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5 Ads That Promoted Bad Things as Good for You

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Ads have always played fast and loose with the facts. Otherwise companies wouldn’t be able to market half the stuff in a supermarket without scaring the crap out of you. But once upon a time marketers seemed to be able to get away with the boldest lies possible about the worst items available, so long as they did it with a straight face. Also, they had to stop just short of actually harming a baby. Here are some ads for things that are terrible for you, but being promoted as though they were good!



50’s ad for Camel cigarettes featuring a doctor


Cigarette companies were never under the delusion that their product was healthy. It was the customer’s job to be under that delusion. And the companies tried to make sure that was the case by advertising them as diet aids. Or a way to clear the nose and throat (which they called the “T-zone”). Or by saying their cigarettes are recommended by a doctor. Or at least an actor playing a doctor while quoting a “national survey” that is never actually sourced. And if a doctor (and according to the ad also a “scientist, diplomat, and sympathetic human being”) says you better start smoking then you better light up. And if that same doctor goes home to a bottle of Jack and a fistful of barbiturates every night, then you know damn well you better drive to the liquor store and pharmacy right away.



50’s ad for Motorola TV


Motorola made their ad look like an educational pamphlet when it promoted watching hours and hours of television as the only thing keeping kids from becoming foul-mouthed dropouts. Unfortunately, the print is too small in the ad to explain how exactly watching TV accomplished that. But from the photo on the left it seems good behavior is the result of getting really excited about staring into the dead-eyed gaze of Howdy Doody. And from the pictures on the right, better grades come from doing homework while wearing a tie under a very strict deadline so the entire family can watch their favorite show in time without the parents having to whip the kids.



ad showing baby drinking 7-Up


If you can’t get a fake doctor and you can’t say your product helps school kids then at least show you’re willing to put a newborn’s life at risk. But don’t worry, because 7-Up is made of lemons and limes, and fruit is always good for babies even when it’s really carbonated syrup, right? And if you read the copy you’ll also see the ad uses such words as “pure,” “wholesome,” and “By the way, Moms, when it comes to toddlers…add 7-Up to the milk in equal parts” as a way to make sure kids get their vitamin D and get addicted to sugary drinks long before they can even make that choice.


Illegal Narcotics

old ad for injectable opium


In the early part of the 20th century a whole host of narcotics were marketed as helpful medical aids. Heroin was advertised as a cough suppressant so good that you’d want to keep taking it long after your cough was gone. Morphine was advertised as a throat soother for kids (or maybe just a way to knock them out so their parents can sleep). And the above ad promises you the benefits of injecting your own opium by being completely vague about those very benefits (“therapeutic action,” “dependable,” “better than morphine”) and wisely not showing a drawing of someone shooting up while asking the reader, “Now, who wants some?”



ad for DuPont Cellophane showing a baby wrapped in plastic being held by a stork


Okay, no one ever advertised suffocation. But if the best way you can show that your product makes things clear and keeps them fresh is by vacu-sealing a baby inside, you’re not so much advertising cellophane as revealing a psychosis. Of course, for anyone worried that the above baby did not survive the ad campaign, have no fear. As you see below the cellophane clearly kept him alive, well, and really pissed off at least clear into elementary school…

ad for DuPont Cellophane showing a small, seated child wrapped in plastic



Which one was your favorite? Let me know in the comments!

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