5 outdated marketing campaigns (and why they’d never work today)

The 1950s and ‘60s are often painted as the ‘golden age’ of marketing, with TV shows such as Mad Men glamourising the world of American advertising. In actual fact, many of the marketing campaigns of yesteryear are artless and imbecilic enough to draw the breath of contemporary audiences! We’ve picked out five outdated marketing campaigns that would never wash today – don’t you agree that marketing has moved on for a reason in the years since?

Folgers Coffee

Throughout the 1960s, Folgers decided that the best way to sell their instant coffee was via a sustained and unjustified attack on women. In a series of TV ads, long-suffering husbands bemoaned that their ditzy wives couldn’t make a good cup of coffee if their lives depended on it – ‘how could such a pretty wife make such a bad coffee?’ – whilst hinting at the threat of adultery and divorce. Folgers to the rescue! Don’t worry girls; now that you can make a decent mug of instant coffee your husband won’t leave you for his receptionist. Such lazy, sexist advertising has no place in 21st century marketing.

Sanka Coffee

For whatever reason, there was something of a trend amongst coffee manufacturers during the mid-20th century to sell their products with the help of bigotry and stereotyping. Sanka, a rival brand of Folgers, released a series of print ads throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s featuring a racist Mexican stereotype that would make even the presenters of Top Gear blush. Our Mexican hero likes a coffee at lunchtime, but can’t enjoy an afternoon siesta thanks to the caffeine coursing through his bloodstream. Once introduced to Sanka’s 97% caffeine-free blend, however, he can sleep with the best of them – to the detriment of his ‘beezness.’ Today, racist cartoons are better reserved for the pages of BNP publications.


You’d have thought that with the coffee industry content to alienate huge swathes of its customers through shoddy advertising, the coffee substitute Postum was free to move in and swipe a massive market share. However, with the terrible anti-mascot Mr. Coffee Nerves as the brand’s marketing spokesperson, success was hardly guaranteed. Amongst Postum’s underhanded tactics was an attempt to blame coffee for divorces and missing children, as well as juvenile delinquency and general irritability. As a general rule of thumb, any attempts to undermine one’s competitors should remain within the realms of feasibility!


Coffee companies weren’t alone in their attempts to market products using casual sexism, oh no! Imagine a product designed for use by women and to appeal to women, which utilised copy in a way that undermined women from the get-go? ‘Please don’t eat the lipsticks (Even tho’ they’re flavoured!)’ ran the copy of a Cutex print advert from 1964. Always a strong sales tactic, that: making out that your customers are dim enough to eat their own lipstick. The body text – ‘could you ask for a newer, cooler way to collect men?’ – wasn’t much better, either…

Iver Johnson Revolvers

Before advertising was in any way monitored or regulated, marketing people could get away with pretty much anything. A great example of this is the work of Iver Johnson Revolvers, a gun company that ran a chilling series of print ads during the early part of the 20th century. Imagine deciding that an image of a little girl playing with a loaded revolver, complete with the copy ‘daddy says it won’t hurt us’ and ‘accidental discharge is impossible’ was a sensible advertisement? It’s the gun safety equivalent of the Titanic’s ‘unsinkable ship’ claim.

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Ian is the founder of Opportunity Marketing marketing, with over 18 years of experience in successfully setting up marketing departments, creating marketing strategies and implementing these strategies across a wide number of SME companies in both the B2B and B2C sectors through a variety of channels.
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