Was everyone asleep at the switch when they approved this 1951 newspaper ad for the Pennsylvania Railroad? It features the normally wholesome radio and movie star Roy Rogers.
There’s a moment in your typical advertising brainstorm when the people charged with wrestling the creative elements to the ground cry uncle, settling on a clumsy compromise for the sake of getting on with the really important business—billing their clients. Or so these advertisements fronted by some rather improbable pitchmen and women would suggest. Is a clown really going to convince us to buy tires for our cars? Did anyone ever believe Bill Gates bought his computers at Radio Shack? And don’t tell me it took a cheap brand of vodka to pry Woody Allen out of his shell. On second thought….
(Images via the Ad*Access Project at Duke University, Vintage Ad Browser, and others.)
The audio outtakes from the Paul Masson TV commercials for that ad campaign are legendary… Orson Welles was quite the foul-mouthed drinker. And the IBM ads in the 80s really were popular, although I can’t recall why. I don’t think they are as cringe-worthy as others on this list, though, and the OJ ads are only cringe-worthy in retrospect, same with the Woody Allen one.
So many sincere smiles!
The moment where creatives cry uncle comes after the client has turned a perfectly decent, strategically sound idea into something ridiculous. Ads are never created by agencies alone. (If only…)
Not sure why most of these might be considered “cringe-worthy,” most of them are quite clever, innovative–or actually ordinary–in the context of the time.
The train entering the tunnel scene in North by North West (the movie not the infant) gives the Roy Roger’s sitting on the train ad a whole new meaning.
In the mid 70’s Simpson was not an ex-football player, he was the biggest star in the game.
I don’t get why these are cringe-worthy. Maybe the modern era is just more insensitive? Not sure. But they seem like ordinary advertisements. Could just be a generational cultural difference, however.
Karloff would be better known in 1947 for his role in Arsenic and Old Lace (he owned a percentage of the play, and refused to leave it to make the movie).
> I am (ahem) old enough to remember a lot of these ads and, honestly, no one would have raised an eyebrow or thought anything odd about them then. I fact, I find this a pretty dumb piece, obviously written by someone too young or ignorant to have any sense of social history.
Perfect way of describing it. I myself have been rallying against so-called “projecting present sensibilities onto past time” – no context is understood for when the ads were written, and as you put it, what the social constructs were at the time.
It would be great if these ads were reproduced at a large enough size to actually read all the associated copy. I’m sure the gifts keep on giving when you read the full ad. Seems a shame that a “collector’s” site can’t provide high enough resolution to allow for this!
I totally disagree – I don’t see the “Cringe Worthy” moments the author attempts to point out in this article. It’s just the outlook of one generation looking back at another.
Of all these, nothing can beat the one of Doris Day endorsing a steam roller. That’s a whole special level of surrealism there, Thanks for these!
I like most of the artwork but there are some ads that made me cringe. For example: DDT was most certainly not good for animals and I have not seen a tobacco billboard for at least 15 years…
This is the problem with look at the past through the lense of today. I didn’t see one ad I’d call cringeworthy. They were reflections of the time they were written in. Now the Pepsi “Let have a riot but give the cop a Pepsi” ad, that will be forever cringeworthy, along with the idiotic BMW soapbox derby ad. At least companies were trying to sell their products instead of doing virtue signaling.
The Doris Day ad is a spoof. It’s the work of Cris Shapan, who specializes in ridiculous retro-looking print ads. See his Facebook page (the only place to see most of his work).