Totally Offensive Vintage Ads: How Did These Ever Get The Green Light?

If you thought today was brutal when it comes to the scrutiny women face in the media, these vintage advertisements have pretty much said, “Hold my beer.” Whether its overt racism, flat-out sexism, or going as far as encouraging spousal abuse, these offensive vintage ads would never fly today. Did they even fly back then?

Flip N’ Offend


It’s unclear exactly what Panasonic was hoping to achieve with this Flip ‘N Style hair dryer advertisement. Maybe they’ve sold so many units to people who already had hair that they had to tap into the market of those struggling with alopecia or undergoing chemotherapy. Either way, it’s just plain wrong.

Even weirder, the ad copy suggests that these hair dryers would make good replacement teddy bears. “It comes in three terrific colors to go with any bedspread.” And that you can use it to dry your fingernails “if your hasn’t grown in.” We assume someone lost their job over this bizarre ad campaign.

The Wrong Deodorant Ruined It All In the ‘40s


Apparently, intelligence and wit weren’t really defining qualities for a wife back in the 1940s. What are smarts when you’re dealing with such important traits as perfect hair and a pretty smile? This vintage advertisement paints a picture where the entire worth of a woman can be derailed by something as natural — and as sometimes unavoidable — as body odor.

Anyone who’s ever been to hot yoga, prepare to be offended. You’re apparently wasting your “charms” (of which are purely physical) by breaking a sweat. Hey, that perfect body had to get there somehow. As if husbands always smell like roses.

Beauty Over Brains

palm olive.jpg

“Often we marvel at her — the girl whose only asset is her beauty. She knows so little and says so little; yet serenely attracts everyone-to her side. Too often her clever rival sits in a corner, alone.”

Yea, no thanks Palmolive. That’s a horrible way to sell skincare. This shocking 1920s soap advertisement encourages women to hide their smarts, quiet down their opinions, and focus on being pretty. Imagine the Twitter storm and brand boycott this would spark in 2018. Personally, we’d rather have educated opinions than perfect hair. Also, why do girls have to be rivals? Have you forgotten the importance of female friendship?

Racial Stereotyping At Its Finest


This Van Heusen ad appeared in a 1952 edition of Life — but it’s pretty shocking it ever made it into any magazine to begin with. It’s one of the crudest examples of racial stereotyping that came two years before the Supreme Court outlawed segregated public schools.

Van Heusen was promoting the world’s smartest Oxford shirt, but decided to use a cartoon-ish tribesman to tout their product with the text “Rumor has it that even he would gladly swap his boar’s teeth for a Van Heusen Oxford!” Why? Just, why?

Love Is Baby Soft — And Pretty Creepy

baby soft.jpg

“Love’s Baby Soft. Because innocence is sexier than you think.” No, just no. Yes, we live in a word where Lolita is a classic book, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t creepy. This Love Cosmetics ad sexualizes a child — there’s no way around it.

In the ad, a young girl (who can’t even be a teenager) is holding a white teddy bear and looking seductively at the reader. It’s completely uncomfortable. What kind of customers would this even attract? Jared from Subway? That dude from 7th Heaven? No one good, that’s for sure.

Under A Microscope

facial flaws.jpg

With the constant barrage of picture-perfect cover girls and Facetuned-to-perfection Instagram influencers, it really feels like women are under a microscope. If we already didn’t feel scrutinized enough in the age of social media, this vintage ad proves it’s ingrained into the very fiber of our culture’s fiber. Women were literally put under a microscope — or a “beauty micrometer” — with this cruel invention.

This vintage ad for a beauty micrometer, a device that analyzes a woman’s facial flaws to detect the best makeup looks possible, puts the value solely on a woman’s looks. It also looks like a Saw-worthy torture device, but the torture is purely emotional. Shame on you, beauty micrometer. Can’t we just wear makeup because we like it?

Pep In Your Step


Listen, we could all use a little bit more energy. Energy-packed cereals pretty much sell themselves. You don’t really need a misogynistic ad to help move things along, yet here we are. This offensive 1930s ad for Kellog’s Pep is as bizarre as it is sexist. It’s targeting husbands whose wives aren’t thrilled about doing housework. In doing that, it’s assuming women do the cooking, cleaning, and dusting but not the grocery shopping. If you’re going to be sexist, at least be consistent.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Pep, the brand touted its mild laxative properties in a lot of its ads. Basically, this ad is telling men to buy a vitamin-fortified laxative to help their wives lose weight and still have energy to take care of the house (because they’ll be tired if they simply starve themselves to be thin). When this was discontinued in the ‘70s, it’s hard to say it was missed.

Lysol’s Other Use


In the 1930s, Lysol was used as a feminine hygiene product and rather ineffective contraceptive. According to a 1933 study, about half of the women who used it to prevent pregnancy ended up pregnant. Despite the fact that the brand touted the product as gentle and safe, it was also extremely dangerous. Until 1953, Lysol’s formula contained cresol, a phenol compound that’s been known to cause burning, inflammation, and sometimes death. By 1911, 193 women had been poisoned and five women died from using the product as a douche.

Despite this, the brand pushed its products on women anyway using overt sexism and vague threats. The ad above pretty much claims Lysol prevents feminine hygiene-related divorces (something that hardly seems like an epidemic).

Real Women Have Curves

weight gain.jpg

This ad is a vintage offshoot of the popular phrase “real women have curves,” but instead of being empowering, it’s pretty darn sexist. While modern media has the tendency to shame fuller-figures, thinness wasn’t always as desirable. Being skinny fell out of fashion during the Great Depression when there was widespread hunger. To battle weight loss, women used ironized yeast products to put on some curves.

This weight-gain ad is offensive on every level. It pretty much tells thin women — who may very well be starving because of the Great Depression — that men won’t find them attractive. As if that’s their biggest concern.

Gaining Weight In The Right Places

weight loss.jpg

As if the media didn’t already tell women to buy products that helped them gain weight, they had to make sure they didn’t gain too much weight. According to this offensive ad, curvy is only good if it’s in the right places. Unfortunately, you can’t really choose where extra weight settles.

This offensive ad puts an impossible standard on women who can’t be too thin but have to be full-figured in the right way. There’s a device to slim down every single part of the body that may have gained “too much” weight from an ironized yeast product. During the Great Depression, advertisers still found a way to make women buy frivolous beauty products by creating problems that didn’t exist.

Guess We’re Ordering Pizza

didn't burn.jpg

Apparently, burning dinner is the biggest sin a woman can commit — at least that’s what this Schlitz beer ad is promoting. It shows a wife in tears as dinner smokes on the stove. Her husband is trying to console her and says, “Anyway, you didn’t burn the Schlitz!”

In modern times, we’d just get on with it and order a pizza. It’s not that serious, but this ad reinforces the idea that women have to be great cooks in order to please their husbands. If they can’t cook, they better have some good beer to distract him.

7-Up For Babies


This ad seems pretty shocking in 2018, when schools have banned soda from their vending machines because of the inherent unhealthiness of chugging tablespoons-upon-tablespoons of sugar. This ad completely ignores all scientific reason and suggests that you should give soda to your 11-month-old baby — and that an 11-month-old baby isn’t even 7-Up’s youngest customer.

To make things worse, the ad claims that moms should mix 7-Up with milk to get their kids to drink it (which is surprisingly not disgusting if you’ve ever tried it, but by no means healthy). It even goes on to say the product is “so wholesome” that you can “feel good about” giving it to babies. How the heck did they get away with blatantly lying?

The Game No One Wants To Play


What game do you ask? “Ring Around Rosie. Or Carol. Or Eleanor, etc. Fun. But you can only play if you wear Broomsticks slacks.”

This 1960s ad is next-level creepy and leaves so many questions. What are these men doing to this girl? Do slacks give you a right to do whatever the heck is happening here (which honestly looks pretty illegal)? Is the girl struggling or smiling? It seems like the former. There’s basically no way this ad comes across looking good — even in the ‘60s. It’s unsettling enough to make us never want to look at a pair of slacks the same way.

Elliot’s Racially Insensitive Paint


In 1935, Elliot’s Paint created one of the most blatantly racist advertisements in history. The ad shows two African-American children with one painting the other one with white paint. The text says: “See how it covers over black.”

Segregation was still alive and well in the ‘30s and the characters in this ad evoke the same type of cartoonish, racist portrayals of African Americans found in Minstrel Shows. Not only that, but it alleges that white skin is preferred or else why you bother to paint over it? It’s terrible on every level — there’s no way around it.

Pears’ Soap


Pears’ soap has been in business since 1807, and way back before their products were sold in Bed Bath & Beyond, their ads were more than a little racist. This 1890s ad comes just a couple of decades after slavery was abolished in America.

The ad claims that the “first step towards lightening “the white man’s burden is through teaching the values of cleanliness” and that Pears’ soap brightens the “dark corners of the Earth as civilizations advance.” In other words, it’s saying that people of color and those living in less westernized parts of the world don’t know how to properly clean themselves and it’s some white dude’s job to teach them. It doesn’t get more offensive than that.

Confucius Doesn’t Say


Kellogg’s misguided Corn Flakes advertisements give a rather bigoted look at Confucius, the famous Chinese philosopher that existed around 500 B.C. The characters featured are pretty much Asian caricatures loaded with Corn puns. Could we have tried a little harder than “Cornfucious?”

Today, this idea is actually still kicking. “Confucius say” has turned into a racially insensitive meme in which people attribute risque puns loaded with double-meanings to the famed philosopher. Apparently, time hasn’t taught the Internet anything. At least Corn Flakes has moved on to just having a rooster as a mascot and minding their own business.

Wife Beater

wife beater.jpeg

This vintage ad promotes a booklet called “Why You Should Beat Your Wife” for the low, low price of 15 cents. If you ask us, that’s a huge rip off. This 1940s ad reads like the Infowars of yesteryear — even then, it admits it was created to shock. “Provocative yet traditional” isn’t really the way most of us would describe spousal abuse.

According to TIME, doctors actually considered “wife beating” therapeutic 50 years ago. A 1964 study somehow made the baffling conclusion that abusive relationships may help “balance out” a couple’s “mental quirks.” In 2018, this is an abhorrent thought.

Married? Better Worry About Your Tights


This bizarre and vaguely offensive depression-era ad creates another problem that doesn’t exist. It claims “S.A.” or “Stocking Appeal” is a thing, that husbands care about rips in their wives’ stockings, and that wives care about their husband’s opinion on their stockings. Behind the disappointed gaze of the newspaper-reading husband and the unaware wife hopelessly knitting, we can’t help but feel sorry for anyone suckered into buying new hosiery during the greatest depression America has ever seen.

Maybe women weren’t buying enough stockings because they were worrying about feeding their families, but these advertisers were intent on making them feel insecure enough to spend regardless.

We’re Begging For A Name Change


If you thought Aunt Jemima syrup was offensive, this brand of rum screamed, “Hold my beer.” Or rum cocktail. Either way, it’s wildly offensive. Times have certainly changed since this company decided to name themselves Rhum Negrita and adopt an apron-wearing Caribbean woman as their mascot.

Surprisingly, Rhum Negrita is still around (probably somewhere near the Aunt Jemima aisle). It’s available in over 100 markets and sold over a million cases but has — unsurprisingly — never really cracked the US market.

You’ll Never Look At Video Games The Same Way


SEGA isn’t actually too far in the past. Gaming systems are relatively new as far as history goes, but that doesn’t mean this vintage ad isn’t unbelievably risque. Times have changed, but not that much. The ad reads “The more you play with it, the harder it gets” with a drawing of a hand on a joystick — har, har.

Of course, this joke has two layers to it that actually kind of works. The first that comes to mind is the offensive, crude joke about male genitalia. The other is the actual reality that video games get a whole lot harder the more you progress. Misguided? Maybe, but hey, at least it’s not racist.