4 Vintage Ads That Show How Far We’ve Come

From the 1940s through the 1990s, print, radio, and television ads played a pivotal role in society. During this “golden era of advertising”, the product – not the customer – was at the forefront of marketing. And the sole purpose of every ad was to sell as much product as possible.

Ads That Wouldn’t Work Well Today

Popular ad campaigns of the past impacted brand growth largely because they capitalized on attitudes and accepted “truths” of the time. But as you’ll see from these 4 vintage ads, we’ve come a long way in terms of what’s considered effective or even acceptable messaging today.

1.      The Marlboro Man

1954 saw the launch of the iconic Marlboro Man. By connecting their cigarettes to the image of a fiercely independent, ruggedly masculine cowboy, Marlboro transformed their product from one aimed predominantly at women in the 1920s, to America’s best-selling cigarette through the 1990s.

Fast forward to today, however, and while this is still considered one of the most successful ad campaigns of the 20th century, tobacco industry litigation since then has permanently changed our attitudes toward smoking and the health risks it represents.

2.      Hoover Vacuums: The Ideal Gift

Throughout the 1900s, ads centred around cooking and cleaning products were aimed almost exclusively at women – except, of course, when they weren’t.

In one vintage 1960s print ad campaign, husbands were helpfully tipped off by Hoover that their wives would be “happier forever after” if gifted with a vacuum cleaner for Christmas.

Although diversity in the workplace – and women’s roles in particular – are still a work in progress, ads like this clearly show how far societal norms (and gift-giving) have come.

3.      Where’s the Beef?

In 1984, Wendy’s struck fast food gold with their “Where’s the Beef” TV commercials (you can view a brief video compilation here). Featuring three “little old ladies” on the hunt for the beef that was so obviously missing from competitors’ hamburgers, Wendy’s ads spawned a catchphrase that’s still used today.

Popular slogans aside, it’s a clear sign of the times that meatless burger and breakfast sandwich sales are currently on the rise across North America – and that Wendy’s is rumoured to be launching their own veggie burger.

4.      7-Up: Good for You and Your Baby

Vintage soda ads from the 1950s show that 7-Up once took the concept of family-friendly food products to an entirely new level. The soft drink manufacturer claimed their sugary beverage was so “pure and wholesome” that mothers could feel good about giving it to infants under the age of one – either mixed with milk, or straight from the bottle.

Today, of course, we’re familiar with the contribution that over-consumption of sugary drinks like soda has made to the obesity epidemic (and obesity-related diseases like type 2 diabetes) currently affecting both adults and children.

The Takeaway

Not only do ads like the ones described here show how far we’ve come culturally, they highlight important changes in the marketing process.

With the internet placing more knowledge and choice in the hands of consumers daily, simply shouting out about the benefits of your product or service isn’t enough for consistent sales growth.

To advertise successfully, your business needs to:

  • provide a solution to your customer’s problem,
  • build trust among clients, and
  • establish and preserve authenticity

It’s also important to stay up to date with evolving marketing trends.

While it’s clear that advertising has changed dramatically over the years to accommodate new mediums and an increasingly savvy audience, ad strategies that actually work aren’t likely to stop changing any time soon.

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