We are living in a world created by marketers. Advertising is a powerful force shaping attitudes and behavior since the beginning of the 20th century when it got into radio, and then into television in the late 1940s.
With great power comes great responsibility – but try telling it to someone working in advertising field in the early 20th Century. Even today, advertising is far away from being in conformity with high moral standards, but after looking back to some offensive, racist and sexist vintage ads – today’s ads are as good as gold.
Camel’s campaign featuring doctor endorsements is probably the most familiar instance of false advertising, seen here in an ad from 1948. Yet almost every cigarette company twisted science to support its products, including Chesterfield’s 1953 ads, which rephrased expert findings to show that smoking had “no adverse effect”.
2 – DDT is good for me!
This ad for “Killing Salt Chemicals” from 1947 shows a range of dangerous applications for now-illegal DDT, from agricultural sprays to household pesticides. Particularly disturbing is the image of a mother and infant, above the caption stating that DDT “helps make healthier, more comfortable homes.”
4 – VI-REX: Shock your way to physical perfection
In 1922, “Violet Rays” were said to cure pretty much anything that ailed you.This Vi-Rex device plugged into a light socket so users could give themselves home shock-treatments, which would supposedly make you “vital, compelling, and magnetic.” The last batch of Violet Ray products was seized in 1951.
7 – SEVEN-UP is for babies
Not only were sugary soft-drinks great for adults, but sodas like 7-Up used to help babies grow up strong and fit, or so these ads from 1955 and 1953 would have you believe. And what about 7-Up in milk?
8 - Suffocating babies in Cellophane!
A bunch of infants tied up in plastic is pretty frightening to modern viewers, but at the time, these ads were just plain cute. When these Du Pont Cellophane ads came out in 1954, things like plastic grocery bags weren’t a ubiquitous part of American culture. Only after plastic bags became widespread during the 1970s did their strangulating qualities become frighteningly clear.
11 – Fun with the Lead Family…
The most heartbreaking part of this 1923 brochure is its emphasis on kids having fun with the whole “Lead Family” of products, whose presence in everything from their nursery walls to their windup toys made young children particularly susceptible to its dangers. Combined with lead paint’s seductively sweet flavor, putting kids in environments literally covered with the stuff was a recipe for disaster.
In fact, the effects of lead poisoning (brain damage, seizures, hypertension, etc.) were known long before the Consumer Product Safety Commission finally banned them in 1977; the industry had simply refused to acknowledge them.
12 – Feminine Hygiene: the original home wrecker.
Long before Lysol was reinvented as the caustic household cleaner we know today, the same substance was basically promoted for use as a feminine hygiene product. These Lysol ads from 1948 tout the internal use of poisonous Lysol as a marriage saver. To sum up the message: if you weren’t so dirty down there, he would love you more.
13 – Dieting? Try sugar!
In a time before the current widespread obesity epidemic, sugar companies wanted shoppers to believe that a sweet treat would somehow inspire you to eat less. These ads from 1969 coach readers to “have a soft drink before your main meal” or “snack on some candy an hour before lunch.” Their strange logic isn’t even backed by a company name, though the campaign does include a helpful mailing address for “Sugar Information.”