March 4, 2018

16 Racist, Sexist and Dishonest Vintage Advertisements That Seem Shocking Today

These vintage advertisements are from Beyond Belief, a book by art collector and former advertising executive Charles Saatchi, which brings together the most shocking advertising campaigns of the last century. From racism and sexism to dodgy health claims, nothing was out of bounds for the real-life Mad Men.


“In the middle of the last century, marketing men had few qualms about creating brutally offensive advertisements...It proved a grimly amusing task to find so many examples that I could collect together; they provide a clear insight into the world of the ‘Mad Men’ generation and the consumers they were addressing. Although many of the advertisements selected are alarming they present an important portrait of society in the 1940s and ‘50s.” - Charles Saatchi.

Misogynistic, racist, unscientific, dishonest and just plain bizarre, these ads demonstrate how our attitudes towards women, race, tobacco, personal hygiene and drugs have changed over the years.

Love Cosmetics, 1975. This campaign used a sexualized image of a prepubescent girl, apparently forgetting that women were its target audience.

Van Heusen, 1952. ‘The world’s smartest shirts’ – and the world’s crudest racial stereotyping.

Broomsticks, 1967. The women in this bizarre game – Rosie, Carol or Eleanor – may be interchangeable, but only one brand of slacks will do.

Lucky Strike, 1930. To counter the health concerns around smoking, ad men simply enlisted their own men in white coats.

Elliott’s Paint, 1930s. Pears soap was sold as being so effective that black skin could be scrubbed clean. This advert for paint plumbs similar depths of offensiveness.

Iver Johnson firearms, 1904. This US weapons manufacturer makes some puzzling claims for a gun that can ‘shoot straight and kill’ while being ‘absolutely safe’.

Mebaral sedatives, 1950s. Tranquilisers were routinely used to pacify and sedate women; here, though, a stressed-out man is advised of the benefits of ‘daytime sedation’.

Panasonic hairdryer, 1972: even back then, cancer treatment and resulting hair loss was common enough to have made this unthinkable.

Meprospan, 1957: what every stressed-out mother at bath-time needs: to still be sedated by the pill she took when she first awoke.

Weyenberg Massagic shoes, Playboy, 1972.

Tipalet cigars, Young & Rubicam, Playboy, 1970.

Alcoa Aluminium, Fuller & Smith & Ross, 1953.

7-Up, J Walter Thompson, Saturday Evening Post, 1955.

Cocaine Tooth Drops (1885).

Chlorodent toothpaste, J Walter Thompson, 1953.

Mum deodorant, Doherty, Clifford & Sheffield, Screenland magazine, November 1945.






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