6 Vintage Ads Companies Would Never Get Away With Today
At this point in the game, most advertisers have figured out that the best way to sell their products is through sex, fear, or a disgusting combination of both, which is probably why I'm always itching to try meth these days.
Stop trying to tempt me, meth!
But hey, it could be worse. Back in the olden days, advertisers made the bold move of using the saddest pictures possible to depress viewers into buying their products out of pity. If it works for three-legged dogs, why wouldn't the sad factor work for terrible products?
Muhammad Ali as You Never Wanted to See Him
Here's a top-notch acting tip used by notable on-screen criers like Meryl Streep and Laura Dern: Minutes before an emotional scene, feast your dry eyeballs on this 1979 picture of Muhammad Ali shilling cockroach poison, and no river will hold back your tears.
I had a dream my life would be forever Rumble in the Jungle.
The saddest part of this campaign wasn't even this print ad -- it was the commercials, when Ali revealed some slight pre-Parkinson's symptoms while simultaneously selling his soul to the devil.
What tragedy prompted the most egotistical athlete in history to lend his name to a product that we associate with filth, ugliness, and disease? Was he bankrupt? Taking jobs to pay off an ex-wife or mob boss? Crazy? Sadly, NO. While not at the peak of his athleticism, in the late 70s, Ali was at the peak of his fame, getting invitations to speak around the world, still negotiating multimillion-dollar fights, visiting Gerald Ford at the White House, and posing for Andy Warhol. This was not a man who was hurting for money or attention. And still, he plugged roach spray.
In the future, everyone will be famous for over 50 years.
This ad is what it looks like to not be able to give up a spotlight, even for the brief second it takes to realize that you're using the spotlight to sell cockroach poison.
What's Hotter Than a Wet Cigarette? Everything.
This 1974 Salem cigarette ad is the advertorial equivalent of finding a cigarette butt in used toilet water, then scooping it out, and eating it. There's no scenario where those actions make sense, yet here we are, looking at a raggedy man with a grey tooth sucking on a wet cigarette while sporting a grin that demands restraining orders, no questions asked. One look at that face and you know this dude is naked. His denim cutoffs were tossed next to the cooler full of Lone Star and the dead hitchhiker he hasn't bothered with disposing of yet.
Picture this guy, but like, super dead.
Unless Chester the Menthol Molester just stepped into a sinkhole that he was delighted to discover, there's no way he got neck-deep in a body of water with a lit cigarette without some help. We, the viewers of this eye-attack, are forced to consider the following equally awful options:
A. This man lit his cigarette, then immediately knelt in a pond and laughed.
B. This man swam to the middle of a lake, then bummed a cigarette from boaters, who also lit it for him. He laughed at them for playing his game.
C. This man was having the time of his life when he was decapitated, and this was how his head landed on the water.
I'm sorry, Salem, but none of these scenarios make me want to take up smoking in lakes. Try harder next time.
Child Neglect, Thy Name Is Chef Boyardee
In this day when moms are so busy with Pilates and typing work that we're feeding our children yogurt breadgurts while driving them to kayakzumba class, it's nice to reminisce about the good ol' days when parents and kids ate at dining room tables together. Did you know that many modern parents have given up dining room tables altogether and replaced them with Ritalin shelves? Sad but true.
So it's only natural to look at this 1979 Chef Boyardee ad and feel nostalgic for the good ol' days when people ate at furniture and phones sported curly pig tails. But look closer. Something is off.
Somebody is about to get murdered.
The little girl isn't just annoyed by her mom stealing her Boyardee, she hates her ... hard. There's more dysfunction in this picture than there is in a can of pasta, which says a lot. Where's Mom's plate? Is she not eating because she has an eating disorder? Why are there only two meatballs on the plate? Is that how many meatballs Chef Boyardee gives you in each can, because if so, that's B.S. Or did mom eat the other meatballs and that's why Little Angry Eyes is clawing into her own cheek.
Fat Families Are Hilarious
Looking at this 1972 ad for the Plymouth Cricket is like looking into a future no one saw coming. Cricket cars thought they had some kind of hilarious novelty on their hands -- little cars that the rare fat people of the world could squeeze into. Little did they know that the 21st century would not only require cars that could seat hundreds and hundreds of pounds of people at a time, but that the family in this picture isn't even that large by today's standards.
Pfft, these two are barely big enough to make the cut at The Biggest Loser tryouts.
So if your first instinct was to feel bad for the overweight people in the ad, turn that mirror back on yourself and feel sorry for us, the fat fatties fatting it up today. At least those guys were so scarce as a species that pointing them out was a joke. Do an informal diabetes survey at the Wal-Mart checkout, and tell me who's sadder -- the oddballs cast as a fat family in 1972 or a generation living with obesity as the norm and no more Pinto-sized cars to squeeze into.
On second thought, don't feel sorry for us, the overweight Cricket family, or the Cricket that carried them around. Feel sorry for that brown poncho for existing.
The Spider-Man Spectacle That Should Have Killed Spider-Man
If I were going to make a list of Stan Lee's strengths, I'd go with:
If I were going to make a list of Stan Lee's weaknesses, I start with tinted glasses and end with Spider-Man: Rock Reflections of a Super-Hero, the only Spider-Man rock opera that's sadder than the other Spider-Man rock opera. If you can't read the print in the ad, every line is a red flag of irrelevance.
"HI, ROCK FANS! THIS IS STAN (MUSIC LOVER) LEE TALKIN' ATCHA! I'M HERE TO TELL YOU ABOUT THE LITTLE ITEM TO MY LEFT, "REFLECTIONS OF A SUPER-HERO!" IT'S NOT JUST FOR THE YOUNGER SET LIKE YOU MIGHT THINK! NO, IT'S AN HONEST-TO-AUNT-MAY ROCK-AND-ROLL ALBUM THAT ANY DISC JOCKEY WILL BE MORE THAN ANXIOUS TO PLAY!
The only way this appeal to your rock sensibilities could be any sadder would be if this ad magically showed up in your phone overnight. And as sad as it is to see Stan Lee at his Dick Van Dykeiest trying to convince comic book nerds that Spider-Man is going to fill all the rock opera holes that The Who and Styx have left unfilled (and there should be many), it gets worse. You still haven't heard the music yet. Oh yes, this album really happened.
Listening to the song below, it's hard to tell if you're listening to Spider-Man or an Elton John-Meatloaf hybrid.
In "No One's Got a Crush on Peter," Stan Lee goes for the jugular by tapping into every comic book fan's greatest fear. Joke's on you, Stan. Being unloved is everyone's biggest fear, and this song still sucked.
Finally, "Reflections of a Super-Hero" goes full Tommy with a creeptastic song from Dr. Octopus, who is the leader of a cult? Listen long enough, and the song starts to sound like the Beatles' "Hello, Goodbye" but gross.
You can reboot Spider-Man a thousand times over, but you can never erase the backside of this album, when we find out that the entire Marvel catalog was shamed in its production. Thor on trumpet, Captain America on tambourine, and The Falcon on handclapping. HANDCLAPPING.
No, Hair Rental DOES NOT Make Sense
In this saddest display of misplaced confidence since leisure suits were invented, Ambassador Service LTD. (if that really was its name) made the ballsy move of whoring out wigs to bald men. Imagine the leaps of presumption it took to get to that moment. First you have to believe that potential clients are as vain as they are cheap and second, that once you've come to the conclusion that you need false hair to cover your bald shame, the next logical step is to borrow said false hair.
Hey dummy, you're fooling exactly NO ONE.
The further you test this thought experiment of sadness, the more depressing it gets: is it a network of men swapping wigs? Do you ship the wig back and wear a hat while you wait for the next one? Could you conceivably see someone else wearing your hair at the store later? If so, would your scalp tingle as it got closer to its old hair companion?
The saddest part of this ad is how unkind the world must have been to bald men prior to the late 90s. Bald men were so rare that actor Yul Brynner built his whole career on being the only one out there. He was certainly the only one who qualified as a sex symbol until men started shaving their heads. This was Yul Brynner, by the way.
What's the equivalent of a tiger growl noise, but classy?
So if Yul (Go Nuts For How Hot I Am!) Brynner was the only bald man in movies until Bruce Willis, Woody Harrelson, and Vin Diesel gave up the hair ghosts and shaved it off, other aging celebrities must have done the wig game all along. Not just the famously wigged guys like John Travolta and Al Pacino and William Shatner, but the classic old Hollywood icons that you never saw go bald, like Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart and Burt Reynolds. In other words, in this bizarro world where the only bald men on camera were villains, comic foils, or the captain of the Love Boat, this ad for wig rental probably did make sense to a lot of people -- which is why in the history of heartbreakingly sad ads, this ad for fake hair rental for men is the most depressing one of all time.
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