Before we had the internet and its pop-ups and spam emails, radio and television advertisements ruled the airwaves, billboards, and the pages of popular magazines. They mirrored the culture, portraying fashion, language, and trends of the time while also luring consumers into purchasing the latest products available on the market. While those vintage ads may look or sound different from modern advertisements, their messages invoke a sense of nostalgia, and we realize that while times change, they also stay the same.
Easily the most popular flavor of soups in the Campbell Soup Company line, the familiar red-and-white-labeled cans first appeared on grocery shelves in 1898. The famous M'm! M'm! Good! jingle hit the radio waves in 1931, and soon after, everybody recognized the tune. By the 1950s, TV commercials appeared with the same message and tune. Campbell's soup was easy to make, nutritious, and satisfying. After World War II, school cafeterias started serving it with grilled cheese sandwiches, and a tradition was born. Who knew it would become the ultimate comfort food combination for generations to come?
Big players in the food industry have been grooming public opinion for decades. They've created enormously effective ads and, in the early days, often had the American Medical Association's stamp of approval. In 1940, cattle production was at its lowest. The meat industry put out a series of ads to boost sales, touting the importance of a meat-heavy lunch, which they claimed would create a "healthy and vigorous nation" by adding important B vitamins to the diet and improving the efficiency of workers. The campaign worked. The meat industry continued in later decades with their Beef. It's What's for Dinner ads in the late 1990s being the most popular, probably because they featured the iconic voice of Sam Elliot.
Electric adding machines were a marvel when they appeared on the scene in the early 1950s, and the Sensimatic was an exciting feat of technology for the time. Before these mechanical versions arrived, accounting and bookkeeping were very different professions, requiring long work hours, acute concentration, and attention to detail. This new generation of calculators allowed workers to post charges and credits to customer accounts on ledger cards faster, with higher accuracy. By the 1970s, however, these bulky machines gave way to pocket calculators, which were cheaper and better. Today, we no longer need a machine at all, thanks to the internet and computers, where the answer to any mathematical problem is a click away.
In 1946, Earl Tupper, a college-educated inventor, created one of the most influential home products in history. He developed a more durable type of clear, non-toxic plastic and then created containers for serving and storing food. Tupper also devised an airtight seal that was super-effective yet required an extra step — one that fans later dubbed "burping" — to remove any excess air in the container. You could only get the products through home parties hosted by housewives and career women alike wanting to earn some extra cash.
Most of us would cringe a bit today if a company advertised their products by filling a page with lots of bare-bottomed babies, but back in the day, company's were sure it was a great way to grab the attention of the women who purchased soap and other products for the family. Swan soap was a four-in-one product, suitable not only for bathing but also for dishes, washing clothes, and other household tasks. Though they'd probably avoid naked baby art images for advertising today, some companies are taking cues from these early products to create environmentally friendly, multi-purpose personal and home care products to cut back on packaging and resources.
With a budget of over $700 billion, it's hard to imagine that the U.S. military would ever request equipment loans from the public. But that's just what happened during World War I and II. There was a higher demand for optical glass due to the increased use of submarines by enemies. Binoculars allowed more personnel the ability to keep an eye out for them. The government started an ad campaign asking to borrow Zeiss or Bausch and Lomb binoculars and spy glasses. In return, the government paid those who loaned their binoculars $1, along with a promise to return them if at all possible. The ads were effective. More than 51,000 people answered the military's appeal. The military had only one pair that they were unable to return to the owner at the end of the war.
Kellogg's created its still-popular toaster pastry, Pop-Tarts, in the mid-1960s. A few years later, Nabisco released their version, Toastettes, which had a thinner crust. Soon after, Nabisco added a glaze on top and created its brown sugar and cinnamon version, followed by an orange marmalade and peach flavor. Unfortunately, the brand was discontinued in 2002. But nostalgia is a powerful thing, and a decade later, fans started an online petition to bring them back. Their efforts failed, but our love for the tasty treat shall not wane.
From the first moment it appeared in car dealerships around the world, drivers have had a love/hate relationship with Volkswagen Beetle. Some hated its rounded appearance, while others disliked the fact that the concept for their design came from Adolf Hitler. There was no shortage of nicknames for the car, from the Turtle to the Cockroach to the Ladybird and the Hitler Sled. But the VW found a dedicated fan base in America, and by 1968, became the top-selling car in the world. The company successfully released a new model in the late 1990s, but sales dropped in the late-2000s. Chances are, there are still thousands of dedicated fans around the globe.
Few people don't recognize the face of Colonel Sanders, the creator of what would become the world's second-largest fast-food enterprise, Kentucky Fried Chicken. He originally sold his chicken out of a gas station in 1930 and then moved across the street to a bigger location. Once the company went national, ads appeared in local newspapers, offering discount coupons and great deals on full meals to feed families. To this day, despite society leaning toward a more healthy diet, people just can't seem to get enough of the Colonel's recipe, especially in Japan. The company adapted menu items for Japanese culture, and it's even a common choice for holiday dinner.
Mars, Incorporated, is a massive global food and pet care company that has several subsidiaries, including Mars Wrigley, which produces popular candies like M&Ms, Snickers, Orbit, Skittles, Starburst, and a long list of other confections tied to our childhood memories. The company connected its marketing strategy for Starburst candy with the opening of the blockbuster movie Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, creating a new flavor, Royal Berry Punch. But it was the 2007 "Berries and Creme" television ad featuring an oddly clad character performing "The Little Lad Dance" that grabbed our attention, for better or for worse. It reappeared again in 2021, going viral on TikTok.