(Pocket-lint) – Marketing departments and companies have come up with some surprisingly shocking adverts over the decades. 

Using fancy words and “science” to pitch products to the unsuspecting public in the name of capitalism. There have been all manner of dodgy, racist, sexist and downright dangerous adverts over the last century. 

We’ve collected some of the best for your amusement. 

Scientific evidence can’t be wrong

Before medical research into the effects of smoking had properly gained ground and proved the links between smoking and cancer, adverts like this were rife. 

In the 1950s and 60s, magazines boasted ads that purported the positive (or at least not negative) effects of smoking. The Chesterfield advert reads:

“A medical specialist is making regular bi-monthly examinations of a group of people from various walks of life. 45 percent of this group have smoked Chesterfield for an average of over two years. After ten months, the medial specialist reports that he observed no adverse effects on the nose, throat and sinuses of the group from smoking Chesterfield.”

Do more Doctors smoke now than all those years ago?


Vitamin doughnuts and drinks

If you can’t quite believe the hard sell that cigarettes are good for you, how about this marketing which suggests that both doughnuts and Ovaltine have healthy vitamins in them. 

And that they’re great for pep and vigor?!

These adverts date back to the 1940s and speak to a simpler time before obesity became a serious problem. We wonder what happened. 

Give your throat a holiday

This advert tried to suggest that all other cigarettes used “dry-as-dust tobaccos” while Camels were “mild”, “clean” and “cool”. 

Perhaps the most sinister thing about this advert is the last line though:

“Join in, give your throat a holiday. Try Camels for just one day, then leave them – if you can.”

National Lead CompanySome of the craziest adverts you're ever likely to see photo 4

Dutch Boy lead paint

Before it was known what harm lead could do to the human body, it was marketed for all sorts of things including as a good idea for children’s paint and toys. 

Later, lead poisoning from these sorts of things was found to lead to all manner of problems including brain damage, seizures and more. 

Oddly, even the Romans were aware potential health problems lead could cause, but modern marketing skated over it. 

VWSome of the craziest adverts you're ever likely to see photo 5

Women hit things

At first glance, this advert looks fairly inoffensive compared to the others on the list. It’s not selling cancer-inducing cigarettes, just a car. A car that a woman has apparently smashed up. 

That’s right, in the good old days, Volkswagen was a lot more sexist. 

“Women are soft and gentle” the advert reads, “…but they hit thing…If your wife hits something in a Volkswagen, it doesn’t hurt you very much.”

No need to worry, this marketing suggests, as a VW is cheap to repair so if your clumsy wife crashes into things it’ll be a breeze to repair. 

KelloggsSome of the craziest adverts you're ever likely to see photo 6

Pep in the kitchen

How does a busy housewife manage to keep so perky and cute? Vitamins it seems. At least that’s what Kelloggs would have people believe anyway. 

The company implied that women of the day thrived on cooking, cleaning, dusting and a daily dose of Kellogg’s Vitamins. A healthy dash of sexism probably kept things interesting too. 

Keurig Dr Pepper/PepsiCoSome of the craziest adverts you're ever likely to see photo 7

7up is good for your baby

This weird advert from years gone by seems to imply that 7up is a perfectly fine soft drink to give to your kids, even young babies. 

The ad even suggests mixing up some 7uo with some milk in order to create a “wholesome combination” – Yikes. 

One thing 7up did have going for it was the list of all the ingredients on the label, something that wouldn’t become the norm for years to come. But still. 

Du PontSome of the craziest adverts you're ever likely to see photo 8

Plastics for children

In modern society, you’ll find warnings on plastic carrier bags highlighting the suffocation dangers to children. 

This advert from Du Pont Cellophane might well be the origins of this. Don’t wrap your children in Cellophane. It might keep things fresh, but it’s certainly not good for your nippers. 

Sugar InformationSome of the craziest adverts you're ever likely to see photo 9

Sugar will curb your appetite

Most modern thinking is that refined sugar is bad and adds unnecessary calories and maybe unhealthy in other ways too

But in the the “good” old days, adverts like this appeared to imply that sugary drinks and snacks were a good way to lose weight. A snack before lunch would stop you eating too much and help you curb your appetite. 

More than likely just a way to sell more sugar. Or perhaps a ploy by dentists to get more customers?

MacAndrews & Forbes CompanySome of the craziest adverts you're ever likely to see photo 10

Smoking – fun for all the family

There’s no denying that this Dad has some skills blowing some awesome smoke rings, but he’s probably not the best Dad. Smoking indoors with kids around is not a great look in today’s society.

But back in 1952, it wasn’t frowned upon. Companies were also making cigarettes appealing to a younger audience too, with flavourings including liquorice. Starting them early for long-term customer loyalty. 

Chase & SandbornSome of the craziest adverts you're ever likely to see photo 11

Domestic violence?

Imagine deciding to market your coffee with a threat of domestic violence if the reader dared to buy other beverages. 

If he gets stale coffee, he may well hit you. Is that an incentive to buy Chase & Sanborn over other brands?

HooverSome of the craziest adverts you're ever likely to see photo 12

She’ll be happier with a Hoover

It seems that if you’re not beating your wife for serving you stale coffee, it’s perfectly acceptable to buy her a Hoover vacuum cleaner for Christmas. 

We’re not sure what she’ll be happier with, to be honest. What we do know is this is a fairly terrible advert, but at least Hoovers aren’t bad for you. 

Tape worms for your diet

If you think some of these other adverts have been a bit crazy then what about this one? We’ve heard of some pretty crazy fad diets in our time, but it’s hard to imagine a world where purposely ingesting tapeworms seems like a good idea. 

Artes Radium Cream LtdSome of the craziest adverts you're ever likely to see photo 14

Radioactive face cream

From tapeworms for your diet to a radioactive beauty cream that promises to rejuvenate your skin. The good old days sure had it all. At the time, X-Rays and early successes of radium meant that the public was easy to convince about the potential health benefits, but this was clearly a dangerous practice. 

Penn Salt ChemicalsSome of the craziest adverts you're ever likely to see photo 15

DDT is good for you?

This advert from 1947 shows the benefits of DDT or at least the benefits of the chemical as it was seen by “exhaustive” scientific tests at the time.  The ad claimed that DDT was good for fruits, steers, dairies, crops and even the home. 

Of course, Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, has since been shown to have serious negative impacts on the environment and people too. It was shown to be toxic to many types of fish, thinned birds eggs and was even linked to a higher risk of breast cancer too. As a result it was banned in most developed countries in the 1970s and 1980s. 

LivejournalSome of the craziest adverts you're ever likely to see photo 16

No means no

Woah. This one. We’re pretty sure that no means no. Sure, maybe Jade East’s aftershave is so good that you’ll have women falling off you, but if not, you can’t just bash one over the head and take her back to your cave. This advert is certainly from a different time. 

ViceroysSome of the craziest adverts you're ever likely to see photo 17

Nevermind your doctor

Nevermind your doctor, it’s your dentist you should be worried about. But not if you smoke Viceroys apparently. As your dentist would recommend them. Though frankly if that’s true, you should  probably consider switching dentists. 

Everyone knows that heat purifies

Lucky Strike cigarettes claimed to be “the finest cigarette you ever smoke” promising to protect you against coughs and protect you against irritation too. Bold claims in the advert stat that the company’s secret process purifies the tobacco and makes it less irritating. Don’t over indulge though. All things in moderation. 

Sears Roebuck and Co.Some of the craziest adverts you're ever likely to see photo 19

Laudanum for the little one

Babies can sure be little blighters. Not sleeping when they should, keeping you awake at night. But perhaps the solution is Laudanum. Sure it’s a class A drug and you’re essentially giving your small child a mix of opium, morphine and codeine but at least you’ll have a nice nap. 

It’s also good for pain relief, yellow fever, cardiac disease, dysentery and “Excessive Secretions”. YIKES. Addiction is going to be your biggest problem though. 

JiggerSome of the craziest adverts you're ever likely to see photo 20

Whiskey toothpaste

Mint flavoured toothpaste is so dull and cliche. Why not make things more interesting before bedtime with whiskey flavoured toothpaste? Or even kick-start your day. Just don’t brush and drive. 

Nico Time

This advert is actually not a real one, though it has been circulating the web with claims that it was. It’s actually an artwork by Kat Berkley that was created for the video game series Bioshock. 

After seeing some of the other real adverts on this list, you’d be easily forgiven for thinking it was real though. 

Fly-Ded insect spray

With what we know today, it’s pretty shocking to see an advert that suggests that applying DDT to your small child is a perfectly fine thing to do.

Sure, it’ll keep flies off them, but at what cost? FlyDed was designed to handle flies and mozzies, but for the DDT enthusiast there was also Moth-Ded to deal with mothers and Roach-Ded for cockroaches. 

Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup

Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup might seem innocent enough, but this medicine was actually potentially very dangerous. In 1845 it was marketed as “likely to soothe any human or animal” which wasn’t hard considering it contained 65 mg per fluid ounce of morphine sulphate. 

A few years later, in 1911 the American Medical Association had a section called “Baby Killers” in which it called out the syrup for its dangers, yet somehow it was still available to buy until 1930. 

SemcoSome of the craziest adverts you're ever likely to see photo 25


Not much to see here, just an advert suggesting methadone as a good pain relief solution. There were a number of these sorts of adverts around in the olden days and it was fairly normal.

In more modern times methadone is used to ween people off heroine. Which shows how addictive and dangerous it could potentially be. Its use is now well regulated and you certainly wouldn’t buy it for some casual pain relief. 

Johns MansvilleSome of the craziest adverts you're ever likely to see photo 26

The magic mineral

In days gone by, asbestos was unbelievably marketed as the magic mineral – with properties that made it fire-proof, rot-proof and generally indestructible. Asbestos is a naturally occurring substance, that’s found and was mined all over the world. But in recent decades people have begun to realise the health dangers asbestos presents to humans including mesothelioma and pulmonary fibrosis that comes about as a result of exposure.

Now its use is widely banned, but a century ago it was commonly sold and installed as a miracle material for insulating and protecting property. Crazy. 

ColtSome of the craziest adverts you're ever likely to see photo 28

Firearms for Christmas

Living in a country without guns, we find the concept of buying guns a bit odd. Never mind buying yourself one for Christmas. 

The idea of storing one under a Christmas tree between the other presents is also bonkers. 

WM.R.Burkhard/GilletteSome of the craziest adverts you're ever likely to see photo 29

Teaching them young

Obviously learning to shave is an important part of growing up, but we are not sure giving a baby a razor is a good plan. Even if it is a safety razor. 

SegaSome of the craziest adverts you're ever likely to see photo 30

Play with your joystick

Like your adverts full of innuendo? Well, Sega had you covered back in the day. This ad apparently tried to push the allure of a joystick and Sega Megadrive combined with Altered Beast. Just read the blurb. 

“You sit there, eyes glued to the writhing, arcade-quality graphic, pulling and squeezing your knob. Now you’re breathing heavily over the digital stereo sound. Now you’re shooting all over the place, but it’s no use…Game Over.” 


SloshSome of the craziest adverts you're ever likely to see photo 31

Beer will change the world

This one just seems lazy to be honest. But sure, it’s no fuss. And if you have enough beers you probably won’t know how it’ll change the world either. Nor care.

Diamond DyesSome of the craziest adverts you're ever likely to see photo 32

Easy dying

Don’t worry, this isn’t as shocking as it looks at first. The small child isn’t murdering a cat, just dying it red. With a dye that claims to be easy. So easy a kid could do it. 

Writing by Adrian Willings.

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