10 Iconic Things You Didn’t Know Were Designed for Advertising


We’re all proud of our culture. From music, to food, we think of it as a part of us. We consider it our national or human identity. We enjoy knowing that our own preferences and choices helped create a unique country or region. However, many of the iconic things that we know or take part in today were not started due to simple cultural osmosis. Instead, they were shaped by marketing campaigns by extremely clever advertisers. In many ways, advertisers have managed to change the world without people even catching on.

10. The Hollywood Sign was Originally a Real Estate Ad


Today, the Hollywood sign is an iconic part of Americana. It’s immediately recognized around the world, and considered a monument to movies. The sign is well protected by the best modern security systems in order to prevent vandalism. As far as many Americans are concerned, it’s as important a cultural touchstone as many national monuments and parks.

However, despite the fact that people now generically refer to the Los Angeles area movie making industry as simply “Hollywood” because of the sign, it originally had absolutely nothing at all to do with film. It was put up in the 1930s by a real estate company who wanted to advertise a new development in the area, where they were selling properties. At the time, the sign actually had a longer name and was fully written out as “Hollywoodland.” That was the name of the development.

The sign was decked out in lights and incredibly vivid, for all to see from a distance. It was also supposed to be just a temporary advertisement. While it was stripped of some of its letters to make it more generic, and had the bright flashing lights removed, people kept it up over the years because of the unique flair that it gave to the area. People’s sentimental attachment allowed it to became almost a national monument to movies, despite it having nothing to do with them whatsoever.

9. The “Traditional” American Breakfast was Designed to Sell Bacon

bacon eggs

Many people today eat bacon and eggs for breakfast. Heck, it’s become stunningly trendy to just eat bacon, and skip the eggs. However, back in the early 1900s this was not the case at all. Many people had a breakfast of something like simple oatmeal or porridge most of the time. That is, until Edward Bernays came along. This man was a marketing genius. He was potentially an evil genius, too. Bernays managed to convince women to smoke, despite the health risks, by getting them to think of it as an act of liberation and freedom.

Bernays was hired to increase the sales of bacon, and immediately went to work on one of the most misleading, and also most effective marketing campaigns in history. He surveyed thousands of doctors and asked them if it would be better to have a light breakfast or a hearty breakfast to start your day. As you might imagine, the doctors overwhelming said that a heartier breakfast was the way to go.

Bernays then started a national campaign talking about his survey and how important a hearty breakfast was. The information about his survey was always accompanied by bacon and eggs, the breakfast that he was touting as the “hearty” and healthy new way to start your morning. Despite most doctors agreeing that bacon is not a particularly healthy food, one man managed (through marketing) to make it a part of most of America’s daily routine.

8. Gendered Clothing Colors are Due to Clothing Advertisements


Spoiler alert: colors don’t really have anything to do with gender or sexual preference. Yet many people in the Western world are convinced that blue for boys, and pink is for girls. Some people have even been known to buy one color of clothes anticipating a certain gender, and then been disappointed when it turns out that they bought the “wrong” color. Often, some men will go to great lengths to never be seen wearing pink. They think it’s an embarrassing color for men to wear.

What many people don’t realize is that the entire idea of gendered clothing colors was started by a department store advertisement back in the early 1900s. It suggested one color for baby boys and another color for baby girls. It was really just supposed to be a cute advertising idea to get people to stock up on a specific color of clothing. This idea would make it easier for stores to mostly carry just a couple colors, and keep their customers completely satisfied.

However, what you might not know is that originally, that advertisement suggested that pink should be the color for boys, and blue should be the color for girls. Customers actually seemed to like the color choices, but wanted to switch them around the other way. So, the advertisements eventually changed course to match customer preference.

7. Sweetest Day Was Invented by Big Candy in Order to Drive Up Sales

sweetest day

For those who haven’t heard of it, Sweetest Day is a sort of second, or alternative, Valentine’s Day celebrated in the United States. Some people celebrate it. Some wonder why we have an almost identical version of another holiday. Now, most people are already convinced that Sweetest Day was probably dreamed up and promoted by people with a product to sell. What they don’t realize is that their ire is probably directed at the wrong people.

A lot of the blame is directed at greeting card companies, like Hallmark. In particular, it’s the less well known company, American Greetings, that’s usually blamed for this atrocity of a holiday. However, while the greeting card companies have certainly taken advantage of the fabricated holiday, they had nothing to do with it at all. The key is in the name “Sweetest Day.” While it may refer to someone’s sweetheart, it’s also designed to bring to mind the word sweet. As in, sweet tooth. Buying candy on Sweetest Day is considered an important tradition.

The truth is that the tradition was started by a panel of candy company owners in the early 1920s. They were looking for a way to boost sales, and came up with a brand new holiday in which people would be expected to buy a lot of candy for their partner. In reality, they got away clean with the entire thing. Most people who actually partake in the holiday buy candy on Sweetest Day. They also continue to blame the greeting card companies for the whole mess at the same time.

6. The Need for Deodorant was Actually Taught to People by Advertising


Most people today think of deodorant as just an accepted part of life. Well, most hygienic people, anyway. Many people, even those who shower daily, would be loath to go without deodorant. For most people it’s considered a huge social embarrassment to be sweaty or smelly. But it actually wasn’t always that way at all. Back in the early 1900s, deodorant simply was not a thing. Sometimes people would use perfumes, and people did wash. But the idea of using an antiperspirant product, or even worrying that much about smell was not all that common.

Then a young entrepreneur named Edna Murphey came along. She had an antiperspirant/deodorant product that her father had used for surgery, to keep his hands from sweating. She was trying to sell it to stop people from sweating in general, but for a long time she struggled to get anyone to buy it. While it was still in a fairly primitive form and harder to use than it is now, many people were just totally uninterested in the entire concept.

So, she got the help of an ad agency and started working on a marketing campaign. The goal was to convince people that being sweaty and smelly was absolutely the height of social embarrassment. They went to great lengths to push this narrative. Before long, Murphey had taken the motto “create a need and fill it” quite literally, and created an industry that is now worth $18 billion a year.

5. “Size Matters” because Advertising (and Porn) Says So

size matters

One of the most accepted ideas in current society is that a man needs a large “member” in order to be an attractive mate. This has become so ingrained that many young men are incredibly insecure about the size of their penis, and will even consider paying large amounts of money to shady companies that offer “enhancement” products.

However, the truth is that worrying about the size of your member is actually a more recent invention. While societies throughout history have nearly always considered the sexual organs important, there is little historical evidence of people obsessing over an inch or two like many do in modern days. In fact, even if you ask women today, there is quite a disconnect between them and many of the men who worry about it. Women tend to be more worried about the girth than length. They’ll also often point out that sometimes it can actually be so big that it’s painful.

This obsession began in fairly recent years, partly due to the rise of porn, especially in the internet age. Most of these scenes will always demand the biggest and best everything, and people began considering this as the standard of what things should be. However, what truly took mens’ insecurity and elevated it to a new level are the manufacturers of so called “male enhancement” products. Essentially, snake oil full of crushed bits of every alleged aphrodisiac known to man, along with legal steroids. These advertisers played on mens’ insecurities by interviewing (obviously paid) women and men about the subject. These actors talked up how a man just wasn’t a man if he didn’t have a large enough member. The advertisers want you to care, but there is no real reason to.

4. Baumgartner’s Leap was Essentially a Giant Red Bull Ad

In 2014, Felix Baumgartner made a record breaking leap above the upper atmosphere, and made it safely to ground without any harm done. It was an incredibly epic feat that was noticed and watched the world over. Soon, it was plastered all over every corner of the internet. No one would question that Baumgartner pulled off an extremely difficult stunt and will go down in the history books. But what may not be quite so obvious in those history books is that the entire thing was a gigantic marketing stunt.

Some people are familiar with the fact that his leap was broadcast during the Super Bowl, as an ad for the GoPro he was using. But what others may not realize is that the true beneficiary of all the brand recognition was Red Bull. It seems obvious now, but at the time few noticed the Red Bull logo plastered on every video and all over his suit. All to give truth to their slogan, “Red Bull gives you wings.”

Red Bull actually makes quite a habit of this type of advertising. They commonly get people who take part in extreme sports to show off their slogans and then put them up on their YouTube channel. However, the Baumgartner leap was by far their most successful video of all.

3. The Recent Surge in Body Acceptance for Women was Started by Dove

body acceptance

In recent years, the conversation about different body shapes, and the kind of clothes women are usually expected to wear, has come along incredibly far. There is a lot of talk and action now about the fact that women’s clothing sizes are almost designed to make them feel shame. And clothing designers and other beauty product manufacturers only design their products with a specific body type (and sometimes even skin tone) in mind. Many women have increasingly been taking back their dignity and pointing out that some healthy and perfectly beautiful bodies are not necessarily skinny.

This has been very good for all genders, as it helps people feel more secure about themselves. It also makes manufacturers more likely to begin changing their advertising and design habits to fit the consumer’s needs. However, what many people may not realize is that this conversation was actually kick started by a major beauty product manufacturer, looking to find a way to turn their brand around.

Dove started a campaign about a decade ago called “Real Beauty,” showcasing women of different looks and body types. This began a public conversation about accepting all kinds of people, whether young or old, and embracing the beauty within. Some people, at the time, thought it was nothing but a strange or cynical gimmick. Some thought it would only hurt Dove’s sales, since the message seemed to imply women didn’t really need their products. Instead, the results have been beyond successful. The conversation they started has taken off in a way they never could have imagined.

2. Basically Everything You Believe About Jewelry


Many people have heard of the De Beers company and their shenanigans. But for those who haven’t, they’re basically the evil shadowy hand that controls the diamond industry. In power since well before the 1900s, they control nearly all of the world’s diamond supply. They use their monopoly to hold back supply to artificially drive up demand. While some people are starting to become aware of how awful the conditions are for diamond miners, and just how fixed the prices are, many don’t realize just how long De Beers has been doing this. Nor do they realize just how deep their tendrils go in many cultures’ psyches.

In the United States in particular, proposing marriage with a diamond ring is traditional. On top of that, you’re “supposed” to spend three month’s salary on the ring. However, it wasn’t always this way. Back in the 1930s the idea of even giving a diamond ring to propose at all was pretty uncommon, and De Beers was still trying to get it to catch on. Unfortunately, they were having trouble with sales and even with their price fixing, they weren’t making the profits they wanted.

They started a marketing campaign drumming up the idea that a proper courtship was done with a diamond ring. Even more to the point, they created that whole three month’s salary nonsense. De Beers went to the heart of insecure young men everywhere. They suggested that the value of the proposal depended on how much money the man was willing to spend. This ensured that whatever his wealth, he’d spend a large percentage of income lining the pocket of De Beers. Despite many people reading about De Beers, they continue to buy incredibly expensive diamond rings anyway. We have to grudgingly admit the marketing campaign worked that well.

1. The Difference Between “Rich” and “Poor” People Food


You might think of certain menu items as “rich” people food or “poor” people food. For example, the rich are known for eating things like caviar, foie gras, and expensive shellfish. Especially things like lobster or crab. However, people forget that whether a food is rich or poor depends on the economy and area. Caviar is seen as rich food, but is fairly common even among the poor in many of the Baltic states. The truth is, many expensive foods were once considered trash, fit only for the lowest of society.

In particular, lobster was once considered a poor person’s food. There was an overabundance of it, and many would have rather fed it to livestock than eat it themselves. Indentured servants complained about getting so much lobster, rules were established limiting it to only three meals per week.

Canneries on the coasts became bigger and more efficient, and figured out how to send lobster throughout the country. In order to market it, they took advantage of the fact most people didn’t know it was considered trash food. This allowed them to market it as an exotic delicacy. Before long, demand throughout the US had skyrocketed. The price started to shoot up, and it took its place in the pantheon of rich people food.

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