Part of my summer cleaning involved removing 50 pounds worth of Bon Appetite magazines from my grandmother’s kitchen cabinets. Before throwing monoliths of magazines away, I decided to flip through a few of them. Bon Appetite is a good magazine if cooking is your thing, but what intrigued me was looking at the advertisements. What I found was a time capsule to the late 70s through early 90s that gave me a unique insight into American life.
Considering Bon Appetite‘s readership consisted mainly of housewives, the ads were targeted to things they would buy. The majority of ads were for cars, refrigerators and cigarettes. (Sidenote: I wonder what my experience would have been if I were reading vintage Tiger Beat magazines? Or New Yorkers? Or Playboy?)
In terms of the most ads placed, Honda reigned supreme. I can’t imagine what their budget for print advertising was, since they often took up two pages. And those ads often doubled as essays. I mean who is going to read all that text? It’s practically another story in itself!
They also win in brand recognition, because their style (simple black on white text, same font and basic photo) was uniform for all their spots.
Seeing ads for anything technology related is especially bewildering, since what is marketed as “innovating” five years ago is now obsolete. That made looking at cars and refrigerators all the more entertaining.
It’s weird to think that having a fridge that was a different color was something that was marketable. It seems so quaint now; since there are refrigerators on the market that double as smart phones. Alas, there are those weird instances of a product being ahead of its time, like the Frigidaire Conversation Piece. A radio, cassette player and recorder in your fridge? I guess smacking all of the latest technologies on the kitchen fridge isn’t a new trend.
There were plenty of other signs of the times in these pages. Celebrities endorsing things whose names were completely lost on me. Products that are now rendered useless. Women’s hairstyles inflating and deflating over time. But the most interesting part of looking at these magazines was seeing all the cigarette ads.
It’s truly mind warping to see ads selling a product that is now universally known as a major health risk. I can’t imagine seeing cigarette ads in any cooking or housekeeping magazine nowadays.
As I looked through editions from the 70s through the 90s, brands began distancing themselves from the very product they were selling. They went from bragging about how great their cigarettes tasted to not mentioning the flavor at all. The models in their pictures weren’t even smoking. By the 90s magazines, a company boasted about how their cigs were the ones with the least amount of tar in them.
Flipping through an Entertainment Weekly the other day, I saw an ad for Newports. It caught me off guard; I recognized their trademark green background only because I had seen it so much in a those magazines from thirty years ago. Maybe it’s because of the magazines I was exposed to, but the only time I saw cigarette ads in print was in DARE class. It serves as a reminder to how quickly the public can change their views on a product. Seeing how companies respond to consumer attitudes in the lens of advertising shows how relentless they are. Even when they know what they’re selling is terrible, they will always find ways to do so.