The EMD Guide to the 1950s: Commercials


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In the 1950s, television was just beginning to tighten its grip on the American consciousness. People tuned in to blockbuster television shows such as "I Love Lucy," "Dragnet" and "Lassie" in droves, and advertisers began to peddle their wares accordingly. Commercials for all kinds of food products hit the airwaves, from cereal and snack foods, to beer and cigarettes.

Though some ads were aimed at children, commercials targeted to (and meant only for) children had yet to come into their own; most commercials were aimed at the parents, with promises of high nutrition and good value (especially after all of the rationing that WWII brought). This emphasis on wholesome attributes was tempered with commercials that exuded a classy, aspirational air, especially for the more "adult" products, or when centered around more adult activities like going to the theater. Below, we've collected six of our favorite food commercials from the 50s.

Coke for Classiness

This ad shows the aspirational feeling that brands tried to spin in the 1950s. With the sweeping music, men in tuxedos and fancy theater-going, Coke is trying to posit itself as something that upwardly mobile suburbanites can enjoy whether they're wearing shorts or tails. See, Coke is the perfect refreshment for intermissions at the theater, unless you have a flask.


Cheerios and Dentyne

Oh boy! A free pack of Dentyne gum in my Cheerios! This commercial was obviously made before brands got good at marketing to kids, because, let's be honest, only old people eat Cheerios or chew Dentyne, and only mothers care about healthy nerves and teeth. Besides, "good red blood" is only a selling point to vampires.



This ad also epitomizes the 50s obsession with the crappy jingle that continues to haunt us to this day. I get the thrift part, but the nutritiousness? Kool-Aid is basically sugar water. Though I guess whistling automatically makes anything wholesome. And you know? I'm pretty sure a package of Kool-Aid is still about 5 cents!


Miller High Life

This Miller High Life ad, where nicely dressed suburbanites drink cheap beer out of wine glasses, coupled with that classic slogan — "The Champagne of Beers" — encapsulates suburban aspirations of the time. Brands that were old, cheap stalwarts during times of thrift in the 30s and 40s were now trying to re-brand themselves as something more special for all of those upwardly mobile young couples who were beginning to spend more. Plus, Miller High Life probably goes really well with all those cocktail weenies and aspics that you know were served at the party.


Chef Boyardee Pizza Mix

Here we also have another sparkling example of the annoying jingle. This commercial for Chef Boyardee pizza mix brings up so many questions. Did anyone actually eat this? How does the cheese not go bad in the box? If one of my friends proposed making this instead of going out, would I still be able to be friends with them? So many questions, so little time.



And, last but not least, the ultimate in 50s food commercials. I know it's not a real commercial, but it's Friday afternoon, and I challenge any of you not to watch the whole thing and have your day brightened just a little by Lucille Ball's comedic genius.

Rachael Oehring

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One Comment

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  1. Cara

    I didn't realize how long those Chef Boyardee pizza kits have been around -- they still sell them today!

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