Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Comical commerce

My friend Dave and I were talking the other night, indulging in advanced nostalgia as we older folks are prone to do, the sort of thing that sends the video game generation into spasms of eye rolling.

Dave recounted a story about his teenage pal who had the nickname Lard-ass. The kid reacted to his moniker by getting into intensive body-building, and ultimately turned himself into one of those pumped up guys who seemed to always be posing in ways that displayed their muscles to best advantage.

I commented that this reminded me of those "90 pound weakling" ads for Charles Atlas weights in the back pages of 1950s comic books like Superman, Batman, and Captain Marvel. Of course, these were the comics aimed at subteen boys who were still wrestling with all the insecurities of youth, still working out who they were and what they would become, how to get a date with Mary Lou, that sort of thing.

The clutch of ads in these books were completely predictable. There would be the kid getting sand kicked in his face on the beach, while his disgusted girlfriend looked like she was about abandon him for the muscled up guy. Geez, that would be about the worst thing ever, and it could all be avoided if you just signed up for the Charles Atlas program and spent 15 minutes a day.

There would be the ad for Daisy "Red Ryder" BB rifles. Boy, if you coulda just gotten your hands on one of those, you woulda been the big man on the block. Unfortunately, your mom said "Forget it, you'd put your eye out with that thing."

The Schwinn bicycle was also a standard part of the mix. The Schwinn people cleverly designed their bikes to look like a motorcycle, at least in the mind's eye of a 10-year-old with a lot of imagination. It was way cooler than the CCMs available at Canadian Tire and Eatons.

With a playing card clothespinned to the forks so the spokes made an engine sound, you were Marlon Brando in The Wild One.

Targeting youthful fantasies, these three advertisers, along with Double Bubble, pretty much financed the golden age of comic books.

It's a testimony to the power of advertising, and the talents of those long ago copywriters, that sixty years later we still recall them so vividly and with a certain amount of fondness.

1 comment:

  1. True,nothing was cooler than the noise of cardboad clothespinned to your bike wheel.

    Much more important though were the coloured streamers that hung from the handle grips. Boys never seemed to get into that in a big way for some reason.