All the times you've been had by ads

By Simone Mitchell

A copywriter for De Beers set out to persuade young men in 1940 that diamonds were synonymous with romance. Photo / 123RF
A copywriter for De Beers set out to persuade young men in 1940 that diamonds were synonymous with romance. Photo / 123RF

Here's a fun fact.

Back in the day, the concept of a "coffee break" didn't exist. It was invented by some wily ad execs to boost the sales of caffeine.

In the 1950s the sale of coffee was declining, so some major coffee companies banded together and recruited US ad exec John B. Watson to boost the status of their hot beverage.

As Cracked explains, Mr Watson noticed that during World War II, some factories started giving their employees a couple of minutes off every shift, during which time some of these workers would drink a quick cup of coffee to wake themselves up.

"Figuring that using the novel idea of 'work less' to sell coffee was worth a shot, he ran a massive series of advertisements to get people on board with the new 'coffee break' idea he had thought up. His ads featured happy people sitting around and conspicuously not working, all while drinking huge mugs of coffee."

The coffee break campaign had a major affect on coffee sales.
The coffee break campaign had a major affect on coffee sales.

It wasn't long until the western world was largely addicted to coffee. In a way, you have John B. Watson to thank for those 3pm jitters.

It's not the first time ad execs have "invented" issues (eg what are you going to drink on your work break?) and then conveniently solved them for us (our brand of coffee, of course!).

Here are some of the other problems that have been conjured up and solved.

BUYING YOUR SIGNIFICANT OTHER A DIAMOND ENGAGEMENT RING

Back in the 1930s few people actually proposed with a diamond ring. They were too busy riding steam trains and getting caned in school. But then a crafty commercial came along and ruined the bank balance for many generations to come.

In 1938 DeBeers diamond company recruited New York advertising agency N.W. Ayer to promote the concept of diamond engagement rings.

In the 1940s a copywriter at Ayer dreamt up the slogan that DeBeers has used ever since: "A diamond is forever". It conjured up endless romance and the idea that love never dies.

As a writer at The Atlantic put it, "the folks at Ayer set out to persuade young men that diamonds (and only diamonds) were synonymous with romance, and that the measure of a man's love (and even his personal and professional success) was directly proportional to the size and quality of the diamond he purchased. Young women, in turn, had to be convinced that courtship concluded, invariably, in a diamond."

And my goodness it worked. Between 1939 and 1979, De Beers's wholesale diamond sales in the United States increased from $23 million to $2.1 billion, and many people are still throwing shade at their partners if they're not receiving a massive bit of diamond bling for the proposal.

A vintage DeBeers advertisement.
A vintage DeBeers advertisement.

FATHER'S DAY, MOTHER'S DAY, VALENTINE'S DAY AND ... WELL ... MOST OF THE DAYS

Those who don't want to "buy into" Valentine's Day can often get out of responsibilities by barking that it's merely a concept dreamt up by Hallmark. And to an extent they are correct.

Father's Day, Mother's Day and Valentine's Day certainly existed, but they were largely commercialised by the card manufacturer who started a huge campaign in the lead up to these particular holidays early in the 20th century.

The company started to produce and promote their own Valentine's Day cards in 1916. Prior to that it wasn't really considered a "thing". Now 131 million Valentine's Day cards are exchanged each year.

The Hallmark corporation bashfully says it "can't take credit for creating holidays". But they're happy to take your cash for the cards.

WOMEN SHAVING

Prior to World War I, no lady was even considering shaving any part of her body. Mainly because women didn't reveal much of their bodies at all - they were covered head to toe in restrictive clothing.

But according to Christine Hope who researched women's hair removal in her 1982 paper there was a shift around 1915. Advertisers in Harper's Bazaar started to target underarm hair (usually for depilatory creams but it wasn't long before safety razors came to the party). It tied in with the new fashions that exposed more of a woman's arms.

The companies pushed the idea that it was unattractive to wear these new fashions with hairy underams.

As Gillette claimed in a 1917 ad "Milady Decolette is the dainty little Gillette used by the well-groomed woman to keep the underarm white and smooth".

A Harper's ad from 1922
A Harper's ad from 1922

In the roaring '20s hemlines on dresses and skirts rose as well and the hair-removal industry got to target legs as well, effectively increasing the need for their products. A true stroke of luck. Don Draper would have been thrilled.

THE NEED FOR DEODORANT

Prior to the early 20th century, no one gave a damn about whether they sweated or not. It was just considered to be part of normal bodily function and discussing the matter was decidedly uncool.

Then along came a lady named Edna Murphey who started spruiking the chemical that her surgeon father developed to keep his hands dry while he was operating.

She discovered that it prevented her from sweating when she applied it to her armpits, and thus 'Odorono' was born.

Murphey teamed up with ad man James Young and he launched an ad campaign that portrayed perspiration as a huge problem that needed to be fixed IMMEDIATELY.

One 1926 ad went so far as to claim that a woman with underarm sweat "just doesn't belong."

As Cracked points out, "in the 1930s - when the Great Depression had everyone worried about, you know, being able to afford food - Odorono ads spoke of how stinking up the office could lose you your job".

Evil genius.

- news.com.au

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