From an advertisement for cocaine toothache drops to an ad showing a baby drinking 7Up we take a look at 10 shocking vintage ads you have to see to believe!
10. Cocaine Drops
In the 1870’s medical doctors were experimenting with cocaine as an anaesthetic. Soon after, the dental profession were using the substance to numb patient’s gums before tooth extractions. This advertisement from the mid 1880’s boasted that cocaine drops, patented by the pharmacist Charles E. Lloyd and S. Dexter Pilsbury, were an ‘instantaneous cure’ for childhood toothaches. Imagine taking your child to the dentist for a toothache today and coming home with a bottle of liquid cocaine!?
Their company also made a product called ‘Dr.Lodewick Burdick’s celebrated Kidney Cure that claimed to be a cure for all diseases of the kidneys, liver, bladder and urinary organs’.
9. Chill Tonic
Despite the look of the label, Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic was not a weight gain supplement nor was it a magic potion that could turn people into hideous hybrid pig creatures. It was in fact, a preventative for malaria. The tonic made inventor Edwin Wiley Grove a millionaire and by 1890 there were more bottles of Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic sold than bottles of Coca Cola! Grove had discovered a way to suspend the very bitter tasting malaria medication quinine, in a liquid that claimed to be tasteless.
If this product was still around today I don’t think the ad campaign would be quite as effective. First, you would need to lose that ultra-creepy label, oh and also stop telling customers that your product will make ‘children and adults as fat as pigs’.
8. Fat Pills
These ads published in magazines between the 1930’s – 1960’s don’t exactly claim that their products can make you as fat as a pig but they are not far off. Back in the mid 1900’s it was considered unattractive to be too thin so these companies developed a product that would be laughed at today – weight gain pills!
Made from a range of things including ironized yeast and iodine these pills actually claimed that they could make you gain ‘5 pounds of solid flesh in 1 week… or no cost!’
With headings like ‘Men wouldn’t look at me when I was skinny’ and ‘If you want to be popular… you can’t afford to be skinny!’ teen girls of today would be mortified if they came across an ad for these pills while flipping through their latest issue of Teen Vogue!
7. Soda Babies
This ad from the 1950’s was a not so subtle attempt by soft drink manufacturer 7Up to get babies to drink their product! Boasting that they ‘have the youngest customers in the business,’ the 7Up ad read ‘…so pure, so wholesome, you can even give it to babies and feel good about it’. The ad also included an ingenious way to get toddlers to drink their milk – pour 7Up in it! The ad says ‘…if they like to be coaxed to drink their milk, try this: Add 7Up to the milk in equal parts, pouring the 7Up gently into the milk. It’s a wholesome combination and it works! Make 7Up your family drink’.
6. Toilet Troubles
Bowel movements can be a tricky subject but used correctly make for a very compelling ad, apparently. This vintage gem for the drain cleaner Drano used that awkward ‘I just clogged the toilet’ feeling to successfully sell their product. In this ad, a wife can feel her husband’s eyes accusing her of jamming the drains. ‘He’d look at me as if to say, “Your fault!” And it was.’
This ad for Kellogg’s All Bran used fear as their selling tactic. Fear of never getting a man. Why? Because you are constipated of course! And as a result you will sit night after night by the phone waiting for calls that never come because your constipation is making you dull and giving you wrinkles. Yes! This ad actually claimed that constipation can cause wrinkles! No wonder nobody wants to take you out!
5. Trust Me I’m A Doctor
This 1931 advertisement for Camel cigarettes used the reassuring image of a doctor to sell its product. The ad claimed that it was the peppery dust found in other cigarettes that made you cough and irritated your throat. Luckily Camel had invented a ‘special vacuum-cleaning process’ that got rid of this imaginary dust so if you wanted to ‘give your throat a vacation…’ you simply needed to ‘Smoke a fresh cigarette.’ The ad even talked up the addictive qualities of nicotine by saying ‘switch to Camel’s for just one day. Then leave them – if you can.’
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, the marketing mad men over at Philip Morris managed to find a way – by comparing the gentleness of their cigarettes to that of a new born baby! Philip Morris, clearly targeting new mothers with this ad campaign, ask that they be forgiven for feeling the pride of a new parent. Why? Because their cigarettes are ‘born gentle’ just like your little bouncing bub.
4. Childproof Revolvers
Today it is impossible to imagine how a gun manufacturer could attempt to sell you the benefits of their product the way this one from the early 1900’s did. This ad for Iver Johnson Revolvers reassured its customers that their guns were so safe, it was fine to let your daughter play with them in bed. Yet the ad mentions that their guns ‘are not toys:’ and ‘they shoot straight and kill.’ It then goes on to mention that ‘you may need one (of their guns) only once in your lifetime: buy now, so you will have it at that time.’ So basically they’re saying it’s likely everyone is going to need to kill someone once in their life, so make sure you do it with an Iver Johnson Revolver. Genius!
3. Sexism Sells
This comic strip style ad of a young married woman talking to her mother suggested that the reason her husband doesn’t love her anymore is because she has developed…MIDDLE AGE SKIN! Well of course you’re going to get middle age skin if your washing dishes all day! Right? The Solution? Switch to Palmolive for their blend of palm and olive oils ‘nature’s finest beauty aids!’ Luckily for this young woman the crisis of middle aged skin was averted simply by switching to Palmolive soap. Now Bob can finally be proud of his wife again.
Just when you thought ads couldn’t get any more sexist this gem from the 1950’s came along. The ad for Chase & Sanborn coffee suggests that any wife who buys coffee that isn’t fresh can expect a beating from her caffeine addicted husband when she gets home.
2. Crazy Inventions
Take a look at this ridiculous invention! The dimple machine created by Isabella Gilbert of Rochester, New York. There is even a photo in the ad, presumably of the inventor or a product model wearing the device in public! Who would do that?
So if you were a skinny woman with middle aged skin who couldn’t afford fat pills or Palmolive soap, maybe you could fashion one of these things out of some old fencing wire. Surely if you were sporting a set of cute-as-can-be dimples you could finally win the approval of a man?
Just when you thought the crazy inventions and ridiculous advertisements couldn’t get any worse along comes… the Face Glove! ‘Recommended by well-known medical and scientific authorities’ The Face Glove also known as the Toilet Mask made some pretty big claims including being able to permanently remove skin impurities, roughness and yes, even wrinkles!
1. Creepy Eye Salve
This creepy advertisement from the late 1800’s is the stuff of nightmares! The ad claims that ‘if (your eye’s don’t) open within 10 days,’ it’s time to ‘buy a box of Pettit’s Eye Salve.’ If your eyes don’t open for 10 days how do they expect you to buy a jar of salve? What if you picked up some chilli paste and smeared that on your eyeballs by mistake? But seriously, if your eyes don’t open for 10 days there might be more important things to do before buying a tin of eye salve like visiting a doctor perhaps!?
That was 10 shocking vintage ads you have to see to believe. Some of the craziest, creepiest and funniest advertisements from the past. What do you think? Which was your favourite?