Better Living Through Cereal
So…you want a clean house, happy children, and a wife with plenty of “pep” at the end of the day? Easy…give her cereal!
A bowlful of happy and she’ll be able to tackle it all.
This circa 1938 ad features a typical couple – as long as you were white and middle class. You can tell they’re happy because she is wearing a floral apron to match her floral dress, feather duster in hand, wide smile at the end of a day of dusting and housework. He is “all tuckered out” but freshly pressed in his suit. Yeah.
Let’s look at this ad in context to when it was published. In the 1940′s, pharmaceuticals were seen as a medical miracle. Penicillin was saving lives and curing infections. A cure for polio was a national cause through the March of Dimes. World War II not only advanced the cause of medicine, but also infected the whole country with a sense of the possible through medicine. Cures were available as close as your nearest store. Cereals with sprayed on vitamins promised health. In this context, the idea that the little woman could down a bowl full of “pep vitamins” was not only acceptable – but downright wholesome. And they were produced by a trusted brand – Kellog’s. Have your bowl of wheat flakes complete with “vitamins” and you could work all day and still be lively and energetic when your husband returned home.
The cartoon caption reads as follows. Him: “Gosh honey, you seem to thrive on cooking, cleaning, and dusting and I’m all tuckered out by closing time. What’s the answer?” She: “Vitamins, darling. I always get my vitamins.” The cartoon in the corner references Superman which Pep cereal sponsored.
Advertisement for Kellogg's "Toasted Corn Flakes" in Life magazine, July 21, 1910, issue (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
With our 2012 glasses on, this ad looks positively paternalistic. Dose the little woman with “vitamins” and your home life will be a breeze. What’s interesting is that this is not the only cereal ad to target women as the primary consumer. Other ads touted the advantages of added vitamins.
It’s easy to look at these ads a naive, but as with all ads, you have to take it in context. Does it speak to its intended audience? Yes. In 1938, wives and mothers were the primary food shoppers. An ad today would at least show a (hapless perhaps) Dad. Did those mothers care about good health? Yes. Vitamins are not a new buzz word even in 1938. Does the ad portray an image of its intended market? Assuming this ad ran in 1930′s women’s magazines, targeted at white, middle-class women, then yes.
Does the ad succeed? A qualified yes. “Pep Cereal” was competing with Wheaties. The rivalry continued through the early 1950′s when “Pep” was discontinued. In 1938, Pep was sponsoring Superman. It was hip and happening.
“Pep” cereal. Vitamins for Pep. Pep for Vitamins!
It's Just a Little Sugar and Water, Right?
Fat-cheeked baby…smiling, doting mother..and a bottle of Coke instead of mother’s milk? In this ad, soda is seen as the best chance for a good life.
The headline reads “For a better start in life, start Cola earlier!”
The ad copy reads as follows: “How soon is too soon? Not soon enough. Laboratory tests over the last few years have proven that babies who start drinking soda during that early formative period have a much higher chance of gaining acceptance and “fitting in” during those awkward pre-teen and teen years. So do yourself a favor. Do your child a favor. Start them on a strict regimen of soda and other sugary carbonated drinks right now, for a lifetime of guaranteed happiness. The Soda Pop Board of America, 1515 West Hart Ave, Chicago, Ill.” “Promotes Active Lifestyle” “Boosts Personality” “Gives Body Crucial Sugars”
Outrageous, right? This ad has provoked righteous indignation on many sites on the web. How could we ever have thought that soda for babies was a good idea? Cavities! Obesity! Caffeine! And those ridiculous claims about cola making the teen years easier? How stupid were the people who bought that line?
Before you completely get all superior, take a deep breath. The ad is a fake. It was created by The City Desk. It has been circulating on the web since about 2000. It was specifically created as an outrageous April Fool’s joke. If you Google the address or the “Soda Pop Board of America” you will quickly see that they are fakes and there is no such address. In honor of its creation, I decided to repost this on April Fool’s day.
So why is the ad so regularly vilified as backwards and ignorant? Because there is just enough “truthiness” in the ad to make it believable. Let’s look closer.
The ad appears to be circa in 1930s or 1940s. The parts and pieces add up to vintage.
Type faces are (mostly) appropriate to the period. I would argue that the san-serif font used in “How soon is too soon?” might be a little off. But the headline text font ”For a better start in life” is spot-on, and actually sets the visual tone for the rest of the ad.
Imagery: The baby has that old-timey, tousle-headed appearance of a Dr. Spock baby. Black and white helps ground the ad, too. The clothing the baby wears has that old-fashioned baby look of seersucker and v-neck sweaters reminiscent of old-school baby wear. The baby hits all the check marks for what we expect to see in an ad which looks vaguely 1930′s or 1940′s. The image of the woman cements the hook: eyeliner, red lipstick, and that certain sumpim-sumpim that just looks like a B-list silver screen queen.
Copy: The copy has that psuedo-scientific hype that was popular (and legal) before you actually had to prove any scientific claims in ads. It sounds enough like old-time ads to pass the sniff test. In fact, its outrageous claims actually add to the feel that it must be an old ad since nothing written today would possibly make these claims.
So..is the ad a success? Yes, but not in the way it initially appears. In creating a sly satire it succeeds. In fact it succeeds so well that it regularly shows up as an authentic vintage ad instead of the April’s Fool joke that it is.
WordCamp Boston is Coming! July 13 and 14
Just got the announcement that WordCamp Boston is on for July 13-14 at Boston University. Anyone who’s attended a WordCamp knows that it’s two days of an all-you-can-eat WordPress buffet. Anyone who love WordPress and has never attended a WordCamp, all I can say is strap in, sign up, and prepare to be amazed.
Last year, I sampled classes in areas as diverse as website security, branding, WP core development, a forum on plugins, and some (welcome and unexpected) seminars designed for freelancers and small business owners. My only disappointment was that most classes were only offered once – and often in any time slot there were two or three classes that I really, really wanted to take. A lot of the seminar leaders posted their slides online, and a few posted videos (thank you!!) but that doesn’t make up for the live and in-person nuances of each session.
Okay…enough carping. WordCamp Boston is great. A can’t-miss, don’t be late, come early, stay late kinda thing. Let the hashtags mentions begin #wcbos!
Want to learn more? Visit at the WordCamp Boston site and get updates and notification for signup.
A panorama of Marsh Plaza at Boston University. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Wash windows - lose weight!
So…this ad from the 1970′s shows the industrious little woman, (house)work clothes on. You can tell she’s working hard because she has a bandanna on her head. Pride in a clean house? Spring cleaning zen? Nope…weight loss through chasing dust bunnies. And Total is just the cereal to get you there.
Looking at this ad today, there is something vaguely paternalistic about it… “Don’t lose vitality while watching your weight. Live right, eat right. Get vitamins and iron from ‘TOTAL‘ Now ‘TOTAL’ has more vitamins than any other cereal. A one-ounce bowlful gives you 100% of the minimum adult vitamin and iron requirements – plus a delicious crunchy taste. ‘TOTAL’ watches your vitamins while you watch your weight.”
The little woman might not know about all those vitamins and iron – why don’t we let Total take care of things for you? You just keep washin’ those windows and shining that floor…
Total cereal (Photo credit: lssloan)
Looking at this ad through our 1970′s glasses, it looks a little different. Food additives were really just coming into focus. The food business was caught between full disclosure and the good press of positive health claims. Better living through chemistry – well maybe. So this ad was walking a line between chemically added vitamins (the cereal ingredients themselves don’t contain all the vitamins claimed) and better health. But the message of this ad says that housework can help you attain your health goals – just be sure to start your day with a one-ounce (!) bowlful of Total.
So…could this ad run today? Probably not. The woman in the ad would probably be shown at an office job, or juggling a couple of kids, or multitasking on the subway. Doing housework? Not so much. The health claims would be backed up with some type of study citation. And it would be “part of a health breakfast” or “part of a healthy lifestyle” instead of a stand-alone claim.
On the other hand, lots of health experts talk about the benefits of alternative exercise – such as shoveling snow or – yes – doing housework. Better living through Total? There certainly are a lot of worse things you could eat. Vitamins, iron, all good.
Now if I could just lose the weight AND get someone to wash the windows for me…a girl can dream can’t she?
GeekGirl Conference - Girls Just Wanna Have Tech
Just got back from the all-day tech-a-palooza GeekGirl in Hyannis, Massachusetts. About 500 women (okay…there were a handful of guys) took classes on everything from Facebook to Pinterest to WordPress. Panel discussions and keynotes addressed how to get more women – and girls – interested in technology.
It was inspiring to hear newbies asking questions without concerns that they would feel stupid. It was terrific to see groups of women gathered around, swapping war stories about hard-won technological gains. Best of all were women (like me) who remember 8088′s, 8″ single-sided 256k floppy disks, and DOS commands instead of a GUI interface. COBOL on punch cards anyone?
While discussing social media strategies, it was good to take a minute to really understand where we came from. My tech journey really began in 1981 when I lost my art teaching job (Proposition2 1/2 shunted me out of teaching after one year). I got tired of looking for the tiny teacher ads underneath the great big computer ads. The State of Massachusetts offered out of work teachers the chance to retrain for computer careers. I read every computer book I could get my hands on, took the entrance exam and passed, and then spent the next nine months going from 3 pm to 11 pm learning COBOL programming. Project STRAIGHT (Short Term Retraining Aimed something something Teachers). We all worked our butts off, grateful at the chance. Most of us took out technology jobs and never looked back. A few months after graduation, I took a job at Wang Laboratories in Farmington, CT. I trained users, installed systems and software, and lapped up all the technology I could get. For almost 6 years, I supported large and small customers.
Fast forward to 1995. After a few years home taking care of kids, I though I had missed the last car on the technology train so I was going to write. Who was going to hire someone without serious coding chops? And who was going to take a chance on someone whose skill set was tied to a bankrupt company? I started on a Master’s degree at BU. In 1997, I took an elective class in web design. The web was in its infancy – it was the wild, wild west of blinking fonts and animated gifs as the high-tech wows. Rollover gifs – wicked! Frames and tables and image slicing. I was in heaven.
anyone?) and kept on keeping on.
geekgirl dinner panel (Photo credit: bitmask)
By 2006, I was hearing about this new thing – WordPress. Built my first site for me, then for a project for my son, and discovered that I liked a web platform that freed me to focus on content and less on writing HTML code. Don’t get me wrong – all my past training is still handy. There are times when you have to pull back the curtain and mess around with the code to get stuff right. But mostly, WordPress frees me to create the sites I want, customize them, and then concentrate on the content.
For years, I preached the gospel of content. If it ain’t there, then it don’t matter how pretty your site is, no one will stick around. I am happy that the web has evolved to this point – and I look forward to what will come.
Amazing what 30 years has brought – and change only seems to happen faster every day. GeekGirl gives everyone the opportunity to hop on the technology train. Enjoy the ride.
A Kick in the Complacency
Just read a post that was refreshingly honest about the chances we sometimes are afraid to take – and what the costs us.
It’s called Women 2.0 Stop Sabotaging Your Own Success: A Manifesto by Sara Rosso (VIP Global Services Manager, WordPress – shown in the black and white photo in this post)
I found this article when I was researching Matt Mullenweg for another article I was writing. It is a bracing call to action, aimed at women, but applicable to anyone.
Read it, reflect on it, and most importantly – share it with someone you know who needs a kick in their fear, a kick out of their rut, or a reason to take a chance.