How Classic Advertising Teaches us About America

A compilation of classic print ads at the Consumerist, titled “Top 10 Ironic Ads From History,” showcases how vastly different this country is today compared to just a couple of generations ago.

Mad Men has secured a healthy TV following due to its snappy dialogue and engaging characters. But most viewers are drawn to the way the show has preserved a specific period in American history, a period in which the American dream was overzealously sold by a growing ad industry. Today, many of these classic ads are collected in online museums, giving Americans a unique perspective into how this country has operated over the past five decades.


A compilation of classic print ads at the Consumerist, titled “Top 10 Ironic Ads From History,” showcases how vastly different this country is today compared to just a couple of generations ago. They include an ad featuring two babies smiling in a carriage wrapped in cellophane and another circa 1960 ad for Thalidomide, a “wonder drug” that turned out to cause birth defects. It is shocking to see how recklessly and under-regulated American life was during an apparent golden age.

Perhaps no site provides a better museum of classic ads than AdViews, a digital collection of thousands of historic ads acquired by the D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles ad agency and aired between the 1950s and 1980s. Hosted by Duke University Libraries, the online museum is a living, breathing look into how American life has evolved through the years. Featuring a series of advertising quizzes, the site’s ads are downloadable through iTunes and arranged by date and product, including Fruity Pebbles, Maxwell House, and Sara Lee. Classic TV Ads is another site featuring classic TV commercials, including an absolutely shocking section dedicated to classic tobacco advertising. Between these sites and the extensive collection of classic print advertising at AdClassix, this could be the defining prism through which America’s last 50 years are gauged. Don’t agree? How many commercial jingles can you sing verbatim off the top of your head?

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