There was a time when advertising was much more risqué than it is today. Companies would use suggestive images and provocative language to try and sell their products. While some of these ads may have been effective, others are cringe-worthy in hindsight. In this blog post, we will take a look at 50 of the most inappropriate old ads ever made. You will be surprised at how offensive some of them are!
Some of these ads are from well-known brands that you would never expect to see behaving in such a way. Others are from companies that are long gone, but their offensive ads live on in infamy. Either way, these ads are sure to make you cringe! So without further ado, let’s get started.
Women Belong At the Feet
If this ad was released in today’s day and age, feminists would lose their minds, and rightly so. After all, this ad is trying to show that women belong at a man’s feet. You might not get that from the image alone, but the text of the image speaks a thousand words.
Fortunately, we don’t see such ads anymore because people have become more conscious and aware of how others feel. We should always try out best not to hurt the sentiments of others. Of course, this ad was probably made by a misogynist that didn’t care about hurting others’ feelings.
Spanking Your Wife Is Okay
Spanking your wife is not acceptable anymore, but it was a common practice back in the 50s. That is why this ad is also inspired by that trend, as husbands collectively agreed that it was okay to spank their wives when they made a mistake. Even the Daily Mail had an opinion column that emphasized how common this practice was during that time.
As you can see, the husband is spanking his wife in this advertisement because she brought home stale coffee. Unfortunately, the ad emphasizes the narrative that women are not first-class citizens. We are grateful that we have moved past such sexist times.
It’s A Man’s World, And We’re Just Living in It
This ad is also from the 50s, and yes, this was a time of open sexism. You can sense where this ad will lead just from the title. The man is sitting as the woman is on her knees and serving the man some breakfast.
During this time, a women’s place was only in the kitchen and bedroom, which is why most ads also targeted this mentality. Of course, in this day and age, if such an ad came out, the company that released the ad would probably shut down. After all, women are not afraid to gather in large numbers and voice their opinions anymore.
Message Of Violence
You don’t even need to read, as you will realize it is wrong on many levels as soon as you look at it. The ad is trying to send a violent message as one foot of the man is placed on the head of the tiger woman. It is from the 60s, and during this time, women were trying to fight for their rights.
We don’t know how this ad didn’t make any noise, but it is perhaps one of the most violently misogynistic ads we have seen in our lives. Thanks to all the women who came before us that raised their voices, we don’t see such ads and messaging anymore.
Women Are Dumb
Women have never been seen as intellectuals, especially before the 21st century. They were seen as beautiful and dumb creatures who were responsible for taking care of the house. This ad capitalizes on such thinking by reiterating that women are beautiful yet dumb.
It focuses on the misconception that women are too dumb, as they don’t think for themselves, and they will buy whatever they are told to purchase. Even during that time, women were free thinkers, but they never got publicly recognized for it. All these ads were made to oppress women even further.
Pens for Girls
During the 60s, things began to change a little for women as they became more vocal. Because of this, even companies decided to market differently and win the girls over. This ad depicts that girls need a pen that can easily fit the size of their hands.
While the company was trying to clarify its message, it also implies that women are smaller, which is why they also need small pens. It also implies that women can’t handle a pen made for men. No matter how much these companies tried to change their messaging, a hint of sexism was always there.
Not Safe for Babies
We are amazed to see that this ad came out to print, as even a teenager knows that it is not okay to hand over sharp objects to babies, especially razors. Whoever created this ad didn’t think it through and didn’t run it past their colleagues. After all, someone would’ve noticed how blatantly wrong this advertisement is.
Besides that, the ad doesn’t even seem to make sense. The child doesn’t need a razor, and they certainly don’t need to be handed sharp objects like these. We have no idea what this ad was trying to tell.
The Baby Wrap
Women were not the only ones that were targeted in the ads, as the creator didn’t even leave babies. This ad is for cellophane paper to wrap lovely gifts and baskets. However, instead of using this paper to wrap a beautiful gift, the creators decided to use a baby.
Yes, the stork is cute, but the baby in the wrap still doesn’t make any sense. We don’t know what the ad company thought when they made this ad. Clearly, they weren’t thinking at all; if they did, then the ad wouldn’t have been so bizarre.
Certain Body Parts Can Make a Sale
We have all heard the phrase that sex sells, and this was probably what was going on in the mind of the person that created this ad. The ad is for a tennis computer game, but it features a woman’s naked butt. Of course, it is there so men can be attracted to it and buy the game.
Advertisers know the weak points of men, and they are openly targeting that to create more sales. Fortunately, we have moved past this point to sell new items. Thankfully, the new video game ads are much better than before.
Cure Then, Threat Now
Wine is known as a dangerous drink to have if you are suffering from depression. It can cause a downer and make things worse for you. But in the 50s depression wasn’t the problem many people thought about. It was just a word that existed.
Therefore, in the 50s wine was known as a great stress reliever but few knew about the truth. Here is ad that shows how proudly the company is inviting people with depression to further downers. The company also claimed their wine helps with flue and hangovers. How strange!
Talking About Protein
How could someone be so clueless and yet give out ads like that? This shows that people in the 50 and 60s were really innocent and double meaning didn’t exist. There is no way this ad could’ve survived in recent days.
If these kids are looking at this picture they would be so embarrassed. One thing is for sure that these two won’t ever accept that it was them here. Wouldn’t it be great finding them and show them of their greatest work of life? It would be hilarious to see them react to their ad.
Coca-Cola Is the Cure
Have you ever decided to drink Coca-Cola while going through a tension headache or exhaustion? We haven’t either because there are aspirins to do this job for us now. However, back in the day, Coca-Cola used to market its drink as a brain tonic that would help relieve the headaches and exhaustion of individuals.
We wonder how many people fell for this marketing gimmick and had Coca-Cola for such ailments. Of course, the company has changed its marketing tactics now, which is why it is one of the most successful beverages worldwide. We certainly wish it would cure our headaches.
Way to the Target Audience
The best form of advertising is when you know who your target audience is. Yes, surely helps a company improve their sales and get a load of cash. But sometimes the brands can get a bit brutal in their ads. If this ad was published today, the company would’ve shut down by tomorrow.
The backlash would be intolerable for them to survive. On the other hand, it clearly shows that this wasn’t a sensitive topic back them. Well it is shocking to see how a brand can easily advertise and call out someone like that.
Professionalism at Peak
It is confusing what to say regarding this image. These advertisements surely worked back then and the way it is done is surely shocking. The cigarette company simply just created a tagline “Should a gentleman offer a lady a Tiparillo?”
Not only that the company used this tagline everywhere. In addition, they used it for every profession where ladies are found. The profession may be different but the way they portrayed ladies is somehow shocking. We never knew a dental hygienist is found like that in her office. That is a unique way that we all missed.
Pyrex Contributing To the Stereotypes
Pyrex is one of the best kitchenware manufacturers of recent times. The company started in 1915 but their ads in the 50s was shocking. This ad states that successful marriages start in the kitchen. In addition, they have also mentioned that Pyrex is going to make failure-free cooking easy.
This clearly means that most of the marriages depend on the cooking of the wife. That is a great way to set up the stereotype. Thank god, female activist were much active at that time. Otherwise we wouldn’t have seen Pyrex now operating.
Good Old Hot Dogs!
Hot dog was once a great staple food of America during the great depression. It was the only thing many people had the power to afford. It was a great source of joy to many people and children during that time.
There were stalls found in every corner and people would work hard just to afford a hot dog. It is best to appreciate this food and how it kept millions healthy and energized during hard times. It was the all-time favorite food of every family and many would love to have it every day.
Thank goodness this is the Russian version of pinup girls. Most of these posters were surprisingly issued by the central government local party representative. Thank god these are not real life photographs but only illustrations. The government found this a great way to connect and motivate the industry workers.
That is the reason why you would find such posters mainly in garages and warehouses during the 50s. It showed how men can be motivated to their job by the contribution of women. It is shocking to even think how women were displayed in the 50s and 60s.
Is It Really A Postage Meter?
This ad shows that the man had enough of what the salesman was trying to sell her. She was hesitating to buy what was being offered and stood strong. The woman thought contraceptive would be difficult to use but she was convinced when the man showed her how to use it.
This ad tries to show that women don’t know what they have to do until they are told by men. It can shock someone to the core but seemed normal during the 50s as this is a postage meter poster in front of you. Yes!
Vitamin D for Babies
Be it 50s or now, the easiest product to sell is anything related to babies. The introduction of this product clearly shows that as well. Parents are always in search to find the next best thing for their babies to stay comfortable and healthy.
It also shows that many companies needed a better research and development team. The ad clearly shows that the lamp rays help infant sleep peacefully. But didn’t anyone think that those rays can be extremely harmful to the health of an infant. Isn’t 50s the craziest?
Not many people now know about DDT but back in the 50s it was the greatest insecticide known to mankind. It was the most effective in dealing with mosquitos. One thing many farmers noticed that wherever they were spraying DDT to deal mosquitos their crop grew larger than usual.
Therefore, it was started being used as a fertilizer. That was the biggest mistake people made. And thank god in 1972 DDT was officially announced as a harmful substance and the use was banned. It affected the lives of many people who consumed those crops and this step was considered.
Smoking Cigarettes Was Classy, Cool and Trendy
In the old days, smoking was labelled as something very cool, trendy and classy. It was the trendy thing to do and everyone wanted to be a part of it even celebrities like Aubrey Hepburn used to do it which made it classier. However, today we know that smoking is extremely harmful to our health and can even lead to death. These days’ cigarette packages actually say that it is injurious to your health which is completely opposite to the marketing efforts from the start of the 20th century.
It’s no secret that sexism used to exist more openly back in the older generation. It was hinted at everywhere, and advertisements were no exceptions. Just look at this ad, made some time in the 1900s for the promotion of a soil-free oven which they labeled to be a “wife saver.”
As women have always been associated with home-making stuff such as the oven and other kitchen and home appliances, this ad was targeted towards them to appeal how it’ll protect them from damages to their hands! It also called out to the men as, back then, they were the ones who made the purchases.
Like Beyoncé Said: Pretty Hurts
There have been a colossal number of different products made by different companies in the industry with the promise to help women feel younger and beautiful. To be honest, the concept of the whole thing is still the same, but at least nowadays, it doesn’t look like some sort of torture machine.
The device looks scary at first glance, but this ad of the 1890s was trying to promote chin reduction to enhance the beauty of a woman. This was mostly directed at women who were of the older age to give the hope to look young like they once used to.
Kitchen Are Made For?
If this type of ad was promoted in today’s age, then there would be a lot of outrage and protests against it for all the right reasons! However, it used to be different for the older generation as stereotyping people was a very common thing used in advertisements during that time.
There’s no denying that previously women were considered to be only be useful in the kitchen; this was portrayed in the messages the ads gave off. Everything about women used to be centered on how she could serve or get a man but thankfully, times have changed, and that is no longer the belief anymore.
Talk About Inappropriate
I bet you’ve heard the saying “it’s a man’s world,” and these types of illustrations make us believe that if not now, then back then, it really was. This one was made by a very famous illustrator, Gil Elvgren, who was known for his pin ups of women looking seductive.
We don’t really get the whole point of pin ups like these and wonder what went on in Gil’s head. However, the main reason behind these illustrations was for men’s pleasure and satisfaction. Even though Gil also made art, his pin ups overshadowed the former. You won’t see illustrations like these be accepted in this generation.
Getting the Right Deodorant
There are very few people in the world who would disagree with the fact that everyone needs deodorant in their life. No one likes to be stinky; hence keeping a nice smelling spray with you is important. These days you’ll notice ads for deodorants aren’t that competitive; however, it wasn’t the case back then.
As it is with most of the ads you’ll see from the past; women were dragged in almost all of them. This ad sent the message that even if a girl is extremely beautiful, it won’t matter if she uses another deodorant instead of the one being advertised.
Simple Cars for Women
Advertisements for cars have always been something that’s majorly intended for men than it is for women. In the 1960s, things had started to change, and more women resorted to driving as well. This car ad may seem like its promoting women drivers, but the message is quite the opposite.
This ad was made for a car company promoting an automatic mini car. There’s a female driver shown in the ad with a scared look on her face and a message below it saying the car is for simple use. This was done to imply that women can’t use the regular cars men do.
KFC for the Wives
It was typical to expect women to be at home all day, cleaning, cooking, and taking care of kids. In fact, this was considered to be their only job back in the day. KFC, when it just started out, came up with a promotion that was directed toward the female gender.
We guess the word “wife-savers” was pretty commonly used in ads in the past. KFC came up with an ad that targeted housewives who needed a break from all cooking. Although the ad did have a stereotypical touch in it, at least it acknowledged the hard work women do.
Children Can Hold Guns?
You should never see two things together: children and guns; however, Iver Johnson Revolvers didn’t get that memo. This gun company thought it was okay to advertise a child holding a gun to show how safe it is that even a kid can handle it, which is wrong on every level.
The whole point of the ad was to tell about the manual safety feature present on the trigger. Even though it said that revolvers aren’t toys and they can shoot and kill easily, but the use of a child to show safety was a bad move on their part as accidents can always occur.
Vintage ads, no matter what they’re about, majorly focus on how women can do better for a man in all areas. You may look at first and think that maybe this ad is trying to show how wrong it is for men to always ask if a girl is pretty instead of clever, but that’s not the case.
In actuality, the ad is giving off a message about how men don’t care about the intelligence of women; instead, beauty matters more. A woman is shown with her bare shoulders visible and looking desirable to tell girls that beauty matters over brains. Thank god, women nowadays know that beauty isn’t everything.
Cleaning and Weight Loss
Any kind of physical activity is great, even if it’s just cleaning up the house. You’ll end up with a clean house along with some burned calories; what’s there to hate? The advertisers decided to use this message for their ad campaign; however, it’s with a secret message behind it.
Being productive helps in the long and short run, we all know that, and that’s what this ad seems like its promoting. However, the woman shown doing the cleaning in the ad suggests that it’s a lady’s job to stay fit and clean the house. Hopefully, the message was for everyone and not just women.
How to be The Bride
It’s safe to assume that vintage ad advertisers were definitely obsessed with women becoming wives to serve men to the fullest. Like almost the rest of them, this 1928 ad also promotes its product by using the same old message of how a woman’s main goal in life is to become a bride.
This ad with the tagline, “often a bridesmaid but never a bride” was trying to tell if a woman has bad breath, also known as halitosis, she’ll never get married. Though we agree that having a stinky breath is a concern but it shouldn’t be limited to one gender.
Donuts Will Get You a Man
It’s not surprising to see another ad from the past telling women to get themselves a husband. Being a woman in this era must be comforting because back then females were considered useful only if they got married and catered to a man. Donuts are amazing but this ad would never tempt us to eat them!
As you can see yourself, they used the old traditional ball and chain hint to suggest that being married is equal to being prisoned. The leap year touch was added to make girls feel happy about how they have one extra day to get a man. Thankfully, we have come a long way in advisements now.
Perfect Gift for a Pregnant Woman
Of course, the best gift ever to get a pregnant woman would be a new washer so that she can have more work to do instead of resting, at least that’s what this ad is suggesting. Just imagine being pregnant and your husband buying you a washer and dryer to make you “happy.”
In this old ad, it may seem like the top text is a review of some customer but it was probably written by the company itself to promote its business. Apparently, this customer’s wife was ecstatic that he got her washing machine and made her pretty? We don’t understand where that came from.
We’re all pretty much familiar with the phrase, “who wears the pants”, and if you aren’t then it basically means who the decision maker is in the relationship. In old times, it was obvious that only men are capable of making decisions and this ad marketed the exact message.
Since shopping for clothes, groceries, and stuff like that was always considered a woman’s job this ad suggested that even though women have no right to make the important decisions, they can at least buy pants for their husbands. In today’s world, this thinking is obsolete as everyone wears pants now, regardless of gender!
How Not to Irk Your Man?
Clearly, the old generation advertisers had no other way to create ads except to target insecurities and lower the value of women. Just like in this ad, the woman even though she looks perfect and happy, still somehow manages to irk her husband because of small gaps present in her dress.
This ad was for fasteners, directed at women to make them feel insecure that if they don’t get this product to fix their dresses, etc., their husbands will feel annoyed by them even if everything else is perfect. According to them, pleasing men is the only thing important to do as a woman.
This ad didn’t take it slow and decided to go all out in ways to make a woman feel insecure. Why these old breath freshener ads made women their main target for their hurtful ads is something we don’t know but we’re glad it’s not like that anymore.
There are a lot of ways to tell people they should use breath fresheners but telling women that their man is going to leave them for another, is not one of them. While bad breath can be a problem, it’s no excuse to use it as a sly threat against women.
What Are They Even Selling?
You might have heard the phrase; “Sex Sells”. That is true about this ad as well. This ad is for a color projector however when you look at this advertisement the main product is not the focal point but it is the woman’s breast that seem to be the main focus of the ad. The more eyes that see your ad the more chances you have of selling your product. And there is no denying that in that time when people were relatively more reserved, a lot of people would have been compelled to look at this ad because of the woman. The line on the top saying Sabrina demonstrates the world’s finest projection equipment also seems to be a double earning sentence.
Addicted to Candy
This ad is targeted towards mother and it may seem like a normal candy advertisement but what they are trying to do is actually unhealthy. First they are trying to say that mothers who don’t feed their children candy aren’t smart. They aren’t wrong when they say that candy gives energy to kids. You might have seen kids become hyperactive when they eat a lot of candy. However in this fitness conscious world we have now realized that consuming a lot of sugar can actually be dangerous for your health. Not only can it increase your weight but it can also cause dental issues so it should only be consumed in moderation.
Selling Airline Tickets through Women
If you were running an airline company how would you advertise it? You would most probably do it by showing ads that talk about the quality and standard of your planes, the services you provide, the amenities you would get on the plane, the low prices your airline offers and other similar things. However this airline took a completely different approach. They thought it would be a good idea to market their airline by showing their beautiful flight attendants on their advertisement. These ad is a blatant objectification of women and also a blatant butchering of English grammar.
Buy Medicine for Your Wife So She Can Cook For You
If your wife is sick then you should try to make things easier for her like she would do for you. One of the things you can do for her is get her an over the counter medication to minimize the symptoms. However in the mid of 20th century, people had different priorities. This pharmaceutical company thought it would be a good idea to promote their nausea medication by telling their husbands that if their wife takes this medicine she would feel better and she would be able to get out of bed and make them breakfast. This could have been done a lot better if they promoted their product with a little empathy towards the health of the woman rather than the husband’s breakfast.
Bad Breath Bad Marriage
Bad breath is a big turn off; there is no denying in that. However is it enough to destroy your marriage? Well, a few decades ago people used to think that way. This ad clearly shows that if your breath smells bad then your husband is more likely to cheat on you. In the modern world, we can only laugh at such things but in the old days it actually made women lose confidence. When you are married to someone you should focus on how much your spouse loves you. This ad was clearly geared towards cashing in on the vulnerabilities of women of that time. This might have forced a lot of women to buy their product. If this happened in the modern world we would have a whole movement against this.
Too Much Gore
These days each and every piece of content that is shown on TV goes through a censor board. This ad wouldn’t make it through in the modern world and PETA would have had a field day with this company. However a few decades back, things were a little different. This ad shows a pig butchering itself. This is actually an ad for sausages but it could have been done a little better. This ad would have also been seen by kids and we can only imagine how it might have affected them. There is something really cringe worthy about watching such ads.
Smoking is extremely injurious to your health. You might see something like this written on a cigarette carton however in the old days people weren’t as enthusiastic about their health as they are now and everyone used to smoke. This ad by Camels says that according to a survey majority of doctors smoke Camels cigarettes. Now this actually gives a perception that it is a healthier choice as doctors tend to smoke their brand more than any other brand. In reality, all cigarettes are bad for your health. We don’t even know if the survey was authentic or not but what we do know is that even modern filtered cigarettes aren’t without health risks so we can only imagine how unhealthy the cigarettes of that time might have been.
Blow In Her Face
We don’t even have to explain this; the misogynistic nature of this ad is very clear. And before we move any further we would very strictly instruct you to never do this. This cigarette company thought it was a good idea to promote their cigarettes by saying that men should blow the cigarette smoke in women’s face and the women would love it. Women don’t love it; they never did. This is a very rude and arrogant gesture and that is how every woman will take it. You should show the women that you are a gentleman; not someone who objectifies them.
Get Them Drinking At A Young Age
Modern research has shown that soft drinks can be very bad for your health. However a few decades back coca cola was considered more than just a soft drink. Some people even considered it to have medicinal benefits. This is one ad that coca cola might want to forget. In this ad, they are trying to communicate that mothers should start giving coca cola to their toddlers. Coca-Cola was trying to say that if your toddler starts drinking coca cola from a young age then they would be able to live a better life which couldn’t be further from the truth.
The Navy Was Only For Men
Imagine being left out of the navy because of your gender. You may not be able to imagine it now but it was a reality for women back in the 1930s and 1940s. The gender pay gap is still an issue in many parts of the world however in the old days women couldn’t even join the navy. This is a very misogynistic ad that gave a perception that because someone is a man then they are better than women. This ad was used to try and get more people to join the navy by making it look like an elite group that only men could be a part of. The navy has come a long way since then but this ad is a good example of how things were back then.
Kitchen Appliances Are For Women
Anyone would feel cringe after reading that misogynistic phrase on the picture above. It shows how wives are shown as nothing but housewives who should stay in the kitchen and do all the household chores. It also perpetuates the stereotype that only women can cook and do related work in the kitchen. The Kenwood Chef is a great appliance but it shouldn’t be marketed as something that is only for women. We are glad that we are living in a time where such sexist advertising is no longer tolerated.
Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup is Actually Morphine for Toothache
If a child had a toothache in the early 19th century their parents would likely give them a dose of Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup. This popular over-the-counter medicine was advertised as being able to relieve all sorts of childhood ailments, including teething pain.
The main ingredient in Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup was morphine, which is a powerful painkiller. While morphine can be helpful in small doses, it is also very addictive. So it was definitely not appropriate for children. It’s no wonder that the FDA eventually banned Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup.
What would you do if your child complains about a toothache? You would probably take them to your local dentist and the dentist would prescribe an FDA-approved pain killer to help reduce the toothache. However, in the old days, doctors actually prescribed cocaine toothache drops. These drops were even given to children who had a toothache. Cocaine was a very common ingredient in medicine in the late 1800s. Anyone could have gone to a drug store and bought these drops. They were thought to be very effective as well. Even our favorite soft drink coca-cola used to have cocaine in it. Knowing what we know about cocaine in the modern world it just feels wrong that these cocaine drops were given to children.