Surprisingly Offensive Vintage Ads of the Past

By: Calla Conway | Published: Sep 24, 2021

Some advertising content from the past is not appropriate for modern audiences.  Companies created these ads at a time when the public was accustomed to concepts that would be viewed as sexist, racist, or homophobic in today’s society. While nostalgia can be a beautiful thing, sometimes, looking back only reveals how much the old values and customs needed to change.

In celebration of the incredible changes our society has made over the past few decades, we have compiled 40 of the most shocking vintage ads for you to browse through. They are sure to make you laugh and cringe in disbelief. Some may bring back nostalgic memories, but many will only cause your eyebrows to shoot up in shock. These vintage ads show how time changes everything and how our perceptions evolve along with its flow.

1. Nothing Beats This Drink

Imagine seeing this photo of a baby drinking a bottle of 7up instead of milk. The sugary soda company thought this was an appropriate advertisement back in the day. However, by modern standards, it would be perfectly understandable for parents to be upset and concerned after seeing something like this.

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Source: Instagram/kirsten_anderson

Surely this falls into the category of false advertising. It seems strange that they would use a baby in their advertisement when they know no one under the age of four should be consuming carbonated drinks.

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2. More Seats than a Lamborghini

This ad looks cute until you read the text. “Picks up five times more women than a Lamborghini.” What exactly does that mean? The use of women in this ad is quite disturbing, and even by the stars of the time, the “joke” is eye-roll-worthy.

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Source: Instagram/onlyclassy

While the message of picking more people than the usual car is acceptable, is it essential to be that sexualizing? Of course not. All in all, it is an ad with a good message but terrible execution.

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3. The Failings of a Perfect Wife

It’s easy to see that this ad objectifies women and defines a “perfect woman” by her beauty and cooking skills. Sadly, people once thought like this when what they should have been valuing were traits like intelligence, undying love, and other character traits.

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Instagram/bluntedboss

Furthermore, this ad does not represent real-life women. Though these qualities are grand, no one can display them all the time – we’re all far more complex than that. Also, creating an ad about feminine wash should not focus on the qualities of a woman. It should talk about the benefits of using feminine wash in the first place.

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4. Pink Is for Everyone

Pink is for everyone. However, it is traditionally thought of as the color for girls, while blue is more masculine. Looking at this ad from years ago, you’ll understand why they use a woman and a tagline that says PINK IS FOR GIRLS.

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Source: Reddit/zcskywire2

This picture seems so backward by the standards of today’s generation. A person can wear whatever they want, regardless of whether it is pink, blue, or any other color for that matter. Why would anything other than personal taste come into decisions about color? The only thing you should care about is the function of each product.

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5. Where Women Belong?!

Here’s another advertisement in which the product and the slogan do not match. When you look at it, you’ll know exactly what the problem is. Where do you think women belong in this world? Obviously, not on the floor, naked. 

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Source: Instagram/thisisomelet

This image of a woman gazing adoringly at a man’s shoe on the floor does not sit right with us. The theme of this ad is particularly unsettling in the sense that it has an apparent sexist message. If you want to create an advertisement about men’s footwear, then you should talk about it sensibly without depicting a woman in an undignified position.

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6. Hammocks for Your Spine

If their goal is to scare the public, then they nailed it. This image is terrifying! Believe it or not, this ad is for hammocks, not Medieval torture devices. When modern viewers think about hammocks, we picture the beach, fresh air, and relaxation. This ad represents none of those desirable elements! 

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Source: Instagram/archaicads

If you look closely, you’ll see that it claims to have beneficial effects on your spine. Although using a hammock has some health benefits thanks to its relaxing effect, we can all agree that it cannot make your spine young.

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7. Electric Hair Brush

The person who made this ad thinks it’s cool to use racism to sell products. What’s even worse is that it uses false advertising tactics. A hairbrush, electric or not, does not cure headaches and neuralgia. This is a false claim, and for this ad to have gotten away with it is embarrassing.

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Source: Instagram/archaicads

You should not use untested medical claims in advertisements. Ads should never twist scientific findings or exaggerate evidence because this can lead people to believe the product’s promises on false grounds.

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8. Hot Dogs for Sale

Boner Billy’s famous hotdog was launched in 1894. Yes, you read it right – Boner Billy is their brand name. Like many other fast-food chains, this restaurant researched how to make the perfect hotdog.

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Source: Instagram/archaicads

One look at this ad and you can probably guess that the slogan captivated people’s attention. Because of the double entendre contained within their motto, the company chose to use a female figure. Perhaps it was clever at the time, but by today’s standards, it’s awfully cliché.

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9. A Cure for Heavy Drinkers

If you look closely at this ad, you’ll see a mix of cocaine syrup and grapes. That alone is questionable. Also, it claims to be a “cure for drunks,” but they encourage people to drink more. For the record, we’re pretty sure adding cocaine to the mix without cutting down alcohol consumption at all is not a good idea!

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Source: Instagram/archaicads

Many modern treatment modalities can help manage alcohol addiction and its associated health risks. Detoxing is one of these treatments. It involves abstaining from alcohol or drinking only limited amounts to give the liver time to recover from damage incurred during chronic abuse.

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10. If Your Husband Ever Finds Out

It is tough to believe that these ads exist and that they’re for a coffee company. Not just any coffee company, mind you, but one of the world’s most famous brands. You don’t even need to read the text to be horrified by the concept behind this ad.

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Source: Instagram/calamitydawn

This ad is quite problematic. You’ll know if you look at the picture above. It shows a clear view of domestic violence. To think it is an ad for a coffee company – all we have to say is, wow. 

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11. Men Are Superior to Women

At first glance, you wouldn’t know this ad is for a sweater simply because the picture does not showcase the product so much as the woman hanging beneath the men. If you look into some of the vintage ads on the internet, you’ll notice that this kind of message was everywhere back in the day.

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Source: Instagram/bluntedboss

Drummond Sweaters thought it a wise idea to incorporate sexism into their ads. Sadly, this company couldn’t see how ridiculous it is. If a person or a company commits sexism in today’s generation, they are instantly judged for it and are at risk of falling prey to cancel culture.

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12. Green Bread

This is one of those ads where one look tells you it’s a bad idea even to try what they are selling. The word “mold” is not helping in any case. Penicillin mold is a type of fungus we’re able to process into the valuable antibiotic penicillin. However, that doesn’t mean we should all be tracking it down and inhaling its spores!

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Source: Instagram/_scarletsparrow_

Penicillin certainly has tremendous health benefits. However, prolonged exposure to this form of mold can cause health problems. You wouldn’t want to risk your life eating this moldy bread. Also, it’s just plain gross!

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13. The Trick to Catching Boys

How do you feel when you look at this ad? It is an ad about bread, which is confusing because its focus seems to be on how to catch boys. Our parents always told us not to chase the people we have crushes on, but this company didn’t get that message.

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Source: Instagram/the_spangle_maker

If you are selling a product, shouldn’t you focus on the features and benefits of that product? Wonder Bread is a famous brand, and many reviews say it’s soft, fluffy, and delicious. Thankfully, their ads have grown less sexist and more logical over the years!

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14. Atomic Bombs

According to this ad, you could once pay $3 to witness the power of atomic bombs. Nuclear bombs are the deadliest weapons ever created. Through nuclear fission (the controlled splitting of the atomic nucleus), they are able to create untold damage if deployed in just the right way.

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Source: Instagram/sagewoodmodernismweek

Furthermore, nuclear weapons are considered “weapons of mass destruction,” because they cause great damage to a large area. Now, who on earth will do that? It’s too dangerous even to consider doing it. Will you pay to see this happening?

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15. Corset for Better Babies

There are two flaws in this ad. One is the slogan “Better Babies.” Wearing a corset does not produce a better baby, whatever that even means. The other issue is the use of a corset while pregnant. You can use one after giving birth to a baby when you are recovering, but why on Earth would you want to restrict a baby’s space to grow?

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Source: Instagram/bluntedboss

The maternity corset has been around for centuries, and it can be used as a tool for postpartum recovery. Using one can give you back the form and posture that pregnancy took away. They may even make breastfeeding easier because they support your back and pelvis.

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16. Racism at its Finest

When you look at the photo, you can already see what’s wrong. “Why doesn’t your mamma wash you with Fairy soap?” It is a clear case of racism, revealing that this ad was influenced by prejudices that, if left unquestioned, prevent people from seeing others as equals.

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Source: Reddit/chestney

The look on the face of the child on the left says it all. That company clearly didn’t value equality at the time this ad was produced. Ads like these only perpetuate stereotypes that need to be put to rest.

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17.  A Man’s World

Here’s another commercial implying that men are somehow superior to women. It is so sad to see that gender inequality was so institutionalized only a few short decades ago. People accepted this ad about ties as though it was normal. They probably even had a chuckle at it.

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Source: Reddit/chestney

A clear pattern is emerging as we progress through this list. It was once perfectly normal for women to be treated as second-class citizens. This only goes to show how hard women have worked over the last few decades to fight back against this fallacious concept.

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18. Telephone Ad Gone Wrong

What do you think is the product of this ad? Plates? No. Some kind of baby-related product? Wrong again. Even if you examine both the picture and the text, it is difficult to understand what they are selling.

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Source: Instagram/bluntedboss

If you’re still stumped as to what they’re trying to get people to buy, it’s a telephone. An ad should entertain viewers and showcase the products the company is selling clearly and concisely. It needs to be creative and eye-catching to stand out among the other ads. The confusing nature of this ad is almost enough to make you forget about the sexism.

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19. The Importance of Hygiene

It’s good to focus on personal hygiene in an advertisement about soap. The connection is pretty solid. However, claiming that a particular brand of soap will help you keep your man is just wild.

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Source: Instagram/bluntedboss

It’s safe to say that this ad encourages people to take care of their hygiene, and that’s a good thing. However, trying to convince women that their husbands wouldn’t cheat on them if only they scrubbed themselves clean enough is just cruel.

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20. Demonic Possession

What is this ad even selling? Though it looks like a vintage ad, we’re not convinced, and the internet is not much help in determining the true origin of this image. 

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Source: Instagram/archaicads

Our best bet is that this is a meme made to look like a vintage ad promoting demonic possession. The thing is, the real vintage ads we’ve been looking at are so wild that it doesn’t seem all that crazy for one to genuinely be advertising demonic possession!

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21. The Tiger Lady

This ad from Mr. Leggs is so disrespectful. It is meant to be selling the slacks worn by the man in the picture. This advertisement is unabashedly sexist toward women, implying that they can be stepped on like rugs. Even the concept of a tiger rug is outdated now, let alone adding majorly sexist overtones to it.

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Source: Reddit/chestney

It’s insulting to see a woman lying on the floor with a man’s foot on her head. This advertisement is incredibly demeaning to women, and we hope this kind of thinking never resurfaces again.

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22. Baby in a Package

Of course, these are just cardboard cutouts inside the cellophane. However, Du Pont is still sending a dangerous message with this advertising campaign. What if someone were to misunderstand? The results could be disastrous.

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Source: Instagram/stalking_our_ancestors

A baby should never be secured in such a condition as they would be at risk of suffocating. Babies are very vulnerable creatures that can be harmed by something like this, and they cannot communicate if they’re in trouble. This ad is incredibly irresponsible.

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23. A Perfect Ad for Smoking? 

We often hear doctors say that smoking is bad for our health, so using the word “doctors” in this ad that sells tobacco is misleading. Cigarettes are packed full of nicotine and other chemicals, and the American Lung Association says that smoking them causes cancer.

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Source: Instagram/fresh_motor_company

No matter how much this ad tries to make it sound like tobacco is good for you because doctors smoke it, the truth is that it is horrendous for your health. It’s essential to take responsibility for what we put in our bodies and not believe every marketing ploy we see or hear about. We should all avoid tobacco – there are far too many health risks.

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24. Be Careful of Loose Women, Guys

The use of guns to promote safe sex is a strange idea. Guns are used in most violent crimes, essentially implying that “loose women” are out picking up diseases so they can use them as weapons against men.

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Source: Instagram/stalking_our_ancestors

Furthermore, the use of only women in the picture is another gender-based stereotype. Are men not responsible for practicing safe sex? What about “loose men” and their “loaded weapons” – where’s the ad campaign warning everyone against that?

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25. Women Can’t Drive

Here we go again with the sexism. This old ad suggests that women are only good at household chores. It is so interesting that while its cars had been evolving for years, this company chose to roll with old-fashioned, sexist advertisements.

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Source: Reddit/chestney

Their ad alienates more than half of the population, so it’s not rational on any level. Thankfully, humanity has progressed to a time in which more voices can be heard on topics involving advertising and gender equality. Of course, we still have a long way to go, but there is hope!

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26. Never Feel Oversmoked 

What’s worse than a baby advertising carbonated drinks? A baby is advertising cigarettes. Marlboro’s marketing strategy was to use a toddler in diapers and a cowboy hat, and they somehow didn’t see the disconnect between babies and smoking.

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Source: Instagram/archaicads

Of course, people didn’t know about the risks of cigarettes back then, but surely they knew that babies and cigarettes don’t belong together. It seems evident that Marlboro was either oblivious or deliberately turning a blind eye to an issue that was (and still is) millions of children worldwide.

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27. Toothache Drops

Yes, you read it right. The main ingredient in those toothache drops for the whole family is cocaine! Having kids advertise a drug-based product is out of this world. If your tooth is aching and you try applying these drops, you’ll be in for some pretty interesting side effects.

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Source: Instagram/rocketroketto

Some of the common effects of the drug include paranoia, loss of appetite, addiction, and psychotic behavior. If these side effects do not bother you, then you may well be the target market Lloyd Manufacturing was aiming their Cocaine Toothache Drops at.

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28. The Horror of “Tasteless Chill Tonic”

Being fat was once a sign of wealth and health. This ad claimed that if you used their product, you would become plump and healthy like a pig. Can you imagine trying to advertise this stuff in the modern world?

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Source: Instagram/dial911fordesign

Size is no longer considered the basis of healthiness, and people are encouraged to maintain a weight at which they feel healthy and confident. The strangest part of this ad is that the tonic isn’t a weight-gain product. It was meant to treat malaria.

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29. Second-Hand Smoking

“Blow in her face, and she’ll follow you anywhere.” This is terrible advertising. Perhaps the people behind this idea were unaware that second-hand smoking is harmful to our health when they came up with this concept.

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Source: Instagram/historicaldarlings

Blowing smoke into someone’s face is about as rude as you can get. Can you imagine rushing out to buy a pack of cigarettes so you could try this trick? The results would, at least, be amusing to watch.

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30. Stay Fit with Amphetamine

Amphetamine is a potent stimulant that is classified as a psychostimulant because of its ability to increase activity in the central nervous system. It is a dangerous drug, and although prescribed for narcolepsy and attention deficit disorder, amphetamine is also used illegally because of the intense high it can produce.

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Source: Instagram/archaicads

Anyone who’s seen the film Requiem for a Dream knows how bad of an idea it is to use amphetamine to stay fit and slim. This drug is present in ADHD medication as it can address the symptoms that accompany this condition. However, off-label use for weight loss is a terrible idea.

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31. Bad Butter

This ad is twisted. We’re not saying butter is all bad, but there certainly are health risks involved in eating too much of it. The fact that this advertiser thought butter could lubricate our arteries and veins as if we’re like machines that need oil is wild.

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Source: Instagram/archaicads

Eating too much butter is, as we all now know, the worst thing a person can do for their arteries and veins. Health concerns aside, the idea of eating massive sticks of butter with a fork is disturbing.

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32. The Girl in the Red Mustang

Is it appealing to see a car and a girl in one photo? Dressing the girl up to look exactly like the car, racing stripe and all, sends a clear message. Once again, the female form is being packaged up and sold as a commodity.

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Source: Instagram/mr_odd_rodds

Here’s a wild idea: If you’re selling a car, why not tell people about the tangible benefits the vehicle will give you instead of trying to hijack their subconscious and trick them into thinking they want it?

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33. Temporary Relief of Asthma

Let’s cure asthma with asthma cigarettes. Sounds legit. This ad boldly claims a lot of health benefits for cigarettes, and it couldn’t be more wrong if it tried.

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Source: Instagram/archaicads

Of course, as modern readers, we know that these are all false claims. If you want to treat your asthma, go and talk to your doctor about possible medications that are proven to work. It’s sad to think that people in the past would have wasted their time and money and risked their health on products like this.

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34. Another Terrible Soap Ad

Here’s another soap company that thought racism might be a cool way to sell their products. It’s so sad to think that there was a time when an ad like this was seen as acceptable by the masses.

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Source: Instagram/archaicads

We’re not even going to go into the message the soap brand was trying to convey here. This was part of the prevailing attitude at the time, and as awful as it is, it stands as a humbling reminder of how our society once was. If an ad like this came out today, there would be an uproar.

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35. Levi’s Jeans

In this advertisement, the link between the pants and the hands is unclear. Are they portraying that when you wear these pants, it’ll bring love? If that’s the case, shouldn’t they show two people holding hands?

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Source: Instagram/theselvedgeyard

Levi’s may offer good quality, but this ad doesn’t tell you that. It doesn’t tell you a thing about the product. However, it does get people asking questions, so maybe it’s a good thing for getting the name to stick in people’s minds.

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36. Face on or Face Off?

The ad below uses a nice picture, and it displays the product the company is selling. However, the words are problematic. By “keep your face on longer,” they obviously mean that the product will help your makeup last. However, the implication is that your face is nothing without makeup.

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Source: Instagram/starshine60s

This may sound like we’re being too picky, but this message has been drummed into women for so long that many women experience anxiety at the mere thought of leaving the house without makeup. The fact that this was a product of advertising is infuriating.

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37. Can Women Do That?

This ad illustrates how society saw women in the past. Some people believe that women are weak and that they are only helpful in the kitchen. Sadly, women couldn’t do things freely in the past and were hit with all sorts of negativity if they wanted to step outside of the traditional gender norms.

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Source: Instagram/bluntedboss

Thankfully, society is moving beyond such prejudices toward new ideals of gender equality. No modern ad campaign could find success by featuring this sort of message, demonstrating how far we have already come.

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38. The Perfect Gifts

The main point of this ad is to help husbands choose the right gifts for their wives, but look at the options. Everything is designed to help them live their lives eternally in the kitchen.

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Source: Instagram/boomerbabiessupcycles

Only a prejudiced person would think like this. Thankfully, companies have learned to avoid representing women in this way. However, we wonder how much of this change of heart was due to social pressure and how much was genuine.

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39. A Good Marriage Starts in the Kitchen

This ad was meant to sell Pyrex. What’s wrong with the ad? Everything. The picture is absurd and the words that go with it are even worse. Once again, it’s suggesting that a woman’s place is in the kitchen.

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Source: Instagram/stalking_our_ancestors

A successful marriage starts with being in love, but it takes work to keep the spark alive. So this ad, which implies that it all begins in the kitchen, is ridiculous. Plus, it doesn’t even market its product well.

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