A sexist vintage ad from the 1970s, promoting some fancy two-tone men’s shoes.
Advertising has become an integral part of our socio-economic lives and it’s carefully designed to speak to the hearts and minds of consumers. It taps into our psyche, hopes, dreams, goals, and fears.
In this article, we will flip through the pages of history and look at some of the offensive or misogynistic print ads, from brands that tried to sell their products by promoting male chauvinism, sexism, and breeding the feeling of insecurity among women.
Vintage ads are a reflection of the past that shows the values of that time period. Early print advertisements were a lot more blatant, some of them so downright offensive that is hard to believe they actually went live. Imagine what the reaction would be if any of these advertisements were put up today?
This ad for pants depicted a woman as a tiger-skin rug, boasting: ‘After one look at his Mr Leggs slacks, she was ready to have him walk all over her’.
However, regarding the sexist messages, Mad Men-style ad men knew what they were doing and they understood that sex sells, and so does controversy.
As long as the advertisements did their job and moved products, companies would keep pushing the limits as far as they could. Even back then, people complained. But a few strongly-worded letters sent via postal mail to the company in question could easily be ignored.
Even modern-day ads objectify women, but there’s no way companies could get away with what they just did a few decades away. In some ads, the men grope their wives, tread on them and blow smoke in their faces.
Major brands like Kellogg’s featured sexist slogans, like “The Harder A Wife Works, The Cuter She Looks.” The advert for Volkswagen boasts of the firm’s hard-wearing cars, beginning simply: “Women are soft and gentle, but they hit things”.
Other companies promoted pseudoscience that we now know to be utter rubbish. 7-Up told moms to add the soda to their babies’ milk. Camel cigarettes were marketed as “the doctor’s favorite brand”.
“Don’t worry darling, you didn’t burn the beer!”. A sexist vintage advert from Schlitz.
A creepy vintage Pitney Bowe Postage Meter. “Is it always illegal to kill a woman?”
“More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette”.
“So the harder a wife works, the cuter she looks!”. 1939.
“If your husband ever finds out you’re not ‘store-testing’ for fresher coffee…” starts this ad that ran in LIFE magazine back in August 1952.
“Blow in her face and she’ll follow you anywhere”.
By Tipalet in the 1960s.
“Show her it’s a man’s world”. Van Heusen Man’s World ties: “For men only! … brand new man-talking, power-packed patterns that tell her it’s a man’s world… and make her so happy it is.” 1951.
There were even ads that promoted sugary drinks for toddlers, asking: ‘How soon is too soon? Not soon enough’.
Light up Mom! This ad claimed ‘you need never feel over-smoked’. Perhaps they hadn’t heard of lung cancer.
‘Men are better than women!’ This advert for sweaters said wives were ‘a bit of a drag’ on a mountain.
“It’s yours with this quick, fresh lift”.
Do you seek a woman who can completely take care of every aspect of your household cleaning? We’ll then its time to get the Addis Wedding Set.
Want to have some fun? How about some domestic violence before heading out with your buddies?
Not the best choice of lemons.
“There’s another woman waiting for every man”. “No wife wants her husband to carry the memory of her morning breath to work with him. The attractive women he meets during the day don’t have it.” 1950s.
An advert intended to shame men into joining the army.
The secret of successful marriages is that brides need to cook for their husbands right from the day of their wedding.
“Presenting the Losers”. Female objectification at its best.
“The game is broomsticks”.
“A cigar brings out the caveman in you.There’s a man-size feeling of power in smoking a cigar.” 1959.
“You mean a woman can open it?” Alcoa Aluminum put out this gem of an ad back in 1953. Even a woman could open a glass bottle… “Easily — without a knife blade, a bottle opener, or even a husband! All it takes is a dainty grasp, and easy, two-finger twist — and the catsup is ready to pour.”
“Congratulations, dear, but exactly what does an assistant vice president do?” 1960s.
A creepy vintage ad: “Because innocence is sexier than you think”. 1975.
“Want him to be more of a man? Try being more of a woman”. 1974.
As explained by the kind folks from Lux detergent back in the 1940s: “Dorothy, 25, lives at home. She has a job, yet she can’t get ahead. She dresses well, talks well, dances well — yet she is seldom asked out — and never a second time. She thinks she is misunderstood. She blames others when really her own carelessness is to blame.”
“Look – I’m a mother!”. 1940s.
“Up off your knees, girls. Shinyl Vinyl, the no-wax floor, is here.” (About Congoleum flooring). 1970s.
“I’m Jo. Fly me.” Jo (and another stewardess named Cheryl) were part of a National Airlines ad that even sparked outrage at the time. 1970s.
“Where there’s a man… there’s a Marlboro”. This vintage magazine advertisement from 1970 also included this absurd line: “The cigarette designed for men that women like.”
You won him – now you must keep him. 1935.
Advertisement for automatic transmission.
“This is a computer?”
Advertisement for STDs.
An ad for Drummond sweaters.
“Should a gentleman offer a Tiparillo to a violinist?”
An ad from Hoover company.
Van Heusen shirts.
Hotpoint dishwashers: “Please…let your wife come into the living room!”.
“Does your husband look younger than you do?”
“4 out of 5 men want Oxfords…in the new Van Heusen styles”.
Canadian Patriotic Fund.
A cigarette pack dressed up as woman.
Acme, 1963: The most important quality in coffee is how much it will please your man.
Brown & Williamson, 1967: “The best ones are thin and rich.”
(Photo credit: Pickchur / National Archives / Library of Congress).