Awful Vintage Ads from the 20th Century: Distasteful Ads From the PastIn today’s advertising landscape, there is no denying that certain contemporary advertisements have been criticized for objectifying women.

However, when we cast our gaze back to the advertising of the mid-20th century, we’re confronted with a startling reality: companies could, and did, engage in marketing practices that would be met with resounding condemnation in the present day.

During an era that preceded the Civil Rights movement, some of the most prominent brands of the time, including household names like Kellogg’s, employed shockingly sexist slogans as part of their marketing campaigns.

One particularly egregious example was Kellogg’s infamous tagline, “The Harder A Wife Works, The Cuter She Looks.”

In addition to the deeply problematic sexism in advertising, this era was also marred by the presence of overtly racist ads that shamelessly perpetuated racial stereotypes and discrimination.

These ads endorsed products with offensive names and imagery, such as the use of caricatures that perpetuated harmful racial biases.

Beyond issues of sexism, advertisers of the 20th century often embraced pseudoscience that, in hindsight, appears nothing short of ludicrous.

For instance, the marketing strategy employed by 7-Up advised mothers to incorporate soda into their infants’ milk, based on questionable health claims.

Another example, Camel cigarettes were boldly promoted as “the doctor’s favorite brand,” a statement that, by today’s standards, is a disturbing reminder of how far our understanding of health hazards has evolved.

Palmolive ad from the 1920s

racist sexist vintage ads

This Palmolive ad from the 1920s makes out that appearance is more important than intelligence for women.

Doctors smoking Camels

racist sexist vintage ads
The “More Doctors Smoke Camels” ad campaign was a marketing strategy used by the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company to promote Camel cigarettes during the mid-20th century, particularly in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

These ads typically featured statements like “More Doctors Smoke Camels than any other cigarette” or “Doctors recommend Camels to their patients.”

These advertisements attempted to lend an aura of credibility and authority to Camel cigarettes by suggesting that medical professionals preferred them over other brands.

The implication was that if doctors trusted and smoked Camels, then they must be safe or even beneficial to health.
racist sexist vintage ads

Jello ad from the 1920s

racist sexist vintage ads

This Jello ad from the 1920s shows a small black boy serving a white woman at a “plantation.”

Kellogg’s ad from the 1930s

racist sexist vintage ads

A Kellogg’s ad from the 1930s encourages women to work hard around the house.

7-Up ad from 1950s

racist sexist vintage ads

In the 1950s, 7-Up encouraged mothers to give their babies the sugary drink.

Babies in ads for cigarettes

racist sexist vintage ads

Marlboro used babies to sell cigarettes in the 1950s.

Can you afford not to smoke?

racist sexist vintage ads

Another example of using babies in ads about smoking.

Van Heusen ad from 1950s

racist sexist vintage ads

Van Heusen mocked at nonwhite people in the 1950s.

Hoover ad from the 1960s

racist sexist vintage ads

Hoover suggested its cleaning devices were the ideal gift for women in the 1960s.

Baby Soft ad from 1970s

racist sexist vintage ads

Baby Soft was not worried about sexualizing children in the 1970s.

Old Gold Ad

racist sexist vintage ads

Old Gold reduced women to cigarette holders in this ad.

Here’s a racist ad

racist sexist vintage ads

NK Fairbank Co. depicted black children as unclean.

Lysol sexist ad

racist sexist vintage ads

Lysol portrayed women as full of “doubt,” “ignorance,” and “inhibitions.”

Jade East and lack of consent

racist sexist vintage ads

Jade East showed a shocking ignorance of the importance of consent in this ad.

Warner’s ad from 1967

racist sexist vintage ads

Warner’s reduced female body shape to fruit in 1967. It says it will help “girls with too much bottom and too little top.”

Tab ad from 1969

racist sexist vintage ads

In 1969, Tab told women to stay away from sugar … to please men.

Pear ad from 1900s

racist sexist vintage ads

Pear’s Soap in the early 1900s described teaching cleanliness as the “white man’s burden.”

(Photo credit: Pinterest / Wikimedia Commons).