When Content And Context Collide

Unless you believe in psychics, prognosticators, and political analysts, you know that no one can accurately predict the future. This may be why some of the vintage print ads make us laugh and cringe all at the same time.

When creating an advertising, marketing, or promotional campaign for your business, consider the direction in which society is headed. You can avert some cringe-worthy moments in years to come as a result of your campaigns if you use common sense to guide many of your decisions.

There’s nothing wrong with being edgy or avant-garde with your approach. Just be aware that it could come back to haunt you at some point. You’ll either need a thick skin and the ability to laugh at things, or you’ll need the ability to ignore the comments that could wind up making your long forgotten campaigns social media fodder that goes viral.

At one point in history, Iver Johnson Revolvers (the original business ran from 1871 through to 1993, with only the name being resold in 2006 to new owners) wanted buyers to know that their guns were so safe that children in bed could handle them without fear that an accidental discharge could happen. Their ad made sure consumers knew that their guns were not only safe, but reliable in that they promised to shoot straight and kill.

For these two reasons, the implication was that every home should have a truly safe albeit deadly Iver Johnson revolver.

The next print ad was for Gillette, a name that’s still well-known on the market to this day. The company was founded by Chicago raised Fond du Lac (WI) businessman, King Camp Gillette (5 January 1855 – 9 July 1932).

While the safety razor had been in existence long before King Camp Gillette got a hold of it, he invented one of the best-selling versions. It should be noted that Gillette came up with his idea while working as a salesman for the man who invested cork-lined bottle caps. His employer told him that the key to success was to “invent something people use and throw away.”

While working on the concept of creating a thin safety razor, he found himself writing and publishing a book about a socialistic world based on universal cooperation (Star Trek long before the series was ruminating in Gene Roddenberry’s mind) where all people would share equally in prosperity.

In 1903 he finally came up with the idea of substituting a thin double-edged steel blade between two plates, and holding it all together in a T-handle. When the blade dulled, it could be removed and replaced instead of sharpened.  He sold the T-handles at a loss, and made his profits on the sale of blades, and wound up a millionaire in the process.

He was so convinced of the safety of his razor — even where infants were concerned — that this print ad was placed in magazines across the country.

Gillette Safety Razor
If you’ve ever suffered from a toothache, you know how much suffering that can cause, and so did Lloyd’s Manufacturing as the 20th century began.

At the time, cocaine was the new anaesthetic that was being used throughout Europe and North America, not just by surgeons, but by doctors and dentists as well. Cocaine toothache drops were advertised as being an instantaneous cure for toothaches, and there’s little surprise there as to the reason why that might have been.

Charles E. Lloyd and his partner, S. Dexter Pilsbury, saw opportunity knocking and they answered the door. Once the door was answered, they put word out about their solution for curing toothaches from which everyone in the family could benefit.

Cocaine Toothache DropsEven the pharmaceutical firm Parke-Davis trumpeted the fact that cocaine “makes the coward brave, the silent eloquent.” It was touted as a miracle drug and knowing what we do today about cocaine, is it any wonder it was so effective?

Charles E. Lloyd and Dexter Pilsbury were the first to truly exploit the benefits of cocaine. Together they jumped all over the potential of cocaine in the marketplace, and the U.S. Patent Office’s registry of labels proves that.

No one knows for certain how Lloyd and Pilsbury wound up business partners, but it’s thought that between Pilsbury’s inherited fortune (which was sizeable) and Lloyd’s employment as a clerk at a local pharmacy, coupled with the fact that they were close in age and lived a block apart, circumstances threw them together in a financially beneficial relationship.

This is a minute sampling of the many print ads that are inappropriate in today’s terms, however, back in the day, they were perfectly acceptable.

Take a look at your own advertising, marketing, and promotional campaigns. What are the chances that they’ll be just as inappropriate years from now as these from days gone by happen to be in this era?

Will you be able to prevent this from happening to your business in the distant future? Probably not. However,it’s always a good idea to consider what direction society is headed in before settling on the details of your latest campaign.

Elyse Bruce


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: