Offensive & Politically Incorrect Advertising & Propaganda

Posted Thursday, 26 March 2009 by Lars Hasvoll Bakke in Design, Entertainment, Trends
Glaring racism, violence, murder, misogynism and a lot of smoke - In this post, we have a look at various forms of "politically incorrect" advertising and propaganda from the late 1800's up until the present. The material of our present days might not be as overt as it used to, but it's still about in droves, and sometimes with an even fouler smell to it.



This marmelade ad from 1910 shows amongst others, a golliwog. I've never seen one in my lifetime, but, to my surprise, they are apparently still for sale in some countries. While they are quite grotesque stereotypes of africans, I suppose their cutesy, innocent qualities makes up for it in the eyes of some.


A classic take on the classic stereotype of the black servant (or slave?) happily serving his massa, complete with the correct lingo.


No fuss, to the point racist packaging. What you see here is an old Norwegian brand of tar/varnish used on wood burning ovens. It's been out of production for a good while now, (I wonder why?) but boxes like this can still be found tucked away in old dusty closets in Norway.

Magic washer

With the combination of the Uncle Sam figure and the proclamation in his hand, its reasonable to suspect that this 1882 advert is a kind of weird play on the Chinese Exclusion Act which was passed as US law that same year. Combining advertisement for some sort of detergent or washing machine with the slogan "The Chinese must go" seems sort of irrelevant to me, but since anti-Chinese animosity was significant at the time, it certainly hit home amongst potential customers, regardless of actual relevance.

Freipass für alle?

More than a century later, in 2007, we find these somewhat less explicit posters in Switzerland, promoting the right wing Swiss People's Party (SVP) and various supported initiatives. This poster roughly translates as "Free pass for all? NO". The issue at hand was a vote on the 8th of February on whether the country should carry on its policy of mutual open labour markets with the European Union, and also extend this to new EU members Bulgaria and Romania.

Naturally, the birds trying to get a bite out of Switzerland aren't white doves or owls, they're crows, black as the night, with obvious symbolism. In any case, the SVPs campaign failed and the policy of open labour markets was extended.

Stop JA

In 2004, the same SVP had success in restricting the naturalization laws for prospective new Swiss citizens, something which the party campaigned for again last year. Both times, this illustration was used on posters, showing thieving hands of many skin colours reaching into a pile of Swiss passports. Swiss naturalization laws are already among the strictest in the world.


Old gold

I think anyone who's ever inhaled a puff of cigarette smoke could see the irony in recommending smoking as a treatment for a sore throat. Still, these adverts where abundant.

Craven A

Certainly not! After all, it's "Made specially to prevent sore throats". The nicotine and smoke are just side effects I suppose.

Dr Battys

This medicinal cigarette, not recommended for children under 6, apparently treats many ailments usually thought to be caused by cigarettes, like asthma, foul breath and bronchial irritations. Well done Dr. Batty!

Doctor smoke a fresh Camel

If the mustached Dr. Batty couldn't convince you of the positive effects of smoking, this fresh pumpkin of a doctor should certainly do the trick. According to this advert, "It's the peppery dust left in tobacco by inefficient cleaning methods that makes you cough". You may not be able to read it at this size, the text under the logo reads "Mild... No cigaretty after-taste".

Camel live to be 100 years

This ad is mix of two completely different topics. At the top, the little girl is seen telling her doctor she'll live to be a hundred, and the text more or less confirms this, thanks to rapid progress of medical science and hard working doctors putting that science to use. In the lower half, Camel claims that a survey among 113 597 doctors brought back Camel as the favourite brand.

Mixing these two completely different topics coincidentally leaves the happy impression that there's no contradiction between smoking camels and living to be 100 years old.

Chesterfield Reagan

I'm not sure exactly when the public opinion on the health effects of smoking started turning decidedly towards the negative. Nor am I an expert on US politics. That said, I'm fairly certain that had Barack Obama appeared endorsing cigarette cartons as merry Christmas gifts, it would have had a negative effect on his electoral support.

But in 1951, smoking was still fine and dandy, and it would be another 30 years before the young actor Ronald Reagan would assume the presidency of the United States.

Keen young tastes

In recent years, there's been a lot of controversy over tobacco advertising aimed at a young (even underaged) demographic. Certainly, in the long run, it makes commercial sense for a brand to build a following among young people and consolidate their brand allegiance, since there are more years of sales to gain than with older people.

Mixing this bright, young and beautiful couple with fresh flowers and cigarettes certainly does a nice job at cleaning up the image of cigarette smoking.

Tipalet blow in her face

I wasn't quite sure whether this belonged more in the cigarette category or in the category below. I guess it's hard to make a solid claim to this being sexist, but no girl I know would go crazy about me for blowing smoke in her face. Even if the smoke is, for these cigarettes, cherry, burgundy or blueberry scented.

Sexism, misogynism and misandry

Men are better than women
From this Vintage Advertising flickr set

"Men are better than women! Indoors, women are useful, even pleasant". At first, second and third glance, I was just delighting in the clear, straight forward quality of those initial words. It took a good while until I looked at the nether regions of the ad, for the demonstration of how little use women are outdoors.

The harder a wife works

"Gosh honey, you seem to thrive on cooking, cleaning and dusting". Classic stuff, apron, feather duster and all.

Delmonte ketchup

The wonders of modern technology! According to this Delmonte Ketchup advert, by 1953, bottle design had come so far even women could manage opening their Ketchup bottles.

Kenwood Chef

I love these ads that state their (nowadays) politically incorrect messages as clearly as possible. According to this 1961 Kenwood ad, wives are for cooking.

Subaru GL coupe

From the outset, this ad leaves no doubt that this is a man's car, a strong, bullriding, cowboy man's car. A cowboy who likes to ride out into the wild and catch a nice, energetic woman to ride in. Hee-haw!

DG rape ad 1DG rape ad 2

I've never pretended to understand high fashion. I'm more in tune with the street styles I've seen Amsterdam than with high fashion as seen in Paris or Milan. Maybe that's why I have a hard time grasping how glossy depictions of gang rape is going to help a brand sell.

Violence, vodka, death and divorce

Duncan Quinn

Seemingly trying to one-up Dolce & Gabbana, Duncan Quinn likes their brand to be associated with murderers, real stone cold killers by the looks of it.

Get a divorce

With divorce rates as high as they are in Norway (and in the US where this ad comes from, unsurprisingly), I guess I should be OK with this ad, but I'm having a hard time. Even if it's humorous, there's of course certain bit of truth in this ad. Trying to increase earnings by advertising divorce, something which few if any people or cultures in the world consider to be positive thing, well, that just seems like a crappy way of making money.

Chicago lawyers Fetman, Garland & Associates seem to thrive on the press generated by these campaigns, they've even set up a merchandise shop selling some real sorry clothes capitalizing on the campaign's slogans. By the way, the buttocks to the left belong to none other than the lawyer Corri D. Fetman, a former Playboy playmate.

In an Absolut world

I could see how these ads, displayed in Mexico City, might cause a stir in the US. Swedish vodka brand Absolut apparently regards itself as competent of suggesting some bold territorial changes between these two countries, which have certainly seen their fair share of warfare. Luckily for Absolut, that's all in the past, there aren't a lot of people left alive with painful memories of the Mexican-American war of the 1840s.

benetton domestic violence

Unlike the D&G ads shown earlier, Benetton doesn't try glamming up violent or otherwise crappy situations. While the motives for their campaigns including dying AIDS patients and soldiers, or campaigns such as this can rightly be questioned, in light of the D&G stuff above, I feel sort of OK with their stuff. Apart from the utter fakeness seen in most advertising, it's sort of refreshing to see a different angle, even if it's not the most pleasant material.

Dr Martens forever Cobain

Never mind Benetton using dying people in advertising, Dr. Martens prefer those who have long since passed. For those who do not recognize the face, this is Kurt Cobain of legendary grunge rock band Nirvana, who killed himself with a shotgun in 1994. Even disregarding that his death was a suicide (though some alternate theories have arisen) which tends to make matters even morse sensitive, using dead people to endorse your products is cheating, pure and simple.

Union Carbide gift to India

One of those ads that where fine and dandy when they where launched, but are pretty outrageous in hindsight. The keywords here are "Bhopal" and "1984". We are talking about one of the worst industrial disasters in history, killing something like 16 000 people in the Indian city of Bhopal where Union Carbide had a pesticide plant. This 1962 image of a big Union Carbide hand seemingly pouring chemicals straight out into free air is particularly poignant.

Of course there are many, many more examples of rather offensive or otherwise politically incorrect advertising. Perhaps you have some examples of your own? Please do share in the comments below!

Related Posts

» The Evolution of Propaganda Design: US Retro Posters
» Propaganda Design & Aesthetics: Soviet Retro Posters
» German Propaganda Posters from the 20th Century
» Design Tutorial: Creating a Propaganda Poster
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Great post :)
By bobbigmac on Thursday, 26 March 2009 5:06 PM
Can't say I agree with the responses to all of these images, but regardless it's a great post :D
By on Thursday, 26 March 2009 5:41 PM
The 4th one down, you write "the slogan "The Chinese must go" seems sort of irrelevant to me" - it relates to the immigrant Chinese LAUNDRY WORKERS of the era. Cheap labour... that's why they say the Chinese must go - because the product (washing machine?) will be better, AND it's American-made!
By Ghost|BOFH on Thursday, 26 March 2009 5:41 PM
You don't have a lot of history knowledge, do you?

#1: The server on the train - that *was* the correct lingo for blacks at that time - even if they DIDN'T SPEAK that way, they did to white people. Surprise surprise, the blacks kept the practice of speaking "differently" than whites even up until today.

#2: Yes, many smoking ads spoke of their cigarettes helping to soothe a throat or were not harsh on the throat - one of their ingredients was a COUGH SUPPRESSANT. In fact, it is still a common additive in most cigarettes to this day.

#3: As for women in the kitchen et al, well...who do you think those ads were targeting? The guy? No. The wife. The HOUSEwife. The one who DID stay at home, do the dishes, clean the place, do the laundry, iron the shirts, etc. The one with the FULL TIME JOB that started when she got up and ended (sometimes) when she went to bed.

That's how it was then. And most women would not have even thought about working for a company unless they were a secretary - and even then, she would only be working there until she landed herself a man to take care of her.

Most women preferred it that way, and you know, it's funny...what did they get for equal rights, but the right to bust their ass at work just as much as a man, and come home dog tired, and neither husband nor wife are home anymore for the kids.

Doesn't sound like much of a winning situation really.

By bibblybob on Thursday, 26 March 2009 5:53 PM
I don't agree with some of the responses to these AD's either, but enjoyed reading none the less! I think you may find the AD depicting Uncle Sam 'removing' the Chinese workers in an attempt to sell a washing machine would have been due to the inordinately high volume of laundry houses opened during that time, that happened to be owned and run by the Chinese migrant workers.
Publicidad y anuncios politicamente incorrectos
By on Thursday, 26 March 2009 6:15 PM
Racismo explicito, violencia, asesinatos, misoginia y mucho humo. Acá una muestra de publicidad y anuncios políticamente incorrectos de finales del siglo 19 hasta nuestros días
the chinese were used to build the railroad
By archangel on Thursday, 26 March 2009 7:45 PM
not just for the cheap labor of laudry, but more so that they were brought in to build the railroads. then once the railroad has connected the country, it's time to kick them out of the country.
nation building /colonialism / white man's injustice, whatumightcallit, at its best. then again, with such history, who bats an eyelid to the white bwana-ship.
Chinese cheap labor , LOL sub labor???
By no sub labor on Thursday, 26 March 2009 7:50 PM
Hmm, interesting ! I am sure they were not paid 25cents for a sub.
Some things haven't changed. LOL
By dana457 on Thursday, 26 March 2009 10:00 PM
Times change and so do our values, but I'm not so sure that today is a really great place. Ignorant, self-centred people rule our lives. How many of you reading this actually know how to respect others in your everyday lives. Or is it your given right now to do as you please. times gone by are not as you portray as evil. I'd suggest evil is more of a theme today. Games that promote shooting people is the same thing...? isn't it. what will they say in the future about you who shoot people in games. will you justify your action as an old person...? Think before you criticise simplistic ideas of an era gone by. Rocks glass houses....
By Thomas on Thursday, 26 March 2009 11:04 PM
Someone needs to learn the definition of racism.
By pnkpanther on Thursday, 26 March 2009 11:10 PM
Honestly if Kurt Cobain could see that someone was using his face to advertise, he would probably be glad its doc martens
By dan on Thursday, 26 March 2009 11:51 PM
1. i feel like once someone uses the phrase "the blacks," it kind of nullifies anything they're talking about. just saying.
2. its ironic. calm down. throat and lung diseases do arise from cigarettes, fyi. i think i read it in an US weekly or something so im not sure if its true.
3. just because its targeting a different demographic doesnt mean its not sexist.

i mean, i dont agree with everything the guy said either, but wow, those comments just made me laugh.
Story added
By Undrln on Friday, 27 March 2009 12:36 AM
Your story was featured in Undrln! Here is the link to vote it up and promote it:
By Gaz on Friday, 27 March 2009 1:41 AM
I once went to a flea market with my grandad. He found a stall selling leather jackets, to my horror he picks up a jacket and says to the stall owner 'Excuse me, do you have this in nigger brown?'
The black guy behind the counter just looked at him. It's amazing how much times have changed, how racist people were in the past. Even though if they never meant to be.
Wha !?
By jayhoo on Friday, 27 March 2009 1:42 AM
These old adverts raise alot of interesting discussion.

I really liked Ghost & dana457's comments especially.

I think that this article illustrates how low advertisers have and will stoop to sell their products. I'm guessing that some were offended by the old racial type ads just as some of us today would be offended by the "gang rape" or domestic violence type ads.

pnkpanther writes>
By Daniel González on Friday, 27 March 2009 3:34 AM
I didn't agree that the absolute ad is racist or politically incorrect in any way... I see it like.. mm... if they put a map of China and Tibet separated. Would you think its "politically incorrect"?
Maybe it's just because I'm Mexican... but... I'm truly trying to see this in an objective point.
By sarah on Friday, 27 March 2009 4:09 AM
We owned the issue of the Nat'l Geog. with the India ad. I remember even as a child thinking it couldn't be good for some big company to be pouring chemicals into their water, and i always felt sorry for how skinny the guy was. Weird to know the real story now as a grown up.

And i love to know that those asthma cigarettes were (apparently) suitable for children around 10. I would die if i saw my pre-teen daughter puffing away on a 'medical' cigarette!
Gollywog dolls
By Milander on Friday, 27 March 2009 11:26 AM
I had a gollywog doll as a child circa. early 1970s. Was never seen as a racist toy until, as is usually the case, some pocket Hitler came around and told us all how evil they were. In hindsight, while the doll may well have stereotyped the black man it was just a toy for children to play with and raise awareness.

They were popular in the UK and at that time a black man was a rare thing indeed to be seen walking around town so the idea that the doll could be racist just never crossed anyones mind. Personally I do not consider it to be racist in any form or manner. You could argue that current dolls are racist, depicted perfect/ideal forms of western beauty whereas they'd be better off manufacturing trailer park barbie or bob the "farts a lot" builder....
Mexico and US
By JP on Friday, 27 March 2009 3:09 PM
Hey Daniel ti would be the same as showing Nazi occupied Europe nostalgically.
Politically Incorrect? Offensive? Not necessarily.
By JS on Friday, 27 March 2009 4:43 PM
I think it's important to note that there are a few ads here that arn't really "politically incorrect" or "offensive". Excluding the cigarettes, the prime examples are the Union Carbide and Absolut ads. Please explain to me, how is an add politically incorrect or offensive if it was produced BEFORE an event surrounding it occurred? That's like saying that information about Chernobyl is offensive because people died when it's reactor exploded. Your little hindsight caveat does nothing to support it's inclusion. And what's offensive about the Absolut ad? I suppose now we might say that the novel "1945" is offensive because it posits an alternate history where Nazi Germany won WWII. Finally, the majority of the smoking ads are in no way at all offensive. I'm not talking about the one that says "Blow in her face".The ads are indicative of an incorrect understanding of the impacts of tobacco. If that's offensive, then might I recommend the following image to be added to your page
These images are not offensive, they merely illustrate the fact that our understanding of the effects of things on our body has grown over the past 100 years.
Am I the only one who thinks that some of these are fakes?
By SJ on Friday, 27 March 2009 8:44 PM
Some of these have modern, recognizable fonts which makes me think they have been PhotoShopped for effect (not by the author of this blog). It is difficult to use these as credible examples without attributing the source. Some of them I have seen repeatedly (like the modern examples) and I realize are in current circulation, but I am not 100% certain about the older examples (ie: Dr. Batty's and The Chef).

It is not uncommon for PhotoShop "artists" to add off-color humor to a vintage make it more extreme.

I am not saying these kinds of ads did not exist -- I know for certain they did and I have seen many similar ads in my media/advertising studies. I just think it is important to make sure they are legitimate.
Gang rape is in the eye of the beholder
By Aerliss on Friday, 27 March 2009 9:06 PM
I find the D&G ads to be rather sexy. I thought they were more going for the kinky orgy than a gang rape. And honestly, my brain usually swings towards the most perverse thing it can...

lol, asked my friend "orgy or gang rape?" Her response was; "either way it looks like fun."

Although, yeah, the Duncan Quinn one was clearly a mistake. I can see what they were TRYING to say... they just sorta missed. The guy looks more like the detective that turned up at the scene of the crime than the hot guy she's sprawling across the car for.

Fun reading, nonetheless XD
Asthma Cigarettes
By Lexo on Friday, 27 March 2009 11:42 PM
The asthma cigarette advertisement looks like it was created on a computer, using modern fonts. I call bullshit.
Golden Shread
By Mr. Roboto on Saturday, 28 March 2009 7:38 AM
If the Golliwog is a black person then the dog must be a Scottsman the bear a drunk Russian and the duck a grumpy Jew. Can you say Jew here or can they only say that on TV.
lord xeon
By lord xeon on Saturday, 28 March 2009 2:15 PM
it's one thing to look at the Absolut poster, and the Swiss ones as maybe politically incorrect, but all the smoking ones were perfectly fine when they were published.
It's looking back on hindsight, and blaming the people who wrote them for being ignorant, and stupid, when in reality, as far as we knew, smoking was good for you.

I predict the same thing will happen in 30 years with global warming, we'll be making fun of all those posters that say to save resources, and protect the planet, while we drive our antimatter bicycles laughing at the naiveness of our parents.
By LuMaxArt on Sunday, 29 March 2009 4:53 PM
swiss posters
By timbo on Sunday, 29 March 2009 9:58 PM
Great post.. the SVP posters are a national disgrace (there were others with white sheep kicking a black sheep off the swiss flag).. but the 'blackbird' poster was from this year..2009.. not 2007
By Aden on Monday, 30 March 2009 5:45 AM
I agree fully with JS. The main point I glean from these (and nearly all other adverts) is that you cannot trust advertisements as their only aim is to to steer cash in their (and their clients direction). Think critically and doubt when possible, these are my mottos.

These photos, ads, etc. have been nutritious fodder.

Cheers and thanks.
By Maxine the Cow on Monday, 30 March 2009 4:41 PM
I just wanted to point out that in modern advertising, men are featured to target men, and women are featured to target women. So, the D&G ads are for -male- fashion. They wouldn't have used an orgy/rape scene to target women (most likely).

But, the D&G ads can't be compared to the same standard as the golly-wog ad (which, by the way, without any question or doubt, is appallingly racist).

Really, I think the modern Swiss ads are the least subtle racist ads I've seen lately (according to modern standards). They remind me of the "Minute Men" here in the US.
By SA on Thursday, 2 April 2009 5:51 AM
I am not entirely convinced that having the black crows on the swiss ad is racist. Crows are seen as negative, obnoxious birds and thereby suitable as a choice if you wanted to put an unlovable animal on the ad to promote your point. Same with the black sheep mentioned in the earlier quote. Black sheep is a common slogan for the trouble maker or rogue thinker who doesn't do what the rest of the flock thinks it should. I just think maybe assuming they were racist was a bit jumping to conclusions. Perhaps they are just poorly made advertisements with accidental racial connotations.
great post
By Anu M on Thursday, 2 April 2009 9:00 PM
i like this post very much.. you guys r doin a gud job.. like the subaru ad very much
By anon on Friday, 3 April 2009 8:30 PM
I appreciate the research put into this and all, but after reading your responses, I can't really help but ask myself what your point was. The racism/sexism/lies area all pretty obvious, we didn't really require elaboration. Also posting all those smoking adverts was kind of stupid. I've never seen what everyone's problem with smoking adverts is. There are plenty of commercials for fast food, and that shit will kill you faster and with more certainty than a cigarette.
White Aussie
By bill on Saturday, 4 April 2009 11:16 PM
Hey we had the white Australia policy which didn't allow any non european migrants into the country until mid 1960s. That wasn't politically incorrect it was just good sense. Kept all them blacks out.
Re: anon
By bjorn on Monday, 6 April 2009 10:35 AM
Someone explain the golliwog racism?
By Josh on Thursday, 9 April 2009 1:23 AM
Or please explain why this isn't a racist interpretation of a redheaded white girl: Raggedy Ann

Do people honestly think the golliwog doll is racist or am I just missing the sarcasm?
Love the old cigarette Ads!
By Matt Clarke on Wednesday, 22 April 2009 12:16 PM
Must have taken a lot of work to collect all of these Ads together, top marks! I have worked for a design agency that works for Imperial Tobacco in the UK and these tobacco ads made me laugh within the constraints of what we could do 5 years ago, now not at all. As for the other Ads, some shocking, some funny in their ludicrous claims. Thanks for the Post. Matt
By richardraiment on Saturday, 25 April 2009 12:50 PM
Sorry if part of this appears twice. Part way through, my post just disappeared (laptop glitch, I think.

I wrote, approximately:

As a writer of erotic fiction I am often on the wrong side of other people's perception of political incorrectness. That being the case, I am not inclined to rush to the defence of the assertions and proscriptions of the political correctness lobby.

Even so I must, in honesty, agree that the golliwog is racist.

In fact it would probably seem less so now, if such toys were to be marketed again, because a great deal has changed and some distance has been put between the concepts of the past and the concepts of the present.

At the time that I encountered golliwogs - in Enid Blyton's fiction, some 50 years ago - racism went largely unquestioned. When golliwogs first emerged in fiction and as toys, many of those who saw them knew little, if anything, about black people and might very well have never seen or met a person of colour. They were perhaps not, then, overtly racist.

Covert racism was and remained widespread. British education was irredeemably imperialist, though less than it had been in Victorian times, and a continuing image was presented of black or coloured people as being lazy, violent, immoral, untrustworthy and weak. Especially weak. It took the strong white sahib, the white Tarzan to bring order and civilisation to the rest of the world.

The people who created the golliwog were the products of this world. The golliwog represented their perceptions of black people in a white world. I seem to recall that the golliwogs were villains even in the Noddy stories.

The Golliwog belongs in a past when it was okay for pub landlords and the landladies of lodgings to post notices on their premises refusing admission to black people. It belongs in a past when the men in a passing troopship, on their way to Flanders, thought it humorous to heat the coins they threw to crowds of impoverished black beggars at an African port, laughing at the desperate scrabble for the coins and at the pain they caused to the beggars who bured themselves. It belongs to all those ideas of the past which helped sustain the activities of organisations like the KKK and provoked the riots and demonstrations of the 60s and 70s.

Like many another thing, the golliwog is far less innoccuous than it seems.

richard v raiment
By on Saturday, 25 April 2009 9:02 PM
Everyone...chill..great job reliving the "past", and that is what it is!
Some old cigarette ads
By eggdroppin on Tuesday, 28 April 2009 8:29 PM
By Drbob on Wednesday, 6 May 2009 10:12 AM
Um - I think you might have missed something here.... 'Blow in her face'? Look at the way the smoke looks as if it were somehow, ahem, sticking. This is a classic of attempted subliminal sexual advertising - this appears in media 101 courses all the time. Of course, whether it's effective or not is very debatable, but it's pretty objectionable nevertheless....
By Paula Wirth on Saturday, 9 May 2009 5:13 PM
Sadly, this image (Men Are Better Than Women) was taken from my flickr stream, with no credit... it is from my personal collection of old ads... seen at

Well-written post, though...
By Crestock on Wednesday, 20 May 2009 4:11 PM
Paula: thanks for bringing this to our attention. We actually have the image from another blog that didn't mention the original source, but it is clear that your rather excellent flickr set is where it all started, so we've duly added a credit for this now.

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