As a marketing consultant, there are days when I love what I do. It’s great to be able to help a company better understand what their clients want, or find ways to make better use of their resources.
On the other hand, there are days when I come across some unseemly hucksterism passing itself off as marketing and sales, and I have to stop and ask myself, “Do I ever do that?” Fortunately, my first business lessons came from my parents, who taught us that no profit is worth your self-respect. If you don’t truly believe something is right and good, then don’t do it. That’s a pretty simple rule that will serve anyone well, no matter what your line of business.
But every now and then, I come across an ad so weird or even disturbing that my first reaction is to just shake my head and think I need to find another line of work. Ads from bygone days are especially likely to come across in a whole new way as our society and industry standards change. While some of these may be funny, some can be far from from it. However, there is value in looking back on them and realizing just how far our society has come in the past 40 or 50 years. It’s also helpful to realize that, while these ads were widely accepted when they came out, they are now just as universally seen as scary. So maybe the news is not all bad after all.
So with all that said, I offer two ads in this post, and will have more in each of the others in this series, as we reflect on what once was, and just how much our standards have shifted. These two are both soft-drink ads focusing on babies, and you can click on each to have them open in a larger window.
Here’s the first:
In case you can’t read the small print, how about these assertions:
- “Laboratory tests over the last few years have proven that babies that start drinking soda during that early formative period have a much higher chance of gaining acceptance and fitting in during those awkward pre-teen and teen years. So do yourself a favor. Do your child a favor. Start them on a strict regimen of sodas and other sugary carbonated beverages right now, for a lifetime of guaranteed happiness.” [emphasis mine.]
And here’s the second:
Again, in case you can’t read the small print, check out this parenting advice:
- “This young man is 11 months old — and he isn’t our youngest customer by any means. For 7-Up is so pure, so wholesome, you can even give it to babies and feel good about it… By the way, Mom, when it comes to toddlers—if they like to be coaxed to drink their milk, try this: Add 7-Up to the milk in equal parts, pouring the 7-Up gently into the milk. It’s a wholesome combination—and it works!”
Make no wonder there was a whole generation of North Americans with a mouth full of dental fillings!
The question that always runs through my head whenever I see old ads like these is, “Are we doing things now that will be decried as just as horrifying in another 50 years or so?”
How about you? What do you think? Are there ads you see — whether from yesterday or today — that strike you as destined for the Advertising Hall of Horrors?
Vent with a comment below, and then take a look at the next dark installment of the Advertising Hall of Horrors!
Trish McFarlane says
Wow, hadn’t ever seen ads like those before. They sound convincing too so I’m certain many parents would have tried the sugary sodas. You are also right about ads from today being seen as horrible in 50 years. What about all those femine hygine ads? surely those will look outrageous. Fun post!
Lorne Pike says
Thanks Trish. Yes, as amazing as these ads are, I have a few more lined up for the next couple of posts that are probably even more incredible. It’s a wonder any of us ever grew up! Great to hear from you.
As horrifying/amusing as old advertising is, I like to think we’re less prone to fall into such advertising traps now. Advertising, boiled down, is corporate propaganda … and just as political propaganda has decreased in bile and absurdity, I feel like we are more and more in a position to challenge and criticize advertising as well. There are exceptions, like Nestle’s campaigns in the third world promoting powdered baby formula by claiming it to be better than breast milk (even though many customers have no access to clean water with which to mix the formula). But I have confidence that eventually absurd and/or patently false advertising will eventually be eliminated altogether.
Lorne Pike says
Interesting comment, Kenmore. I like your positive outlook, but I’m not sure we’re showing many signs of getting anywhere near that level yet. The larger corporations may be held more accountable than ever, but there are more players now than ever, with easy and instant access to worldwide media. The platforms have certainly changed, but do you feel the messages on today’s Internet and various cable, satellite and print offerings are less absurd than they were in the day of these ads? I’m not convinced…
Well, even while corporate arms have grown longer, the social webs that people find themselves in have exploded. Information has become so readily accessible to even the most average citizen, if they care to look. Oviously disinformation is a lot easier to spread as well, but I’m hopeful that solutions are coming. In the meanwhile, nothing plastered on a billboard or written in lights is above criticism or global discussion. Advertising which is obviously advertising has a much more difficult gauntlet of truth and questioning to run than advertising of fifty years ago.
I can imagine, though, that the “Advertising Hall of Horrors” of the year 2060 will have more to do with advertising moving out of traditional spheres in nefarious ways. Spam-bots are obvious, as are dishonest flashing banners promising you, the 1 000 000th visitor, a free iPad. But harder to notice (and thankfully much less common for now) are users paid to visit forums and infiltrate online communities with the eventual purpose of direct marketing on behalf of employers.