Which Works for You: Subtle or Blatant Advertising?

Which Works for You: Subtle or Blatant Advertising?

Obviously, I liked this ad, as I didn’t forget it.

Subtle. A word meaning: not immediately obvious or comprehensible. Delicate or precise; in more modern terms I might add not in your face. And when it comes to advertisements, I think that’s a great thing. And such an opinion immediately lands me in the column old-fashioned or immediately accentuates my boomer status. But I’m at the point where I really don’t care.

And even though I’m an RN, I still wouldn’t want to be in a room with my grandchildren when Cialis is warning about an erection that could last over four hours. Cause can’t you hear the grandchildren asking: “What’s an erection?” And perfume: some of the commercials that come out around Christmas are so over-the-top, not to mention Victoria Secret who has no secrets. But more on that later.


So I took a walk down memory lane and found some more subtle examples of selling a product when it’s not in your face—but the message is clear. I have a fond memory of this Revlon commercial: a couple walking through the city and because she wears Charlie, she is confident to casually caress her partner’s derriere. The Charlie campaign used lots of similar images to convey a sexuality that was confident and chic, but no clothing was removed. The TV add featuring Shelley Hack and Bobby Short had a catchy tune–a winner, it sold lots of perfume.



In my preteen years, I was curious about an ad campaign that usually found its way into a side column in LIFE MAGAZINE. The drawings were colorful and I would study them and then read the text, at first unable to discover what the advertisement was selling. When my mother did convey this womanly secret, a lightbulb went on. Today, with images of tampons and pads, it feels like a video demonstration of how to use feminine hygiene products is just around the corner.

Which Works for You: Subtle or Blatant Advertising?

I kept reading the fine print.


And what about the bra commercials? They worked, but only on a mannequin. As Emily Singer wrote on Huff Post: Promoting long-lasting comfort, the bra commercials of yore sold a product that was meant to stay on, as opposed to be taken off.  

So it was this: Jane Russell and THE BRA:

Which Works for You: Subtle or Blatant Advertising?

Jane Russell







Now advancing to this, which is actually a much calmer image than some.

Which Works for You: Subtle or Blatant Advertising?

Yes, we women all think about this when we put on a bra.







As I wrote in my piece How Shopping For Lingerie Helped Me Accept My Mid-life BodyDon’t even try being innocent in these bras—immediately you’re a tigress. To push the fantasy, the models’ photos were air-brushed into perfection revealing completely bared buttocks in thongs and facial expressions that looked pre-, post- or in medias res orgasm. Now that’s some lingerie! The time-line had crashed over the edge of the flow chart. 


I remember in the early sixties, opening up a two-page spread that was also advertising perfume or maybe men’s cologne. The woman’s head and the man’s head filled the pages and they were kissing, but their mouths were slightly open. This was a first for me. But it was lovely, very well done. I can’t find that photo, but the one below is in that sixties vein.  English Leather was the scent. If updated, the ad might have shown the man without the turtle neck, or both of them naked. In a 1988 ad for the Musk English leather, the man is naked and the woman wearing a teddy. The slogan: the unfair advantage.

Which Works for You: Subtle or Blatant Advertising?

I think ad men like the character, Don Draper, began to decide that everything and anything was fair in love and advertising. Though now and again we do see a return to more subtle forms. But then it depends on the publication or venue–the magazine, newspaper, television or cable station–and the audience, the age group. So there are lots of variations.



In the seventies the five o’clock news always had a Geritol commercial–a multi-vitamin preparation which was advertised in liquid form–easier for those in their Barcaloungers to get the stuff down. Now it’s Cialis. But maybe that’s progress! What do you think?

Thanks for taking this partial walk down the memory lane of advertising. And if you have any old favorites that are subtle or sunny or you can’t forget them–please share. Through the years, Hallmark commercials were never subtle about what they wanted to convey–friendship, family, love. As my husband always says, I cry easily when seeing Hallmark commercials, so that makes me ????  a boomer, a mother, a grandmother. Yes! something I confess proudly.

Images: Thanks to Revlon; Buzz Feed: 9 Glamorous Kotex Ads from the 1950s. Victoria Secret. Flicker: English Leather Image. Thanks to You Tube.


Which Works for You: Subtle or Blatant Advertising?

For some reason–this doesn’t seem to change much.

4 thoughts on “Which Works for You: Subtle or Blatant Advertising?

  1. Beth,
    This is a great post. Advertising today is so NOT SUBTLE. I rarely find an add that isn’t blatantly shoving something into my face… and it drives me bananas. More so though I worry about what Grace, my nine year old daughter is witnessing. Lucky for us, most of what Grace watches has been edited by my husband to be free of commercials. However, there are times when Grace watches regular TV and there are ads that are so inappropriate for a child that I cringe and I try to distract her without her realizing she’s being distracting. Grace is inquisitive and more so OBSERVANT, she notices the littlest details. The other day at Carson’s we were window shopping in the shoe dept. I picked up a pair of neat boots, I thought these are really nice, my boots are starting to fall apart and water is leaking in them, maybe I should look for a new pair… then I looked at the price tag $288 for boots. A gorgeous pair yes, but who spends $288 on a pair of shoes. Not a working mother, who’s the sole breadwinner that’s for sure! I laughed and said “Grace look at these boots can you believe they are $288?” I thought she would be shocked as I was but she simply said “Of course they’re expensive, Mom they’re Coach!” I was flabbergasted how did she know what Coach was? So I asked her “Grace how do you know about Coach and that it’s expensive.” She replies “Oh I don’t know what Coach is but it’s all in GOLD LETTERS and there is this GOLD TAG on the boots of course it’s a lot of money, it’s GOLD MOM!” So, at 9 years old she realizes that advertising is making a statement. She recognizes something is expensive simply by the way it’s marketed/designed. Did I mention that she is 9?
    Kids notice things. They pay attention and they are listening to us and the world around them. I don’t know the exact statistic but recently I read something about the number of images/words per second that kids today see via television, billboards, commercials, signs, music, magazines, videos, the internet etc., etc., etc and it struck as being abnormally, insanely HIGH! They are bombarded with ‘noise’ everywhere they go and in essence so are we. We see what they see. While many of us can discern what we want to absorb better than a child, there are still many people where this bombardment just flows into them, like osmosis. It’s not catchy anymore, it’s not clever, it doesn’t make us think or appeal to the part of the brain that says “this is different, this is quirky, this is something noticeable…” And while advertising still tries to hit that shock button with things we will notice it just goes over the top. It tries to hard and in doing so it becomes blase.
    I love that “Charlie” ad from long ago. I still remember it. Even watching it today it makes me think that lady is really something cool!

  2. I like your idea that the harder the ad people work the more blasé we become about some of it. It is noise in the back ground. Sometimes I think the car ads are just for the people who have already bought that car–it makes them feel superior. The perfume and clothing ads are a way of making us feel inferior unless we have those products. I guess I watch boring TV because a lot of the ads I see are about food. And I’m not about to run out to Red Lobster just because I see an ad. But I did have fun writing this blog and digging up some of the old ones. Thanks for your input. Grace is smart, but you will guide her. The best thing you can do in Chicago is only let her watch Channel eleven!! Beth

  3. Some of these ads make me laugh out loud. The ED ad that voices, be ready when the mood strikes, while we view the happy couple at a baseball game. (The bat’s ready, let’s head to the men’s room?) And what about Matthew McConaughey slowly driving nowhere in his Lincoln Have you seen the SNL take-off of that?https://youtu.be/z3eN9u5N2Q4 Hilarious.

  4. Thanks, Adela. I certainly agree about the ED commercials and they are always
    on in the late afternoon with the news about the world falling apart!! But
    he’s going to be OKAY! Thanks, Beth

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