When I was in college, I came across a 1930s romance magazine called “True Story” in an antiques store in Orange, California. Flipping through the pages, I found an ad for Waldorf toilet paper, which was a little comic strip. A man has become so cranky toward his wife that their marriage is on the rocks. As it turns out, cheap toilet paper is the thing that’s driving him crazy because it has bits of splinters in it. The couple holds the tissue up to the light, and they see little pieces of wood in it. Waldorf advertised repeatedly in these magazines. In some of the ads, the wife was cranky, and then it was their little girl. Eventually, the whole family was affected by this scourge. I found it so funny.
After that, I got addicted to finding these old romance magazines from the ’30s and ’40s—“True Romance,” “True Story,” and “True Secrets”—as well as the homemaking magazines like “Woman’s Home Companion” and “Ladies’ Home Journal.” But the romance magazines were where I found the ads that really take the cake. They’re the most entertaining, and just shameless. The most common premise is that a woman does not want to offend a man. These ads speculate about whether your husband is going to walk out on you because you’re not using a feminine hygiene product or your scalp smells when you’re dancing or you have undie odor.
What she’s observed about advertising trends:
In the late 19th century, magazines took over the advice and care of your family. As magazines were available to more and more people, you could read about what to buy, how to take care of your kids, what you should look like, and what you should be thinking and doing. People turned to the magazines to get information and form opinions about themselves. Suddenly strangers were telling people what they should look like, buy, and think. Today, that’s exploded with the Internet.
I noticed a fever pitch building up during the 1930s. By the late ’30s, the advertisers were on a roll. You open up any of these magazines now, and you burst out laughing. But during World War II, I would say about 80 percent of those ads that manipulate you, the ones that say you stink or you’re not socially acceptable on some level, vanished.
By the way, here’s that comic-strip ad for Waldorf toilet paper:
Browse through countless others at Petrovic’s site.