Advertising has come a long way since the ‘50s. Nevertheless, whether it’s 1950 or 2011, great advertising should be an emotional persuader, like a romantic story teller. Advertising is considered to be successful if it manages to get our attention and “push” us to action.
Print Ads – Past and Present
If it were to make a comparison between the ads in the ‘50s and the ads today, all I can say is that it will certainly help us reflect on how our society evolved, where we have been and how much the print ads and the society have changed.
Print advertising has changed so much in the past 50 years. And, as it evolved, it became more image oriented, more slicker and less wordy. Nowadays, because the competition is so high, and there are so many print ads everywhere, companies thrive much harder to create successful ads. They know that, in the print media today, they only have a couple of seconds to make an impression on the reader, before the page is turned. In comparison, in the ‘50s, people spent more time looking at ads, even reading the long copy as it was both a source of entertainment and news.
I’ve made a collection of advertisements from the 1950s that will surely make you take a better look at ads, even if it’s for the retrospective aesthetic appeal and because they reflect where we come from.
Characteristics of Print Ads from the ‘50s
The thing about the ads from ‘50s is that they tell us so much about us, about our society in those times. You can look at them as a nostalgic look at capitalism, before the brand names meant consumer branding, and before demographic studies revealed which segment of society was for sale. Many times, ads from the 1950s were overtly sexual. Nevertheless, they were generally about the family values and life styles and stereotypical role models. You can’t miss the fact that they were also sexist, racist, and sometimes intolerant and misguided. In the present, they stand as an accurate reflection of how the culture from those years was interpreted.
This is the period when the world became a bit slicker. The technology had just made some progress and many of the ads in the 1950’s featured photos of famous people like rock stars for example, rather than an artist’s work. I guess the thing was to sell an image, and not the product itself. Let’s just think about John Wayne and Rock Hudson who appeared in the Camel’s ads, or Benny Goodman who “said” about Smirnoff: “It leaves you breathless”.
The ads in the ‘50s were not very complex, they were more standardized, having a picture or a photo in the top half or the first 2/3 of the ad and a copy writing at the bottom. And if in the 1940’s the theme of the ads was patriotism and getting back on track with life after the war, in the ‘50s, the main theme was about using science in a powerful new way. You could see ads for General Electric with their luxury kitchen items and Monsanto with their plastics. Even Texaco had ads about the great progress they’ve made in its gasoline development.
As the income of the people grew, so did the advertisements for traveling, especially for the airline, train and bus companies. In the destinations of these ads were included exotic places like Hawaii, Caracas, South Africa, Florida and Scandinavia.
Categories of Print Ads from the ‘50s
I’ve tried to organize all the type of ads in the ‘50s in different categories to get a better idea of the trend in those days. The categories are: automobiles ads, sexist ads (because they were very representative of those decades), cartoonish ads, food and beverages ads, consumer product ads, alcohol and tobacco ads, entertainment ads, fashion and beauty ads, industry ads, travel ads and interior design ads.
Automobile Ads from the ‘50s
The 50’s were very different from previous decades when it came to car ownership. People had now more freedom to go wherever and when they wanted. In the early years of the ‘50s they had to make do with the pre-war cars as the drive and rationing for exports restricted the home market. After this rationing ended, as you guessed, there was a boom in the car industry and ownership. You might notice that the usual colors for the cars and the ads are blue, green, yellow and red. Check out some beautiful car ads from the 1950’s.
‘55 Ford Fairlane Sunliner
’51 HILLMAN minx
Sexist Print Ads from the 1950s
If you think about it now, the ‘50s was a period when sexism was not only tolerated, it was actually expected and actively encouraged, mostly through chauvinistic prints ads like the ones you’re about to see below. And if you think that 10 years later began a sexual revolution – I guess it’s not so surprising, right? Without being born in those days, now we are able to see the funny side of the stunning display of sexist ads of the 1950s – probably because they now seem so incredibly dated.
The ads below stand as relics to a bygone era, an era in which sexism, along with racism were very common. They actually help us reflect on the present society and make us realize how far we’ve come. I think you agree that printing ads like those, with preposterous women stereotypes would have been highly rejected these days.
So if you thought the ads today exploit women as sex objects, just take a look at these ads!
Chase & Sanborn
I don’t think it’s ok to picture violence to promote a product. I think that they tried to create an ad with a funny pitch (I hope) to make the customers realize the importance of fresh coffee. That’s just wrong.
If only the feminist women these days saw this ad! So what does this ad tell us? That in the ‘50’s, the main purpose of a woman was to look pretty (and maybe cook food, clean the house and take care of the kids)?
Pitney-Bowes Postage Meter
Bell & Howell
Do you see anything out of common with Sabrina? Talking about over exaggerating…
There are a few things I can deduct from this ad: women should be only interested in housework appliances, they couldn’t buy anything for themselves so they have to turn to their husband and that they are very emotional. This ad is sexist in so many ways…
This ad seems to state that a vacuum cleaner is on the top of the Christmas present list for a woman and it’s something that would really make her happy!
It can’t get any more plain than this! Sexism written with large fonts. What’s to understand from this black and white ad: that women are only useful indoors?
I think that in the ‘50s the men thought women were only good for two things: housework and having children. And it was a disaster if she couldn’t do any of those two. This is an ad for a drug against morning sickness.
Again, women seen as fragile persons. At least this husband is understanding and he’s only glad he still has its beer.
Cartoonish ads from the 1950s
In the ‘50s, cartoony print ads where practically everywhere. It’s wonderful to see that all the different drawing styles which are featured in these ads have all collided into one distinct “’50s” style. Just take a look at this cute collection of cartoonish ads from a set I found on Flickr. You can certainly notice that they’re all from the ‘50s, but if you take a closer look at them, you will see how different they all are. The drawing styles are different and some of the techniques used are different. Nevertheless, I consider them a form of art and I wonder if the print ads from today will survive the time as these have done.
Juicy Fruit Gum
Food and Beverages Ads from the ‘50s
I noticed that many of the food ads from the ‘50s are for canned food. And the picture of the cooked food itself doesn’t look so great. The graphics are somewhat poorly depicted, but at least they’re in color.
Heinz Ad 1950s
Libby’s Tomato Juice 1957
1951 Welch’s grape juice
Consumer Product Ads from the ‘50s
Kotex Ad 1957
1956 VOLKSWAGEN VW Convertible S.O.S. Soap Ad Car RED
Tide Detergent Ad 1950s
Alcohol and Tobacco Ads from the ‘50s
Check out these alcohol (many of them are print ads for beer) and tobacco print ads from the 1950s. I couldn’t help but notice certain likewise elements in all of these products. Take a closer look at their logos, most of them are type logos in red and white. Moreover, like all the ads in this period, they all make use of typography, pictures with stereotypical men or women and they all have a relatively long copy written in the ad – most of them at the bottom of the page.
1951 Gourmet Blatz beer ad
1951 Schlitz Beer Ad
1950 Courvoisier Cognac ad
Lucky Strike Ad 1950
Chesterfield Ad 1950
Entertainment Ads from the ‘50s
Cat on a hot tin roof (1958)
Winifred Heidt Photo Concert Opera (1950)
Erma Berger Photo Recitals Concerts Opera (1951)
Fashion and Beauty Ads from the ‘50s
1957 ad for Lustre-Creme shampoo featuring Elizabeth Taylor
Van Heusen man shirts 1950s
Wilbur Coon Shoe Ad
1950’s Lustre Cream Shampoo Ad
Bath Sized Camay 1950
Industry Ads from the ‘50s
Anaconda Copper Liberty Bell Ring Independence (1950)
Pitney Bowes Postage Meter Flora May Paws (1950)
Travel Ads from the ‘50s
Sabena Belgian Airline’s Europe – Happy holiday in Europe
Santa Fe Railroad Ad 1950s
Glenn L. Martin Company’s Martin Aircraft
Interiors Ads from the ‘50s
Dynavista By Snyder’s Of Waterloo furniture ad
Flexalum Draw Draperies (1955)
Spred Satin ad – Interior Design (1956)
Christmas Lights Ad 1950
Famous people in advertising in the 1950’s!
Even the President of the United States, Ronald Reagan appeared in print ads for Chesterfield Cigarettes, General Electric, The Union Pacific Railroad, Van Heusen Shirts and Marlboro shirt among others. How many presidents do you see in ads nowadays?
Check out some examples of Reagan‘s print ads of the 1950s:
I’ve done my best to collect these print ads from the 1950s, representing a time past and a series of values we shouldn’t be so proud of. But I think it’s always a good thing to remember where we come from, in order to see that we have evolved into better people, with more admirable values.
Besides that, you can see how much the graphics industry has evolved! I think you are not so surprised to see that typography has been used in prints since many decades ago and it is still highly appreciated and used to its maximum today by graphic artists and designers.
Do you have any other great ‘50s pictures you would like to share with us?