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Medical Ads: Then and Now

Medical Ads: Then and Now


Just about everyone is familiar with medical advertisements, be it for tablets or liquids or pills. However, many of the very same companies seen advertising today have been at it for decades, some as early as the 1930's! In this article, we'll take the temperature of seven medical ads from "way back when" as well as how those same companies advertise in 2007.


Tums Tums

As was common in the 50's, this ad uses a fake newspaper format that makes its product seem like something the world is talking about. The subtle cue to the reader is that TUMS is an important product worthy of reading about and using. In the present day, TUMS opts for a somewhat simpler format: a bold, blue headline and some verbiage about the types of situations you would want to use TUMS in.

2) Colgate

Colgate Colgate

This 1956 Colgate ad uses an attention-grabbing red headline and a typical sales letter format. Two happy, pearly-mouthed people (a man and a woman) are attached to a speech bubble talking about how wonderful Colgate is at protecting against tooth decay. Today, Colgate's ads are considerably less detailed. This one shows a tube of toothpaste against a white background with the text "The Dentist's Advice?" above it.

3) Vick's Vaporub

Vick's Vaporub Vick's Vaporub

This 1946 ad for Vick's Vaporub is truly an ad of its time. First, notice the use of cursive writing, which is almost non-existant in today's advertising. The picture is also drawn, instead of photographed. Today, Vick's rarely advertises with print ads at all, instead opting for short commercials of a mother easing her young son or daughter using Vick's Vaporub.

4) Pepto-Bismol

Pepto-Bismol Pepto-Bismol

Much like other ads of its time, this 1955 Pepto-Bismol ad takes up a full page of space with a big red headline and lots of testimonials and facts about the product. Today, Pepto advertises in a much smaller space and with a simpler message: "Big occasions need big relief."

5) Alka-Seltzer

Alka-Seltzer Alka-Seltzer

By now we are beginning to notice a pattern: the Alka-Selzter ad from "then" (1978) uses an image and a good paragraph or so of text to advertise the product. By contrast, the "now" ad uses only an image of the product and a brief tagline that condenses the most important points into one sentence. This reflects the increase in advertisements and decrease in human attention spans.

6) Bayer Asprin

Bayer Asprin Bayer Asprin

This 1959 Bayer ad uses a comic strip to show three people with three different ailments, all of which Bayer cures. The point is that no matter what you have, Bayer is what you should buy and use. Current Bayer ads contain testimony from doctors that Bayer Asprin can help reduce the chance of heart attacks. Other ads, such as this one, simply display the product box, which contains the benefits formerly communicated by full-page ads.

7) Crest

Crest Crest

The Crest ad from 1954 keeps the same basic character as other ads from its time: a favorable image of the product with reccomendations from credible sources and lots of supporting text to read. Today's Crest ad uses more of an emphasis on imagery, along with the tagline: "Finally, you can smile and breathe at the same time."


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