Monday, January 02, 2012

Life looks at advertising

After my recent posting of Bad Ads and Christmas advertising, I found this five-page spread in the January 2, 1950 issue of Life, giving a look at the ads of an era old even to Life readers of 62 years ago.

All images Copyright © 2012 Time-Life, Inc.

They mention pretty girls being used to sell, which is nothing new, since they were used in every issue by Life advertisers. In many issues Life may have had as many advertising pin-ups as most girly magazines had cheesecake photos.

Norman Mingo's Mennen ads stood out for their beauties. A few years later Mingo got another kind of fame by creating the painted portrait of Alfred E. Neuman for Mad, and contributed some of the greatest covers ever of that magazine.

Even GE got in on the act, selling light bulbs with a World War II-era cutey.

Starlets, in this case Virginia ("hold the") Mayo, were great for pushing products.

Esquire Socks used a sort of sexy double-entendre in their ads, which equated men's socks to a man's sex appeal. Personally, I've never seen any female get excited by guy's socks, but it worked in advertising.

DuPont got a whole lot of mileage selling their product, nylon, which has many uses, with pictures of nylon stockings on pretty girls. I personally feel there is much more sex appeal to a pair of nylons on shapely female legs than socks on sweaty masculine feet.


Kirk said...

There's a span of around 50 years between the ads in the Life article and the magazine itself. As you pointed out, there's 62 years between the regular ads, i.e., the ones NOT featured in the article but that just normally ran in the magazine, and today. Yet, I have to say, 1950 seems to have somewhat more in common with 2012 than 1900, even though it was closer to the latter in time. Also, if you read the article itself, it's easy to forget it's 62years old. By that, I mean you could write an article (or a web site) in 2012 about early 20th century advertising, and not have to change a single word, the point-of-view remaining basically unchanged.

I apologize for my long-windedness, but this kind of thing fascinates me.

Postino said...

Kirk, I agree. The philosophy hasn't changed in over half a century, because I believe it was around that time that there were serious studies of consumers by advertisers. I remember the book, Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard was popular, which told the public what advertisers knew about them.

You're not long-winded; you have a good point and you made it well.

dd8f8028-23f0-11e3-baac-000bcdcb2996 said...

I'd like to point out something. You said, "I personally feel there is much more sex appeal to a pair of nylons on shapely female legs than socks on sweaty masculine feet." But since you are a man—and I am assuming a straight one since the odds are in that favor—isn't that a rather biased opinion? (Feel free to correct me on your sexual orientation if I have guessed wrong.)

Not to mention that the woman in the nylon ad is posed to be very attractive indeed, arching her leg delicately in the air while her skirt is haphazardly hiked up around her thigh. The men in the sock ad are not designed for sex appeal. We don't even see their faces, or their bodies, or any skin at all. They're just a couple pairs of shoes, sock-covered ankles, and trouser hems.

That said, I as a heterosexual female find equal sex appeal in both ads despite the inequality of their intended sex appeal. The woman with the nylons is striking a pose that is meant to remind viewers of sex and flirting and lingerie, which is going to be some level of sexy to just about any sexual being of any gender and any sexuality. But I do not find the male ankles to be altogether unattractive. If anything, it has some of that Victorian "oh my, a glimpse of ankle, how scandalous and seductive" appeal. What does the rest of him look like? Without the answer provided for me, my imagination is free to fill it in with Don Draper.


dd8f8028-23f0-11e3-baac-000bcdcb2996 said...


You use adjectives to describe both the female and male feet. For the nylon ad, you call the female legs "shapely" (a description of how they LOOK). For the sock ad, you call the masculine feet "sweaty" (a description of how they FEEL). The adjectives that come to mind for you already seem to indicate your emotional and physical proximity to the male feet. You liken them to your own, which may indeed be sweaty and feel sweaty to you, and maybe you can smell your feet right now and know that you have a corn on the left one and some fungus on the right and all of this strikes you as very unsexy, therefore male feet are unsexy. Because you have too much personal, unsexy knowledge of your own feet (or the feet of other men who did not care if their feet were smelly and sweaty near you). The female ones to you are "other" and therefore without intimate knowledge of the other's leg (like you have for your own feet), you are free to fill in the blanks with whatever you'd like. To you, her legs are silky smooth and hairless, her toenails perfectly manicured, and her cuticles the most amazing cuticles that ever grew naturally on a human foot.

Perhaps to me, when I see the male ankles I am not picturing them sweaty, but freshly showered and smelling of Irish Spring. Perhaps I imagine the strength of his calf muscles and how they feel beneath soft leg hair, or how the top of that suit must flatter his shoulders, or Jon Hamm's epic penis. Perhaps when I see the woman delicately arching her leg to seductively pull on some thigh-high stockings, the natural sensuality of that pose and that action are tempered for me with the intimate knowledge of the current state of my own legs, which for the sake of argument could be prickly and unshaven, riddled with ingrown hairs and cellulite, my feet indeed sweaty with rough callouses and toenails that haven't seen a pedicure in a while. That could very well be the state of the legs of the woman in that ad, sexy though her pose may be.

If the sock ad was advertising socks to women, and all that it showed were the rather neutral-looking ankles of two businesswomen wearing wool socks, trousers, and loafers...and if the spotlight of the Nylon ad was instead the man's bathrobe up on the top left inset, featuring him front and center (while the top left inset is occupied by the back of a faceless, modestly dressed woman neatly folding her stockings into a suitcase in preparation for a business trip), devastatingly handsome, wearing only the bathrobe while he got himself ready in the morning—and covered by it where he needed to be, but with it kind of haphazardly close to casually revealing what it shouldn't—freshly showered, hair still wet, a good few inches of perfectly waxed (or naturally hairless?) chest conveniently peeking out from beneath the robe while he arches his body to reach for something or to stretch or for who really cares what reason...would you still hold the opinion that the woolen-socked women in the first ad obviously had much more objective sex appeal than the robe-clad man in the second?

Thanks, and sorry to write an essay about it, but I hope you find this point of view interesting! =)