past that advertisers used it as a way to sell products. It was simple...they put the fear of divorce into a housewife and she would be convinced to purchase the product. In this case, the product is Listerine for bad breath. The ad tried to convey the idea that a husband will be driven away from his loyal and loving wife and into the arms of another woman if his wife has bad breath. The solution to save ones marriage is simple...Listerine mouth wash.
Jade East After Shave Ad
Culturally insensitive, this product of aftershave, called Jade East, is using a sexy Asian model to play on the product’s name, which could appear to be an Asian name. Jade, a semi-precious stone, was often used in China and by adding the word ‘east’ to the title, the aftershave takes on an exotic façade. The ad’s slogan, “If she doesn’t give it to you, get it yourself” is filled with sexual innuendo as well.
Cigar Institute of America
To be the manliest, most masculine and macho man you can be, according to this print ad, you should try smoking a cigar. A cigar, it implies, will help bring out the primal urges and turn you into a he-man. And no he-man is complete without his adoring cave girl, complete with sexy, animal print garb. This ad does a great job of showing subliminal dominance with the man standing tall and carrying a big club and the woman sitting at his feet looking both vulnerable and seductive.
We aren't given the opportunity in this ad to see the woman's mouth so we cannot judge if it is more impressive than the rest of her body...and we see plenty of the rest of her body! So we are left to wonder if her mouth is really that big or if the narrator of this print ad is implying something else about the size of her mouth. We bet is doesn't have to do with the amount of fine malt liquor from Mickey's she can drink. What we can surmise from this ad is that sex sells.
Exquisite Form Ad
Even though this ad doesn't show anything and it completely tasteful, it is still surprising that it was allowed to run in the prudish past. The ad has a great message though. Even before the advent of PhotoShop, the definitions of beauty were being established by advertisers and those definitions were warped. Real women don't look like models and they certainly aren't shaped like them either. Showing a model and a 'real' woman side by side helped to illustrate the idea that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes.
Dove Before and After ad
The large, close-up images behind the three ladies shows how the skin becomes more moisturized after using this product, but it is the position of the three models that makes this ad offensive. The African-American model is placed in the before spot and the model with the lightest hair and fairest skin is in the after spot. The subtle message is one that we see time and time again in advertisements...black skin is less clean and less desirable. Whiter skin is cleaner and more preferred. Simple switching around the positions of the models would have helped this ad clean up its act and fight racist stereotypes.
Copy of ad for a feminine hygiene product
We can thank the French for this provocative image that appeared in an ad for a feminine hygiene product. Thanks to Google Translate, we know that the caption reads, "I am a fish in water". We suppose the image of a fish and a woman's crotch are the most accurate ways to promote a feminine hygiene product, but still this ad leaves a bad taste in our mouths.
The assumption here is the the average housewife loves vacuuming so much that she dreams of getting a new, state-of-the-art vacuum cleaner for Christmas. Personally, we would be devastated to find such a present under the tree on Christmas morning. It is almost as if Santa is saying, "Merry Christmas, now get back to work, woman!" or worse yet, implying that the housekeeping standards are lax, therefore the housewife needs some extra assistance to properly do her duty. Either way, we'd rather have a lump of coal.
Ah, yes…women. The fairer sex. So weak and frail that they need a big, strong man to help them with those difficult household chores, like opening a catsup bottle. Alcoa is, of course, offering a super helpful product and, yea, we have all struggled with opening bottles from time to time. But this ad presents that innovative product in such a sexist and stereotyped way that it comes across as offensive…at least it does as we look back at it fifty-plus years later.
Stacked for Convenience
Of course a built-in oven that is ‘stacked’ should be promoted using a busty model who is also stacked. This is another example of the ‘sex sells’ mindset that is still prevalent in advertising today. If an ad shows a beautiful, wealthy, or glamorous person, the underlying message is that the consumer will also feel beautiful, wealthy, and glamorous if they buy that product. Even if it is just an oven.
Stevie Wonder Atari Ad
Did this ad just poke fun at a person with a disability? Yes, it did! Superstar recording artist Stevie Wonder has been blind since infancy. He hasn’t let that disability stop him from becoming one of America’s all-time great singer and songwriter. But asking Stevie to be the pitch man for a video gaming system seems like quite the stretch. Surely there was another celebrity spokesman that Atari could have used. Still, it is humbling and inspiring that Stevie is able to joke about his disability.
Train your wife
Just like the loyal and obedient family dog, you can train your wife to come at the snap of your fingers, wait on you hand and foot, and be ready to satisfy all your sexual needs at a moment's notice! Booklets like this one are sure to make today's feminists fill with rage. The connotation is that women are not equals in a marriage relationship but are to be subservient to the husband simply because he is a man. We sincerely hope the the Committee for a Better America finally got their heads out of the dark ages and realized that America is a better place because women have taken huge strides towards equality.
It is amusing that the name of this hairspray is Go Gay, but we all know that the term 'gay' originally meant 'happy', 'cheerful' and 'carefree'. As far back as the end of the 19th century, people started applying the word to homosexuals, but it wasn’t until the middle of the 20th century that ‘gay’ shifted away from meaning ‘happy’ to meaning homosexual. By the 1960s, the homosexual community preferred the word ‘gay’ over other terms, such as ‘queer’ because they felt it was less insulting. This hairspray product was popular during the transition period for the word ‘gay’ … it was not inviting people to give the homosexual lifestyle a try.
The mini automatic for simple driving
Volkswagen had a number of ads that poked fun at women for being bad, nervous, distracted drivers. This wide-eyed, terrified-looking woman seems afraid to be behind the wheel but Volkswagen can help her out and put her fears to rest with their easy automatic transmission. We are sure the car company was only trying to solve what they perceived to be a real problem…terrible female drivers…but the resulting ad just comes across as insulting.
Is that a bike seat or are you just happy to see us?
This has got to be one of the funniest innuendos found in vintage advertising. I'm not sure if this is a ad for bike shorts, bikes, or a cycling club. But basically I guess what they are saying is biking, no matter what you are buying, makes a man and women happy and...ready to ride! Either way, did they really get away with this? If you still aren't seeing what I'm talking about, take a look at that happy bike seat pointing in a funny direction.
She Doesn't Care!...Really?!
What were the Continental Oil Company advertising "geniuses" thinking? The ad was published in 1952 and certainly shows that we have come a long way. First of all, I'm pretty sure anyone, man or woman, would be pretty annoyed if they were getting sprayed by a water hose and getting their clothes soaked. This ad must have appealed to the man that was proud that no matter what he did or said, his woman would put on a happy smile and bend over backwards for him. If anything shows a sense of sexism from the '50s this is it. I'm happy we have come a long way to where women are just characterized as people that smile and embody hundreds of beautiful and real emotions.