Before radio and television commercials, signs were the medium of choice to promote packaged food brands. Country stores were packed with advertisements, as companies developed increasingly complex countertop displays and gigantic wall signs to draw attention away from their competitors. Many highly collectible vintage signs featured food brands that are still in business today, among them Morton Salt, Campbell's Soup, Wonder Bread, Dairy Queen, Sunkist, Borden's, and Planter's Nuts.
Milk and dairy signs often included the requisite cow to show that the products being advertised were farm fresh. For example, the N.P. Hood & Sons logo featured the face of a friendly calf at its center. Butter and margarine makers, like Equity and Deer Creek, appropriated the rolling meadows and open air of the countryside to make their case. Another common motif highlighted Native American characters and scenes, implying the authentic, enduring appeal of brands like Five Roses Flour or Land O’ Lakes Butter.
With the expanding popularity of in-store soda fountains during the first half of the 20th century, a plethora of delicious sweets were hawked on signs for brands like Sealtest, Mellow Gold, Fairmont, Wrigley’s, Beech-Nut, Woodward’s, Old Glory, Kis-Me, and Schrafft’s. Dessert manufacturers bought into the bovine-marketing approach as well, with ice cream makers like Hershey’s and Borden’s relying on a dairy cow to lure eyeballs to its early ads. Though most food companies shied away from portraying edibles on their signs, dessert makers like Mansion House Ice Cream frequently portrayed mouth-watering graphics of their frozen treats.
Mischievous children often adorned the artwork promoting foodstuffs, especially signs for baked goods. From the yellow-raincoat clad Uneeda Biscuit boy to the curly-headed Red-Top Flour girl to the Butter Nut Bread urchins, tots with a twinkle in their eyes and a snack in their hands really sold food. Along with children, animals were adopted as proof of the tastiness of treats. Brown’s Jumbo Bread strapped its logo onto an elephant’s back to dramatize the amazing size of its loaves, while Jack Rabbit Candies proclaimed its highbrow quality via a jauntily-dressed bunny.
Other companies preferred to feature attractive young women enjoying their products, such as Armour’s Grape Juice girls. Somehow, flirty young females instantly made food more exotic and desirable, though the women were often shown doing nothing more than looking pretty. An advertisement for Adams’ Pepsin Tutti-Frutti is a perfect example of this sort of ad, as its only image depicted a well-dressed young woman clutching a rose and hand fan. Wit was also a weapon, and one of the wittiest signs of its day was one produced by the American Can Co. in the 1910s. In its campaign to sell the virtues of canning over other methods of food preservation, it came up with a slogan that read “Success Comes in Cans, Failure in Cants.”