For Digestion’s Sake – Thanksgiving Ads (1940s-1990s)

Holiday traditions in the United States grow and change over the years, but there’s one constant: everyone wants a piece of your holiday spending money.  These Thanksgiving ads ranging from 1942 to 1991 showcase the different angles these companies took to try and get at your wallet. In doing so they speak to the design ideals of their respective eras and sometimes, unfortunately, reflect the cruder ideologies of those eras too. The looks of these ads aged really well, but their content sometimes didn’t.

This 1942 Birds Eye ad features a street peddler who tries to sell a passer-by some fresh “milky” corn for the Thanksgiving table.  The frame where the housewife is sticking it to Uncle Sam because the corn is so nutritious is a head-scratcher, as well.

The minimal, the amazing colors, and the two hearts over “goodness” aren’t enough to make up for the awful copy.  This one didn’t age well.

I LOVE that Budweiser angled themselves as the ‘high-end’ beer by leveraging how expensive it was for them to make it! The tiny plug for a radio show in the corner is an odd tactic that you don’t really see any more.

Cool-Whip touches on the anxiety of working in the kitchen while everyone else feasts.

If we’re being honest, the Thanksgiving thread in this Lucky Strikes ad is thin and confusing.  It’s basically saying, “Thanksgiving sucks for Turkeys for unrelated reasons, also please smoke.”  And the fortune teller at the bottom straight-up assumes you’re ugly.

Camel has the right idea – well, “right” if you want to integrate your product into a seasonal event where it has no significance.  They lean into the notion of digestive relief that smoking provides, and when I say ‘lean’, I mean they dive into it with a scientific/medical justification that’s as funny to read as it is sad and upsetting to think of all fo the people who bought these justifications hook, line, and sinker.

This one’s great. Macy’s cancelled the Thanksgiving Parade from 1942 to 1944 due to the security concern and resource drain that the parade would cause as well as the fact that the balloon materials were being donated to the war effort.  A grim reason to break the tradition, for sure, but this ad explaining their position is all class.  And beautiful.

Mid-Century Living’s got a great feature on this Pyrex spread in the 1955 Better Homes and Gardens.  Enjoy the look and feel of these pages and head over there for more details.

As we head into the 1980s and 90s, the food takes a back seat to the stuff. The food’s still there, but it’s as much about what to watch on TV after the food and where to shop once you’re done eating.  It’s interesting to see the consumerism slowly begin to eclipse the other aspects of the holiday, as Black Friday is introduced as a pleasant experience…

Zayre really hammers home that the only valuable part of Thanksgiving is the food and that once that food is gone it is in your best interest to get as far away from your family as possible and also spend some money at Zayre.

Sears paints the after Thanksgiving shopping experience as a pleasant, spacious stroll through the store to buy a bunch of obsolete technology.

What did I miss? Any ads from past Thanksgivings stand out in your memory? Let me know!