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Old school advertising

Like many born just after the Second World War, I retain an irrational nostalgia for the austere 1950s that I would be hard pushed to explain.

Among my personal icons of the era, the Eagle comic fired my early imagination and its futuristic centre spreads papered the walls of my boyhood bedroom. Dan Dare, Harris Tweed and PC 49 still have a place in my consciousness 50 years after they first inspired me.

A Christmas gift from my son, the “Eagle Annual: The Best Of The 1950s Comic”, reminds me of something that I had quite forgotten: my favourite childhood read carried advertising! As someone deeply involved in the ethical debate surrounding advertising to children and teenagers, I must confess to a wry smile regarding the mores of my own childhood.

In an advertisement for Mars bars, proclaiming “Stars love Mars”, Terry-Thomas tells the primary school me that “Mars are marvellous – they fill the gap for me between meals!” No five-a-day in the halcyon 1950s; Terry-Thomas believes in Mars and more Mars because they are marvellous! Your daily sweet treat – and only 5d!

Salty shirts, oblivious of the marketing concerns of 2010, told my younger self I could “Be a big shot in a SUPER NEW SALTY!” Salty was their Clydella shirt brand for boys, and its message was “Wear a Salty, and look like a Leader!” If our concept of Pester Power was developed in the 1980s, Salty were way ahead of their time. Their ad urges kids to “Show this advertisement to your parents now; and the next time you’re in town, make sure you’re the proud owner of a Salty.”

Fifty years ago (26th Sept 1959) the Eagle’s publishers were kind enough to explain their stance on advertising to me and all their other readers in a special pull-out supplement entitled “ADVERTISING …serving every boy in Britain.”

I still hear their key argument in common use today: “Advertising helps to reduce the huge production costs, and so keeps this modest price down to its present level of four and a half pence. Without the support of our advertisers, the price would be seven and a half pence”.

The price argument is of course a good one, which is why it still has currency, but the Eagle felt that further explanation was required: “Advertising! It’s an exciting business and a very important one. In addition to your favourite strips and stories, you can read about a wonderful variety of products and services available throughout the land.

Take a typical copy of Eagle as an example.

There’s news of toys and sweets, clothes and careers and air travel – an amazing mixture of things being planned and made in different parts of the country by people just like your own parents…   If the goods were not advertised, you would never know anything about them. In that case, you could never buy them.”

I am not sure what all of this tells me except that I had remembered my favourite heroes from the comic and entirely forgotten the ads. I never did own a “Salty” and despite dear old Terry-Thomas’s exhortations to eat them at every opportunity, I only ever managed the occasional Mars bar, and still do.

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