The best way to get a feel for what people were like in times gone by is to look at the advertisers of that given period. We love to protest that ad-men are slimy, unethical leeches who write copy for a public they know nothing about. But the fact is, they know a lot about the public--their target audience. They study people, study their habits, study their desires, and study their insecurities. In truth, they know us better than we know ourselves. So when I look through old magazines, I don't really read the articles much. Not if I want to get an idea of what sort of people were around at the time it was printed. I go right for the ads.
And so as I perused a copy of Life from 1950, I made note of a few ads that caught my attention. Let's have a look:
Okay, you know I'm a vintage car ad guy. So I had to start with this great shot. We know that the space frenzy would hit the United States in the late Fifties. NASA, after all, was formed in 1958. However, back in 1950, these Oldsmobile 88s had rocket engines, and the amazing Hydra-Matic! You might think that at this point the public still thought of Wernher Von Braun's rockets, as well as those seen in the old Flash Gordon serials. But in 1950, movie screens were already filled with rocket ships zipping across theaters in such exciting movies as Destination Moon and Rocketship X-M, both of which were released before August of that year.
I'm presently in the market for a new car. And if someone out there made a car this beautiful, I would grab it. Go ahead, take a moment to just gaze at it. I'll wait.
Okay, this one has me scratching my head. Let's think about this fine looking ad. At first blush, it seems to be an ad for a kid's drink. Certainly it is at least a kid's cough medicine. However, it clearly says--
Million of bottles are bought by men who like that clear clean taste.
Okay, that leaves the kids out of it. And judging by the jaunty looking waiters in the bottom corner, it would appear to be a liquor ad. But surely now, since the main image here is a child-like giraffe. Let's take a look at the fine print. It reads:
Even if Joe Giraffe can't talk, his actions speak louder than words. And if you'll notice that delighted sparkle in his eyes at the clear, clean taste of his jungle lunch, you'll understand what we mean by PM's clear, clean taste. Drink PM this p.m. and see why so many millions of men keep on ordering it.
So Joe Giraffe is ordering an evening drink for his jungle lunch. And if you look at the really small print, you'll see this blended whiskey is 86 proof, and a whopping 67 and 1/2% Grain Neutral Spirits. Yeah, I guess that does explain that sparkle in the little nipper's eye.
I love New Orleans more than most people, and our family enjoys a good gumbo now and then. And as you can see, Campbell's soup made Gumbo famous, not New Orleans. Fair enough. I'll buy that, since it takes a national ad campaign to really get an unusual regional food nationally recognized. We'll give them good marks for this bold assertion.
They even get the main ingredients right: green okra, tomatoes, rice, and not least, those tender pieces of chicken. (Okay, the tomato thing doesn't make sense. I've eaten a lot of gumbo, and never really seen chunks of tomatoes or anything, but we'll let this go. They're confused about the roux base, I guess.) I even think they get points for adding a bit of poetry:
I dance the night/In gay cotillions,/Then serve this soup/That pleases million!
Not too bad.
But let us look at the always troublesome fine print. See it there, next to the picture of the lady in the kitchen? No need to squint. I'll type it out for you:
Typical New Orleans courtyard kitchen
Now, I'm willing to concede that in 1950, some older kitchens were still around, but I doubt the typical New Orleans kitchen looked like a scene from Mount Vernon circa 1788. But I've always been a bit on the cynical side, so perhaps I'm not to be trusted.
Okay, let's finish with a curiosity. This one requires audience participation. So get your fingers ready to offer suggestions. Let's see what we have:
First of all, let's momentarily ignore the lady in the bath water. (Come on, guys, play along.) At the top we see this is a Listerine ad. In fact, it is a Listerine tooth paste ad. Okay, that's cool. I would never have thought of brushing my teeth with Listerine, since I associate it with the worst form of childhood torture my parents ever inflicted on me. (And yes, it beat out holding a bar of soap in my mouth as the worst torture, even though it was supposed to actually help us and it wasn't a form of punishment like the soap in our mouths.) Now, here's hoping the tooth paste here does not taste like the original Listerine flavor, which, I think is essentially the flavor it had when they first mixed the gasoline, turpentine, and peroxide to create their wonderful product. (I don't really know what is in that awful stuff, but my guess seems highly likely, wouldn't you agree?)
Now at the bottom we also see that this tooth paste cuts tooth decay way down! (This is obviously the conclusion after a great deal of scientific study. I mean, just consider how authoritative that sounds: tooth decay cut way down! Swell!)
And since we all know how important saving money is, I can get excited about their assertion that...Every time you buy a "Thrift-Pak" (two regular 45¢ tubes for 59¢!) you save yourself 30¢. Within a year the average family's bound to save as much as $3.00 or more.
And they even put the word "bound" in italics, as if they realize it's a little silly to be so wishy-washy with their ad-copy. But still, I like that they're pointing out how a family will save money.
But now let's go back to the girl in the bathtub. Can anyone tell me what this lovely creature is doing with a bar of soap in her hand as the caption boldly states "Treat yourself to your Favorite Bath Salts!"? Please don't tell me she's putting Listerine in her bath water. Though that might explain why she's trying to wipe the suds and water from the corner of her eye. Or maybe they're just tears. I know I cried many tears when mom forced me to gargle with Listerine.
Anyone ever heard of Veedol? I could just look it up on the web, but I'd rather see if any of you...more experienced guys (or even gals!) remember this fine looking motor oil. I have to say, I love the elegant yet simple design of the ad. So if you remember your dad buying Veedol, or you bought it once and it totally ruined your engine, or you fell in love with the girl you first saw standing by a stack of Veedol cans at the gas station, jump in and let me know. I'd love to hear from you!