There’s no denying that our society still has a long way to go.
When it comes to issues like sexism, racism, and the importance of consent, it sometimes seems like we’ve made a woeful lack of progress. However, while we still have a lot of ground to cover, many of us might not realize how far we’ve actually come already. These vintage ads show a time where sexism, racism, and other harmful -isms were commonplace.
So, what changed—and why did advertisers think that these would be successful in the first place ?
“Men most likely created those ads,” says Amanda Ponzer, a former advertising professional and current chief of marketing for Community Health Charities. “Didn’t men have most of the jobs then?”
That echo chamber led to some pretty tonedeaf ads. Of course, there are still occasionally offensive spots, but Ponzer says they’re fewer and further between.
“Every now and then, you still see a bad ad out there that is sexist, racist or inappropriate for another reason related to protected classes, including religion,” she says. “We now have social media to call out insensitivity.”
That wasn’t always the case. For instance…
Kellogg’s and the Hard-Working Housewife
There’s nothing like a delicious bowl of cereal to keep you fueled for a day of work around the house, right ladies?
This Kellogg’s ad from 1932 introduced their vitamin-enriched cereal, Pep; the cereal served as the company’s main competitor for Wheaties at the time. Kellogg’s encouraged women to eat it not only to give them the energy they needed to clean their house nonstop all day long—after all, their “tuckered out” husbands sure weren’t going to help—but also because their domesticity would somehow make them even more beautiful in the eyes of their husbands. Gag.
Coffee (With a Side of Domestic Abuse)
What, don’t all men spank their wives like a child when their coffee isn’t just so?
That’s what coffee brand Chase & Sanborn insinuated in this 1952 ad for their coffee. This particular brand came in a pressurized package that allowed you to test for freshness right in the store. It was a feature so good that it apparently drove men to violence when their wives didn’t use it.
Hoover’s Christmas Miracle
What’s even better than slaving away to clean your house for Christmas Day? Being rewarded for it like a child doing their chores, of course.
That said, in this 1953 ad, Hoover didn’t suggest gifting a personal token of appreciation. The proper recompense for cleaning is…something else to use to clean the house!
Hoover claimed a new vacuum would make Wifey happier not just on Christmas, but each and every day after; they even had the gall to suggest that a husband who wouldn’t buy his wife a vacuum cleaner might not really care about her.
Lysol and the Desperate Wife
There’s so much wrong here, we don’t even know what the worst part of this mid-century Lysol ad truly is.
Perhaps it’s that Lysol seriously suggested that women clean their lady bits with an antiseptic soap that was definitely not safe or gentle like they claimed. (By the way, for some time, women were even encouraged to use Lysol as a contraceptive, which was not healthy in any way nor is it a reliable method of pregnancy protection.)
Maybe it’s also that Lysol suggested women are solely responsible for keeping themselves and their husbands “eager, happy married lovers.” By using coded language and preying on women’s fears, Lysol was able to convince women to use their product—a chemical-ridden cleaning agent, remember—in the most intimate of ways.
We don’t know about you, but we’d personally love to read Lysol’s booklet about feminine hygiene facts. We need the laugh to keep from crying.
Tab Soda and the “Mindsticker”
It’s not your personality that’ll stick with him. In fact, it’s not your sense of humor, your intelligence, or your kindness, either—no, according to Tab soda, it’s all about your shape.
According to the soda brand, being healthy wasn’t just about eating right and working out. To truly be healthy, one needed to purchase their products and women somehow wouldn’t be able to achieve a slim figure without the miracles of Tab soda. Tab can’t really be found on the market today; maybe this is why.
7-Up…in the Baby’s Bottle?
Slim figures weren’t the only focus of vintage soda pop ads. The early soda industry attempted to market the carbonated beverages as healthy, family-friendly drinks—even for infants. Watch the video below to see how 7-Up tried to sell this bad idea.
Van Heusen and the Oxford Shirt (for White Males Only)
We’re not even quite sure what Van Heusen was trying to communicate with this ad besides casual racism.
In this 1952 ad, they imply that people of color (naturally portrayed as primitive and threatening) could somehow become sophisticated—if only they’d just go out and buy one of those dashing oxford shirts. “Rumor has it that even he would swap his boar’s teeth for a Van Heusen Oxford!” has to be one of the more offensive sentences we’ve ever read. We’re going to Brooks Brothers.
Baby Soft and Their Child Model
Raise your hand if it’s been burned into your brain that a company once tried to say that perfume meant for young girls was the “sexiest fragrance around.”
One of their models for the campaign essentially looked like the JonBenet Ramsey of her time, making it even creepier that the slogan for the company’s line was “Because innocence is sexier than you think.”
Even worse was one of the line’s commercials in which a (thankfully) older woman licked a lollipop on screen as a male voiceover declared that the products had the scent of a “cuddly, clean baby…that grew up very sexy.” It’s creepy—see for yourself.
We’re not sure we want to know about the demographic of people that actually buy this product (or watch its advertisements), but you can still pick it up today off of Amazon, and it’s actually fairly popular.
Sears and Its Fingernail-Friendly Oven
Oven technology has certainly advanced over the years, but that doesn’t mean advertisements progressed at the same pace.
When Sears came out with this self-cleaning Kenmore oven in 1971, the ad featured a woman convincing her husband to get it by telling him that he’d know how hard an oven is to clean if he’d ever broken his finger nails off like she had while doing so.
The ad seems fine, if a little stereotypical—until you got to the bottom where the slogan reads “It’s designed for you, but built for your husband.” Yeah, because we’re sure he ended up doing a lot of cooking after they got it.
Warner’s and the Little Fibber
By now, most people are aware that bodies come in all different shapes and sizes, and you’re better off keeping your mouth shut if you have something mean to say about someone else’s. That wasn’t always the case, though.
Warner’s took it upon themselves in 1965 to center one of their ads on just one particular body shape. They’re gracious enough to offer a solution to all the unfortunate women who rock a pear-shaped body—that is, smaller on top, bigger on bottom. However, in doing so, they tell pear-shaped women that their body is “no shape for a girl.” On top of that, they essentially decided to call small-chested women who bought the bra liars by calling it “the Little Fibber.” Yikes.
Oh, and to help give those women the “trimmed-down hips” that no one ever asked if they really even wanted, Warner’s also introduced the Concentrate girdle along with the bra so women could finally have the bodies that everyone else apparently wanted them to.
Jade East’s Struggle With Consent
Aftershave isn’t as widely used today as it once was, though it used to be popular.
This ad for Jade East aftershave even encouraged men to actually go out and buy something for themselves instead of sending their wives out to get it for them—their aftershave was apparently just that good.
However, it’s clear that the ad has a seriously skeevy undertone, given the line “if she doesn’t give it to you, get it yourself.” Add in the “Far East” exoticism and the fact the ad was released in 1969 (just one year after the disaster at My Lai, Vietnam), and you’ve got yourself one hell of a messed up ad.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, they’re not just talking about aftershave.