A few months back, I was helping an older relative clean out their attic – a space home, among other things, to nearly every issue of National Geographic released for the last 40 years. There is, of course, no way to stumble upon a cache of old magazines without thumbing through a few. The journalism itself was instantly-recognizable – most things you could transpose to a modern National Geographic without too much incident – but what was astounding were the differences in advertising.
Marketers and advertisers have spent over 100 years trying to communicate with customers in modern, recognizable ways, and during that time the language we use to do that has evolved. Customers now don’t need everything spelled out – they react instantly to small symbolic cues, rich images, and a memorable tagline – but consumers of previous eras didn’t have the rich symbolic vocabulary necessary to do that. The result was advertisements that are much more literal – and maybe more informative, in a strict sense – than the ones we have today.
We’ve collected ten of the coolest vintage magazine and TV ads we could find. Have others? Post them in the comments! And make sure to check out our resource center on getting the most out of agency partnerships, so maybe your company will be on a list like this in 2061.
1) Lincoln Cosmopolitan
Have you ever seen anything so evocative of the 1950′s? Newfound wealth, garish colors, a gigantic convertible – this ad has it all.
2) Western Electric – Colorful Phones
I’m too young to know much about this, but apparently phones used to come in one color – black – and the introduction of different colors was a Big Deal. This piece from Western Electric is way ahead of its time – it uses infographic-like techniques and social proof to sell a rainbow of telephones.
3) Old Spice – 1957
My favorite things about this one? First, how radically different it is from…more current Old Spice commercials. Second, the hilarious tone of the announcer, reminiscent of old public service announcements. Finally, the veneer of scientific precision – “from the laboratories of Shulton”.
4) Air Canada – Rainbow
This is a great ad, mostly because it eschews the practice of including paragraphs worth of copy along with the visuals. The rainbow is a great touch – it says that when you’re on Air Canada, you’re going somewhere good – and the overall design is delightfully retro.
5) This Calls for Budweiser
Have beer marketers always been the best in the discipline? This piece from Budweiser gets a key thing right: it takes a universal experience – hanging out with your friends – and deftly associates the brand with it. They aren’t selling the beer, per se – they’re selling the experience of being with friends. And who doesn’t like that?
6) Tide – Laundry on the Beach
A few thoughts: first, this is another nice bit of positive-experience association, with the added benefit of the juxtaposition of the naturally clean beach. Second, in fifty years, are people going to cringe at the music I love as much as I did at this ad’s?
7) Ouija – Questions
Now we’re getting into the “we couldn’t run this ad today” territory, with this ad for Ouija featuring a young woman asking silly things about flying saucers and the prom, while the guy contemplates weighty issues like college and “going steady”. And Vintage Santa carrying the game? Subtle, Parker Brothers – subtle.
8) RCA – Table-Top TV
Our ancestors were so inventive.
9) Alka-Seltzer Takes on The USA
A few thoughts: first, how creepy is that talking doll? I feel like it’s going to come to my house if I don’t take Alka-Seltzer. Second, it’s remarkable how long these commercials go. 30-second ads feel long today, and we’re slowly transitioning to ads a quarter of the length of these spots.
10) Dr. Pepper – Charge
This one did its job – I now officially want to go to the beach.