She Sells: Advertising to Women.

With another season of Mad Men back on the air, our heads are swimming with iconic images of the American advertising industry in its heyday: cocktails, cigarettes, beautiful secretaries, and big ideas on Madison Avenue. In honor of our consumer-centric society and to explore the history of advertising in America, the Duke University Libraries’ Digital Collections of Advertising Collections is a resource like none other. Consisting of many collections in itself, the Advertising Collections the most comprehensive archive of advertisements, and all available online. Some of the more prominent of the sub-collections include Ad*Access, AdViews, Emergence of American Advertising: 1850-1920, and Outdoor Advertising Association of America Archives (OAAA). Ad*Access presents over 7,000 images of print advertisements made available through J. Walter Thompson Competitive Advertisements Collection dating from 1911-1955 and focusing mostly on subjects of radio, television, beauty and hygiene, transportation and World War II. AdViews contains nearly 9,000 TV commercials produced by the advertising agency D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles (DMB&B) during the 1950s-1980s, all are hosted by the Internet Archive. The Emergence of Advertising in America: 1850-1920  collection includes over 9,000 images that illustrate the rise of consumerism in the United States. The OAAA displays an impressive images of 16,000 billboards, posters, murals, electronic signs and transit ads taken across America.

While roaming through this archive, it is apparent how women have been the prime target of consumerism from the beginning. Women are often seen as the decision makers for household goods and known to spend a lot to look good. Preying on ladies’ insecurities has long been a part of marketing campaigns. Featured here are a selection of some of the more far-fetched strategies.  [Above] Three kids sure take a toll on mom’s hairdo. At Once Stretch Wig will give such effortless perfect locks to bed head moms, they will be inspired to twirl through the grocery store. [Below] Kotex’s “Confessions of a Private Secretary” appeal to those who are slaves to the buzzer and must look good while abstaining from selfishly fretting. Odors must be the culprit behind the single dame. Mouthwash and soap seem to deliver the more cruel messages: if you’re stinky you’ll never be loved. Body odor of the glamorous lounge ladies, heiresses with looks and money, and charming socialites alike will repel everyone, including suitors. And ladies, you can just forget about ever getting married if you have bad breath.

Kotex Company. 1939. Motion Picture Magazine. Ad*Access Collection Courtesy of Duke University Libraries’ Digital Collections, obtained from:

Palmolive Soap. 1937. Good Housekeeping Magazine. Ad*Access Collection Courtesy of Duke University Libraries’ Digital Collections, obtained from:

Listerine Mouth Wash. 1937. Unknown Magazine. Ad*Access Collection Courtesy of Duke University Libraries’ Digital Collections, obtained from:


1 Comment

Filed under Duke University Libraries' Digital Collections - Advertising Collections

One response to “She Sells: Advertising to Women.

  1. Another fascinating discovery: the use of narrative in each of these advertisements, and the volume of their text! Thanks, Rachel!

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