If the Internet is good for any single effect, it’s never letting you forget. In the case of Madison Avenue, we can see why they might want us to. Nostalgia for the “good old days” is one thing, but a walk down the advertising industry’s memory lane can reveal some questionable handiwork.
Take this print ad for Charles Antell Formula 9 shampoo, circa the 1950s-1960s, for example. It seems to speak quite clearly about how mainstream advertising tended to portray women, whether mindless, manipulable consumers or weak human beings who could possibly consider killing themselves over a bad hair day. Sure, some people are inclined to get upset if they suffer from uncooperative hair from time to time, but wielding a handgun and wrapping their neck in a noose?
As the ad attempts to commiserate: “Just 1 minute, young lady! We overheard that plaint … ‘If my hair looks such a mess one more night, I’ll kill myself!’”
There are a handful of good retrospectives of egregious advertising over the ages to remind us of things like this. And contemporary advertisers are not immune from crossing boundaries and stepping over lines — examples pop up as often as you’d imagine in an environment saturated with commercials. But these vintage examples of sadistic marketing take the cake, with the Charles Antell brand quite frequently high up on the worst-of lists.
What was Charles Antell Formula 9, anyway, and why did it so boldly claim that it could literally save women’s lives? The 1952 trademark registration for the beauty product describes it as a “hair dressing cream containing lanolin.” Lanolin, which is used in hundreds of cosmetics and beauty products, is, of course, a greasy substance produced from the oil glands of sheep.
Despite the advertising that may now leave a bad taste in your mouth, plenty of people still seem to remember Charles Antell Formula 9 fondly and would be happy to purchase it again. But those memories appear to be more about what the classic product did for their hair — not the advertising. Were the product to exist today, we believe that the ad campaign strategy would stray from those of the so-called good old days.
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