Bad ads: These 12 outrageously offensive vintage advertisements would give anyone a complex

Two women gossiping 1950s

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Oh, those rose-colored glasses…

Nostalgia often paints the past in rosy hues, but vintage advertisements tell a different story. These ads from the mid-20th century were blunt, unapologetically exploiting personal insecurities about looks, hygiene and more. These bad ads were designed to make people feel inadequate, pushing products that promised to solve these manufactured flaws.

Far from the gentle persuasion we might expect, these advertisements were harsh and unkind, reflecting a society willing to prey on individual fears. Here’s a look at some of the most strikingly offensive ads from that era, offering a glimpse into the less glamorous side of vintage marketing.

Feeling good about yourself? Not so fast, honeybun!

We’re used to thinking of people “way back when” as being so polite — but if these negative magazine advertisements from the 1930s, 40s and 50s are any indication of what people were really thinking, there was so much more going on under the surface than many of us realized. 

All of the old-fashioned marketing pitches in these offensively bad ads have a theme: the judgments are harsh, and nobody is worried about subtlety.

These bad ads will ensure you feel excruciatingly self-conscious

Whether it’s badmouthing someone’s breath, making a cheeky remark about a girl’s skin blemishes, or raising a stink about how a person smelled, these offensive ads epitomize the messages sent to America’s youth during those decades.

If you have ever wondered why your grandparents and great-grandparents were so concerned about keeping up appearances — from having a picture-perfect hat on her head to a brilliant shine on his shoes — maybe this will help explain.

After being constantly bombarded by messages like the ones shown below, it’s a wonder that teens in generations past went out in public at all.

Take a look back at these offensive vintage ads, and pretty soon, you’ll probably want to go brush your teeth again and put on some more deodorant. Just in case.

Ridiculously mean vintage ads that could give anyone a complex

Mean ads: “Let the tide take her out… I WON’T!” (1951)

What a damning thing to say about a pretty girl out to make the most of her holiday! Attracted by her good looks, men dated her once, but never took her out for a second time. And for a very good reason.* So the vacation that could have been so gay and exciting became a dull and dreary flop.

Unfortunately, you can be guilty of halitosis (unpleasant breath) without realizing it. Rather than guess about this condition or run a foolish risk, why not get into the habit of using Listerine antiseptic?

Let the tide take her out - vintage offensive ads - Listerine - Click Americana

Bad ads: “Go out with him? Don’t make me laugh!” (1955)

Gwen was still laughing when she hung up the receiver. Jane looked on incredulously. “But he has a car, good looks, a good job,” she protested. “So what?” Gwen sneered. “He’s got something else, too… something that nullifies every charm.” Jane still looked blank. “I mean, honeybun,” Gwen said seriously, “that his breath is that way*.”

You simply don’t get by when you’re guilty of *halitosis (bad breath).

Vintage offensive ads: Go out with him Don't make me laugh! (1955)

Rudely bad ads: He gave her the air… and was it frigid! (1949)

There he was… that wonderful boy she met last night at the hotel dance! Suzanne uncorked her most glamorous smile, batted her most luscious lashes. No recognition. She waved her shapeliest arm, “yoo-hoo-ed” her most musical “yoo-hoo.” No response. 

All of a sudden it dawned on her that he was deliberately giving her the air… and was it frigid! She hadn’t the foggiest notion why he should snub her so.

vintage offensive ads from 1949 - Listerine - He gave her the air

Offensive vintage ads: “Pardon us, Sally! We all have dates with ANOTHER girl” (1940s)

You can’t offend with underarm odor and still win out with men.

She’s doomed to unpopularity right from the start — the girl with underarm odor! When there’s a dance, she’ll probably stay at home. Men will be introduced to her — but it’s the other girl that they’ll take out. Why should they want to be near a girl who isn’t really sweet?

Vintage offensive ads: We all have dates with ANOTHER girl (1940s)

How to be a perfect '50s housewife: In the kitchen

Talking behind her back: “There’s one girl I’ll never dance with again!” (1950s)

“Never again for me, Tom! Janet’s a peach of a girl and a swell dancer, but some things get a man down. Too bad somebody doesn’t tip her off.”

Mum - never dance with her again - vintage offensive ads - Click Americana

Vintage bad ads: “One dance was enough for me… because of that!” (1950)

Vintage offensive ads - Heed deodorant from 1950

Vintage offensive ads: “Don’t bring Lulu.” (1950)

Don’t gamble with happiness!

Vintage offensive ads: Don't bring Lulu - Lifebuoy soap from 1950

Well, that was unnecessarily mean… “Was my face red!” (1940s)

“Betty’s really beautiful — but…”

“I know — she opens her mouth, and floppo!”

Why is it Pepsodent Tooth Powder has what it takes?…

Floppo - Pepsodent - vintage offensive ads - Click Americana

“I told you that marriage would hit the rocks…” (1939)

Susan: Mercy me, this telegram says our newlyweds are in trouble again! Mollie wants to pack her bags and come here.

Matilda: I told you that marriage would hit the rocks if she didn’t get wise to herself. Come on –we haven’t a minute to lose!

Banish tattle-tale gray with Fels-Naptha soap!

Gray laundry -vintage offensive ads- Click Americana

Pretty, thin, young and single? Check out these sexist stewardess job requirements of the '50s & '60s

Bad ads: “If she’s coming over — I’m going out!”

“But you promised to teach Jean that new dance step. That’s why she’s coming!”

“That was before I knew she didn’t read the toothpaste ads!”

Most bad breath begins with the teeth

Avoiding her - Colgate - vintage offensive ads - Click Americana

“Don’t ask Mabel — her skin gives me the willies!” (1935)

Read how Mabel won lots of new dates.

Yeast for bad skin - vintage offensive ads

Rude ads: “No, Sis – thumbs down on Edna!” (1936)

Edna had too many pimples… but not for long

Fleischmann’s Yeast clears the skin — by clearing skin irritants out of the blood

Yeast for bad skin - vintage offensive ads

Women: Do you have the ideal figure? Here's what 'they' thought in 1950

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