One of the most interesting branding, marketing and advertising resources I’ve come across lately is the Duke University library of vintage ads. The library contains images and database information on more than 7000 vintage advertisements printed in the US and Canada from 1911 through 1955.
First of all, the sheer volume is awesome and the database is searchable by category, year, and brand. The ads themselves are often beautiful, with a rare attention to craft and artistry in the illustrations, and an erudition to the copy that, for better or for worse (more often worse than I think I expected going in), you don’t see very often today.
Vintage ads: a Delorean joyride to a pre-feminist Lost World
The ads are illustrative of the social changes we’ve seen over the last 100 years or so, especially in gender relations. The images and copy, especially for makeup, soap and the like, are often sexist:
Many times hilariously so:
We’ve come a long way, baby.
Basic rules of effective copy unchanged
But I was also struck by how some of the tactics, especially regarding the presentation of copy still hold true today. And it was heartening to see that copywriters of yesteryear fell prey to the same foibles that we fall prey to today, especially in the “features vs. benefits,” arena. For the electronics ads especially, the early 20th century, engineering-focused jargon is thick on the ground.
The structure of the copy in the most effective ads hasn’t really changed all that much – branded headlines:
And skimmable, often bulleted body copy:
The takeaway: no matter how our mores, technology, and products change, good copy is still good copy
- Focus on and speak to your customer’s or client’s needs
- Remember to sell the benefits, not the features
- Make an emotional connection (branding!)
- Make your copy skimmable and conversational
Designers, illustrators, copywriters, marketing and branding consultants, and anyone interested in the way branding, advertising and marketing reflect and affect our culture should check out the database; it’s a great resource.