Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Retro advertising

Ads are both a reflection of the culture and impact culture. The latter gives justification (for some) why there ought to be laws and regulations on advertisers. Today's regulations include everything from fines for misleading claims - to regulations on the diversity of models appearing in catalogs - to when, where, and how certain products can be promoted. If you ever don't think the world has changed, take a look at some of these vintage ads. They speak for themselves.

What is so interesting about the ads above is that both cocaine and heroine are branded products. Of course the products were legal back then. In 1885, Parke-Davis sold cocaine in various forms, including a cigarette version, powdered format, and a mixture for vein injection. (Of course, the mixture came bundled with a needle). The ads promised that its cocaine products would “supply the place of food, make the coward brave, the silent eloquent and ... render the sufferer insensitive to pain.” (Wiki) I'm pretty sure their claims are not false advertising but it is amusing to look at the ads of a product that is so known to be so dangerous and illegal now. Furthermore, check out the price of cocaine in the ad presented above. If the size of a "cocaine tablet" was 500 mgrams at today's value at $110/gram, that's $55 to "fix" a toothache. (A typical $10 bottle of aspirin contains 100 35g tablets so if the cocaine tablets were sold in 100s, it would be $3850 a bottle). If cocaine was still an ingredient in Coca-cola, the price of Coca Cola would either be a lot higher (pardon the bad drug pun) or the ingredient would have been removed due to cost. Even at Columbia's $2 per gram price, it is by comparison, about 3000 times as expensive as sugar. Sugar is about .06 cents per gram. (Please stay away from drugs :-) )

Who's your brand daddy of this ad? Chase and Sanborn in 1952.

CREEPY. Arguably, this ad is no more distasteful (or immoral) than the Calvin Klein 1995 campaign- or many of the 2010 American Apparel ads.

Thorazine was the first drug developed to specifically combat antipsychotic behaviors. It was marketed by Smith, Klein and French Labs which is still in business under the name of Glaxo Smith Klein.

If you ever think that times haven't changed, look at this 1979 ad for Pakistan International Airlines. Pardon another bad pun, but this ad just wouldn't fly post 9-11.

Good old Santa likes a Coca-Cola and a good cigarette. If this ad ran today, how loud would the outcry be from the anti-tobacco lobby? Heck, even when James Bond lights up, there are some very vocal upset people. Considering James is dodging bullets everyday, smoking is not his biggest problem - or most probable cause of death.


  1. I'm feeling nostalgic for the good old days! I suppose we are better off today but... just can't help feeling like things are less fun.

  2. Interesting. Can you establish quantitative measures and apply some statistical meaning to the sociological norms stressed by these ads? Very interesting indeed...

  3. Heal the world make it better place- This article made me think, what commercial ads that are today legal, will be illegal in 100 years from now??? :)

  4. Witty,interesting and honest

  5. Love the James bond smoking commentary

  6. I miss Professor Bob's classes!!

  7. urgh Calvin Klein is soooo creepy!!!