Saturday, December 24, 2011

Chri$tma$ adverti$ing, 1950

I've been reading this Time magazine commemorative book for 1950 (which actually came out in 1999).

At Christmastime, 1950, United States soldiers and marines had been in a bloody rout. The Chinese, in human waves of shouting, shooting troops, had repelled our forces, and forced them into retreat. It was bitter cold, and a bitter failure for the armed forces. Despite bloody warfare, advertisers in the U.S. needed to sell products, so advertising went on its cheery way, despite the gloom surrounding that winter.

Christmas is for kids, and American toy manufacturers wanted to remind parents to buy toys made in America. Nowadays the companies listed in five page advertisement who are still in existence have their toys made in China.

Sex, and the promise of it, is a big seller at Christmas.

General Electric wanted to make sure you bought plenty of appliances that ran on electricity, including that new-fangled gadget, the television, which despite being on the market for a few years, was still in its infancy. (We got our first TV in 1950, and I remember it well.)

There are ads for hobbyists or budding pros, too. Photographers would have loved to have gotten their hands on Graflex equipment. So, Merry Christmas, shutterbugs.

In 1950 you could buy beautiful pens as gifts. They still have them, but how many people actually write by hand anymore? Oy, you should see my handwriting nowadays after using a computer keyboard for 20 years. Before that I used a typewriter from the mid-1960s until I got my first computer in 1992. The most expensive pen in the world will still make me seem a drooling illiterate when it exposes my atrocious penmanship.

I thought of a slogan for this C.F. Rumpp and Sons leather wallet: "Put your Rumpp next to your rump!" I checked to see if C.F. Rumpp and Sons was still in business, but I don't believe they are. Guys need wallets, and they need shirts, too.

Men, here's something I found out decades ago (I've been married for over 40 years, and know what I'm talking about): a vacuum cleaner is not a gift, not for a birthday and especially not for Christmas. Make-up would be a good choice if you knew what she used. My wife told me that Max Factor has stopped selling in the U.S. She has to send to the UK for her favorite brands! I wouldn't dare try to buy anything as personal as make-up for her, nor anything as impersonal as a vacuum cleaner. If you slopped out horse stalls for a living, would you consider a new shovel to be an appropriate Christmas present?

A great gift for a dad would be a car, but what working family in 1950 could just buy a new car for Christmas? What working family in 2011 could buy a car for Christmas?

Smoking was big in 1950, very hip, very cool. So smoking accessories were big. Lighters were big, but so is a device you hook onto the steering column of your car. You can keep 23 cigarettes in the device, and by pushing a button it delivers a lighted cigarette. As my wife put it, "You could text and not have to light a smoke at the same time."

Celebrity endorsements of tobacco products were big.

Drinking was also associated with Christmas, and Life featured dozens of ads with beer, wine, whiskey...or any kind of alcoholic beverage. The guy in the Schlitz ad who is anticipating midnight so it can officially be Christmas is getting a look from his wife. Guys, if you've ever gone for a beer or a drink when your wife doesn't approve you've gotten a similar look. The Budweiser ad features the vice-king, Santa, who drank, smoked, took snuff, chewed tobacco, and had any number of bad habits.

The Schenley ad is a photo montage of the actors. In the pre-Photoshop days these sorts of things had to be done mechanically, and this one is pretty tricky, looking like those five Hollywood types are all in a line ready to hoist a Schenley's. But if you look closely you'll see the hands of each are the same hand, undoubtedly some male hand model, so my guess is they just plopped the actor's heads on some other bodies and inserted the hands. Prosit!

I have no idea why someone came up with the totally crazy idea to feature fluffy animals, more appealing to the nursery than the barroom, in these ads. I've heard of liquor companies trying to get their customers started young, but this was ridiculous.

Along with the ads for indulgence come the medicines to take away the stomach problems from over-eating and the headaches from all the alcohol.

I've saved the best for last. Illustrator Haddon Sundblom's Santa Claus is said by some to be the model for the look of our contemporary Santa. Maybe so; it sure is iconic, and appeared for years on the backs of magazines and in store advertising. They were many wonderful illustrators doing advertising work, but when it came to creating an image, Sundblom might have been one of the most influential of all.


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