Shame Tactics in Vintage Advertising

One of the surest marketing tactics is the “embarrassment factor”: the fear that, because you didn’t buy this product, you will be shamed or rejected. It’s a strong instinct in humans – the desire to fit in and not be an outcast is hardwired into our genes. We can’t help but fall prey to these advertisements that strike a chord on a primal level. Buy our product or you will be shunned!


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Coming from a guy dressed like Mr. Furley, there’s no room to talk, buddy. She’s an attractive gal, and you’re pleasant looking at best. Be thankful for what you’ve got. My advice: Spend a little less time staring at her slight faults and a lot more time pedaling, son!


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American women don’t have to worry about this once commonplace embarrassment (as we’ve discussed before on Flashbak). A gain for the ladies, (wipes tear from eye) a loss for us men.


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I don’t get it. Bill asked her to go to the dance TO-NIGHT, not in ten days. Was there yet another dance exactly ten days later? I think this Marvel Skin Creme did something to Betty’s mind.


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Madge is a bitch.


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When you think of using embarrassment tactics, perhaps none can compare to the iconic muscular bully vs. weakling at the beach. This scenario has played out in so many magazines and comics, I could easily devote an entire article to it and only scratch the surface. I thought I’d include a less familiar non-English version instead of the legendary Charles Atlas ad everyone’s seen.  This one seems to be more about the tan than the muscles.


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These are the cool people – the groovy set, the with-it clique. You want to fit in with them don’t you? Their skin is perfect, yours is splotchy and they will exclude you for it….. or worse, call attention to it in front of your peers. Better buy Komed. Your reputation is at stake.



The most effective tactic may be to play on a man’s insecurities in bed. He’s already a little worried he’s not pleasing his wife the way he should be, and maybe he’s getting a little old in years, so he’s not the young stud he once was. Buy these capsules and your wife won’t look like the woman in the picture above – distant and contemplating hot sweaty sex with the poolboy.

Here’s another direct assault on the male self-esteem in order to sell placebo capsules…



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Can you think of a better way to market an anti-perspirant than utilizing the embarrassment technique? The fear of the underarm stench and pit stain is evidently very strong among us humans. The anti-perspirant and deodorant companies have been milking this strategy for decades.


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The underarm stench shame tactic in advertising knows no geographic boundaries.


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I’m sorry, but there’s something else going on here – normal people don’t evacuate elevators just because a chick didn’t shower on time. That must be one malicious stink… and it doesn’t look like she’s been running a marathon. This sounds like a medical condition… I’m thinking she may have a thyroid problem.



Okay, mephitis is just plain gross. Besides, feminine mephitis isn’t really a technical or scientific term – it was probably made up for this ad. “Mephitis” is either a genus of skunk or simply a term for a foul emination.

Also, Zonite is “Dakin’s solution” (sodium hypochlorite) which is essentially weak bleach. The product is still sold to this day.



Avoid the public humiliation of having your tampons seen by others (the horror!); get a Pursettes case, and retain your dignity.


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“She was a beautiful woman before her teeth … went bad. And we had to put her down.”

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