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Celebrating Illustration, Design, Cartoon and Comic Art of the Mid-20th Century

Mennen Maidens and Barbasol Babes

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Hhmmm... gorgeous well-endowed gal in revealing low cut top leaning forward and stroking her long curvy legs while giving us a 'come hither' look and the message "Your chances... are better..."

Nope, no double entendre here!

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Long before Axe discovered you could sell grooming products to men by draping delicious damsels all over your advertising, Mennen had that number. The ladies were lounging around in lingerie waiting for men with a smooooth Mennen shave!

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Meanwhile, over at Barbasol they'd come up with an entirely different strategy. I don't know what they used to put in this stuff, but apparently it was something so intoxicating it knocked women on their ass...

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... and dropped them to their knees at the mere thought of any guy who'd squeezed his tube that day. Barbasol tube that is.

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Lest you find images like this a little risqué and manipulative, let me assure you that the ad men of the '40s and '50s absolutely did not intend to mislead in any way. They earnestly believed that showing beautiful dancing girls together in a state of semi-undress was the most sincere and effective way of describing the beneficial qualities of a men's shaving product.

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These ads were conceived with only a desire to inform and educate.

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About croquet, for instance.

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Or popping popcorn.

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Any sexual innuendo you may perceive in these ads...

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... is purely a figment of your prurient 21st century imagination.

17 comments

  1. I love these! ... purely for aesthetic reasons, of course. Ahem.

    I could go on to talk about how well the limited palette works, etc., but I'm probably not fooling anyone. ;)

    Some of these would have worked well for comic book or dime novel covers. Great stuff!

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  2. What's really interesting to me is that the ads appear to have come from LIFE Magazine, which I would have thought was a bit more "family" oriented. Great stuff, indeed!

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  3. My favorite bit of purple prose from Barbasol is this bit, accompanying an illustration with a girl and a soldier on a bike:

    Concerning a smooth ride and a Barbasol shave - Yes, where moving parts are concerned, SMOOTHNESS makes for SPEED. And comfort, too. That’s why Barbasol means a faster, finer, sweeter shave. Its SUPERFINE ingredients give your blade a smooth ride through your whiskers and PREVENT FRICTION between your skin and razor. Try Barbasol and get yourself a smoother Barbasol Face - the kind a LADY likes to keep in touch with! Try Barbasol and see how entirely superior it is for BETTER SHAVING.

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  4. It's hard to tell for sure, but that second piece with the girl on the phone looks like it's signed by the famous Mad magazine cover artist Norman Mingo (?)

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  5. Eric; yup, you spotted it. I believe both those Mennen pieces are by Mingo.

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  6. Patrick; I also found it pretty incredible to see some of these in Life - esp. the bare chested dancing girls, which seems incredibly risqué for the times. But there you go. :^)

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  7. Jennifer; that's some seriously priceless copywriting. No doubt composed by a genuine Madison Avenue wordsmith in a fit of three-martini-lunch inspiration that must have melted the keys right off his vintage 1940s Smith-Corona. ;^)

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  8. Huw; I share your academic appreciation for this very sincere work. ;^)

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  9. It's called "the tease". Obviously the purpose was to catch attention, and if a guy believed that after using the product, he would really be irresistible to gorgeous babes that look like the ones in the ad, then he's hopelessly living in his own fantasy world. There were many different ways to promote a product, the written word, visually and emotionally, etc. Ads can imply or suggest all they want, but the bottom line is if the product can compete in the marketplace. Beautiful women and marketing go back a lot further than the 1940s'. During WW2, the pin-up calendar girl was incredibly popular, so it is no surprise to me that it was used in ads, when promoting a male oriented product.

    Okay, time to stock up on Barbasol, or maybe I should switch to Menen.. hummmmm. I sure as hell not going to grow a beard and miss out on the rewards of a smooth face. ;-)

    Tom Watson

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  10. So beautiful! This page is like a good TV series for illustration lovers! Thank you!

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  11. Actually,these ads merely illustrate the simple,unvarnished truth that most men wouldn't shave,use mouthwash,change their underwear or socks,comb their hair,or bathe unless they wanted to impress women.
    As for the "double entendre"comment,I don't know about your Canadian swingers' clubs,but I believe that"Your chances...are better..."refers to getting a smootch,rather than the total wanton lust-fest we expect in these modern times.
    But hey...nice artwork.Way to go,Norman Mingo!

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  12. You sure can be funny, Leif!

    Absolutely hilarious job, this one, LOL.

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  13. Steve; I'm sure you're right - when trying to convey the message that one should shave if one want to 'get a smooch' its important to show women spilling out of their scantiest apparel. That makes perfect sense. Otherwise how would men realize the girl wants to kiss them?

    I'm not sure what the 'Canadian swingers' clubs' has to do with this, but if you're referring to how each summer, during the two weeks when the snow recedes, Canadian children emerge from their igloos and run to their local playgrounds to use the swing sets, then yes, those are indeed popular clubs up here, I suppose. It does however take quite a bit of skill for the kids to balance their Tim Horton's coffees in one hand and their Dumaurier cigarettes in the other while swinging. ;^)

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  14. Tom; I think you proved my point, so thanks! It is indeed called 'the tease' - as in striptease... and just as a stripper manipulates the gullible male into surrendering his hard-earned dollars with the illusionary promise of sex, so too do these ads attempt to manipulate the gullible male consumer into believing his use of the product will attract "the women in the red dress." Those 1950s ad men were no fools in their understanding that the average guy is a fool.

    But hey - I was lead to believe you were only here for the "eye candy" - not to discuss "ideology." So, enjoy, pal. ;^)

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  15. Rich; I sure am glad somebody around here understands tongue-in-cheek humour. Thanks, buddy! :^)

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  16. videinti
    Okay Leif, what if all products were advertised on the bases of a picture of the product, a can of Barbasol in this case? I guess that the best looking can might sell the best.. right? But that's not much fun just looking at a can with the product name, etc., so as a male consumer, you just might enjoy looking at an ad that had sexy babes around the product. And, you just might remember that product over the competition, and give it a try. There are some men that might think that if they buy and use that product, they will suddenly become irresistible to women, just because they saw an artist's conception of a man's face being caressed by a sexy babe, and the copy alluded to that. We called these men "idiots", and focusing only on the consumer "idiot" was usually not considered a winning strategy. Even the guy that watches a strip tease or a pole dancer, is there for eye candy and a turn on, while he kicks back and loosens up with his buddies. There are always exceptions, as I pointed out with the "idiot", but I think Barbasol and Mennen were more interested in the average guy.. unless you think the average guy in mid century American was an "idiot". Did I prove your point again? if so, "your welcome".
    ;-)

    Tom Watson

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  17. Look, buddy, I've shaved with Barbasol from a tube, and I never had a pneumatic babe jump on my chest and rub my face! This stuff is hooey...

    By the way, if you haven't used tubed shaving cream, you haven't enjoyed the closest thing to smearing curdled pig fat on your face. Only the ministrations of one of said pneumatic babes would convince me to try it again.

    And by the way again, Norman Mingo's career as a commercial illustrator goes back to the 1920s. He ran an art studio; their pieces were often signed with a pine-tree symbol. As I heard the story, Mingo was in semi-retirement when he saw Bill Gaines' classified ad looking for a cover painter.

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