Five vintage TV commercials that used sexism to sell

There’s no doubt about it, sex sells. To both men and women. Kate Upton for Carl’s Jr. Burgers… Every Diet Coke Man ever. Rewind to the 1960s, the ‘Mad Men’ era, and it was ‘sexism sells’. An advertising strategy that demeaned, exploited and stereotyped women. It was a man’s world where a woman’s role was to cook, clean, look after children, make their husband’s coffee, and work hard at staying slim and attractive. This attitude carried over into advertising where explicit sexism was used to sell products by so many brands. At the time, it was just reminiscent of real life. But looking back on TV ads aired during that time, it’s shocking how offensive they are towards women. Yet they were wholly acceptable!

Take a look at these five vintage TV ads that really take the biscuit. (A biscuit home-baked by a beautiful, dutiful wife, of course).

Folgers coffee

In this advert, the wife’s biggest worry is not being able to make coffee that’s to the liking of her husband (if only). So she sets out to seek advice from another male on how to do her job as a wife better. To make sure she understands what he’s saying, he performs actions to accompany his instructions. You know, just in case the words confuse her. Folgers released several sexist ads in this campaign, but this one really stood out, for the sheer outrageousness of portraying a woman needing puerile, ‘Simon-Says’ like games to help her be a better wife.

Goodyear Polyglass

Women drivers. On average, we enjoy cheaper insurance as we’re statistically less likely to crash, yet those two little words are still used as an insult even today. Five decades ago, men were encouraged to buy Goodyear tyres as they would remain tough and reliable, even when a woman’s at the wheel of his car (apparently the worst case scenario). In the ad, the female driver was faced with a diversion, a pedestrian crossing, and even those dreaded traffic lights. Thankfully, her tyres got her through it and her husband got his car back in one piece. Lucky him.


An advert that begins with a woman listing all the simple things she can’t do in relation to her job isn’t a great start. Listing pushing a button to make a photocopy as the one thing she can do, isn’t a great end. In between, she applies make up, giggles at her own stupidity and of course, stands up in a tight, revealing dress. Her boss apparently says she’s indispensible. Two guesses why.

Dodge Charger

Moving into the 70s and onto an advert that was banned. I can’t quite work out why this advert was considered to be any more outrageous than the previous adverts, but maybe it’s because attitudes were beginning to change? Anyway, this ad has the classic message – a flashy car will get you the girls. The sort of girls who won’t care what you look like, or the fact that you have a girlfriend.

Super soft shampoo

Now for a 70s advert that definitely should have been banned… This is what I’d describe as explicitly sexist. The shampoo advert shows a woman explaining how she’s prepared herself for being kidnapped by Vikings by showing off her chest and washing her hair to make it silky soft – a secret she won’t share with other women because she wants to have the men all to herself. It’s implied that the woman is looking forward to, and encouraging, what the men who kidnap her will do to her – and the squeal at the end confirms it. The problem is, we’re all well aware that in history, these kidnapped women were raped by their Viking captors. And this advert trivialises it. It’s a dangerous line to cross and it certainly wouldn’t be acceptable to produce and advert like that today. Abhorrent.