Sex Sells #10: Where You Least Expect It

What type of products would you consider the primary offenders of the "sex sells" philosophy of advertising? Magazines are probably the top users of sexual imagery, which is not surprising considering their sales are defined by their cover image.  Record albums operated on the same principle, and were just as guilty of using cheesecake to boost sales. Can you blame them? It worked.

I'd also have to say automobile, fashion, cologne, cigarettes and alcohol advertising are frequent offenders.

However, what continually gives me great delight (don't ask me why) is to find the "sex sells" principle in a vintage advertisement or promotional material where you'd least expect it. I've shown you sexual imagery used for marketing denture cream, rice, batteries, and crackers in previous posts. Well, let's look a few more unexpected examples of "sex sells" in action.

Here's a new one for you - time delay relays! WTF? Is this the sort of product that can influence its customers using female anatomy? Seems like you either need a time delay relay, or you don't. I'm just sayin'.

Here's 10 more unexpected vintage examples of  "sex sells" in action...

1. boot polish

2. Ammonium Sulphate

3. pipe and bolt threading machine (click here for more Rigid Tools advertising)

4. "stacked" ovens (source: Found in Mom's Basement)

5. slide projectors

6. garbage disposals

7. towels (this is actually from a 1945 Ladies Home Journal!)

source: kocojim

8. lawn mowers

This power mower ad is a famous example. The ad appeared in House Beautiful magazine in April 1952 as shown above, but the following month the woman's dress had somehow become significantly longer.  Who ordered her skirt to be repainted? Advertising mythology blames the account client's wife.  No one knows for sure.

9. snow blowers

10. Pipe Welding


  1. Oh yes, Rigid is famous for their use of the company name and pin-ups. Tools are marketed to, and bought by, "real men" so using sex to sell them makes perfect sense. Just saying.

    That towel ad seems like it must have been in Esquire, I can't image another magazine that would have carried an ad like that. Of course, I'm sure I'm wrong.

  2. First, I've just discovered Retrospace and I am loving it! Are you on Facebook? Second, the "Finest Projection Equipment" is the best--the twin torpedoes look is so hilariously dated...and yeah. Rigid gives me fits of Beavis and Butthead-isms.

  3. Well, it's convinced me. I'm off to buy some ammonium sulphate right now!

  4. In high school (1977) I did a poster for the Yearbook drive that had a drawing of a buxom blonde lounging and the great big word SEX. In smaller print, it said, "Now that I have your attention it's time to order your Yearbook." It was the ONLY school-oriented thing I ever did (I hated high school!) and it was pulled down the first day and we were all lectured about not being inappropriate. I'm sure I swiped the idea from somewhere but I STILL like it!

  5. Joe, I am not on Facebook. I already waste an ungodly amount of time on Retrospace, Flickr and Tumblr... anything else, and I think I'd be overdoing it (I probably already am).

    Retrohound, I'm well familiar with the hallowed history of Rigid Tools, and I understand it's something marketed primarily to men. However, it still strikes me as odd that something like a bolt threading machine would use cheesecake. It's kind of like having a buxom babe modeling for roof shingles or a sump pump - men are the primary buyers, but does that in itself make cheesecake really necessary? Just a thought.

  6. #4: Mel Cooley, you old dog, you!

  7. Don Draper would be proud! Let's face it, I would buy a tube of Preparation H from a scantily clad hand model, even if I didn't have hemorrhoids.

  8. Where, exactly, do chicks shovel snow in bikinis?

    No! I'm serious! I want to know!

  9. I love that Richard Deacon makes an appearance in the Thermodor ad. Not only is the oven stacked...so is his female companion! Had me cracking up!

  10. Regal Gas Chlorinators used to run ads in trade magazines featuring a "Regal Gal" who changed monthly. The "Regal Gal" was always posed seductively, caressing a gas chlorinator. She was nude, but the important bits were always covered up by a banner; to see the rest of her, you had to send a postcard to the company, which would then send you information on gas chlorinators, and an uncensored version of the photo. This promotion was still running in the mid-1980s.

  11. For those who don't know, Richard Deacon played Mel Cooley on Dick Van Dyke.

    Wow, policomic! That's even stranger than the ammonium sulphate girls.

  12. Perhaps it says something about me, but a "pipe and bolt" machine made by a company named Ridgid being sold by cheesecake makes perfect sense to me. I mean, they're halfway to unintentional obscenity anyway; go whole hog, I say! The part I'm having trouble with is figuring out just what the hell using a ballerina means.

  13. Booth babes were and are a part of many industry trade shows. So not at all surprised at the cheesecake.

    Some ads in the IT field were famously raunchy; sadly I've been unable to find the ones I most remembered...

  14. I believe the woman with Richard Deacon in the Thermodor ad is Lana Wood - Natalie Wood's sister.