KA-CHING-A-LING: Christmas Advertising Highlights 1949-2011

VariousArtists presents, KA-CHING-A-LING: Christmas Advertising Highlight 1949-2011

Season’s Greetings from Schlitz.  And Joan from Mad Men (Life, December 1960) .

NOTE: I am pausing from my series to bring you a series of Christmas-related posts, a few of which were initially published on my OpenSalon blog.

Christmas is the season of peace, good cheer, and jollity … and maxing out your credit card; stressing over what to buy everyone in between bouts of insomnia as you try to recall if you bought Uncle Walt a similar pair of McGregor socks last year; rock’em sock’em parents giving each other a sharp right hook as they fight over the last (insert latest toy fad here) on the shelves while dodging pepper spray; abused, overworked sales staff squaring off against exhausted, overheated shoppers to discern who’s more fed up; mall patrons launching law suits following multi-car fender benders after a downpour of freezing rain has turned the parking lot into a fiesta of black ice …

Yes, there is no doubt about it, Clausfest is truly a special time of year.  And it’s also the time of year when advertisers have traditionally hammered their messages home.

What follows are Christmas-related ads gleaned and scanned from my magazine collection, spanning a copy of Life  from November 1949 to an edition of Vanity Fair on the newstands during the previous holiday season (I’ve also included a few less seasonal-specific ads from this same clutch of publications as well as some of their Christmas-skewed features). There’s also a lot of celebrity sightings among these specimens, both real and imagined (the former would include a 5-year-old Candice Bergen).

Adverts often say much about a particular culture at a given point in time, with this cache of ads drawn from both general and specific-topic publications from Canada, the USA, the UK, and France. I have grouped the ads together but have split the entry into two foci: gift giving (which items have been singled out as worthy from then until now and how they have been flogged and positioned) and the many facets of Xmas entertaining (read: an avalanche of booze ads).

So, pull out the sleigh, ply the reindeer with high-carb energy drinks, and away we go …


A Wondrous Bevy of Consumer Delights

Beverly Center, Out Magazine 1995

You could start your cash hemorrhaging at L.A.’s upscale Beverly Center. You know, I never trusted that Donner — a right bloody snitch. (Out, December/January 1995).

Jantzen Sweaters 1949

Perhaps you and a vacant lovely would look stunningly innocuous in some Jantzen Nylo-Fleece sweaters. I’ll bet he carries that damn mistletoe everywhere during the season (Life, November 1949).

Borg Scale

Which of you ladies out there wouldn’t be simply delighted to find a Borg Scale under your tree this Christmas? No? Well, the woman in the ad doesn’t look too convinced either. And that’s Madonna, right? (detail below).

Borg Scale Madonna
(Life, November 1951)
Max Factor Canadian Magazine 1969

I swear my sister had that perfume bottle with the black cat in it, back in the day (Canadian Magazine, December 1969). If these fine Max Factor perfumes — priced from $2.25 to a whopping $12.50! — aren’t going to do the trick, then cut to the chase and …

Cartier Vanity Fair 2012

… make it a Cartier Christmas … just don’t drop them in the snow like some putz obviously did here. The jewel resetting will cost a fortune (Vanity Fair, January 2012).

Hamilton Watches Life Magazine 1951

You really can’t go wrong with a watch. Here, Peggy not only gets a Hamilton, but also a charming note from, er, Jim who is a dead ringer for Dirk Bogarde. Check out his thoughtful prose in the detail below:

Hamilton Watches Detail

She does all that and all she gets is a lousy watch?! I mean, 2,008 pairs of socks! Peggy: pity her. As for “finding my … rubbers, heaven knows how often!” … well, can you blame her for not wanting to breed any further with Jim the Doofus?  At least he has nice penmanship (Life, November 1951).

Helbrose Watches, Life Magazine 1951

Got time for a candy cane? (Life, November 1951)

Ritepoint Lighters, Life Magazine 1959

I wish that I could crystalize gift targets as succinctly as Lady Ritepoint (Life, November 1959).

Sheaffer Pens, Canadian Magazine 1969

Gone are the days when a mere “instrument of fine penmanship” impresses, although that three-piece Lady Sheaffer — “a feminine accessory few women own” — is excitement incarnate. I’ll bet even fewer women own a set today (Canadian Magazine, December 1969).

Company Q, Out Magazine 1996

If ever there was an ad that radiated sportswear, this is it (Out, December/January 1996).

Kid’s Corner

Tiny Tears, Life Magazine

You better believe it’s “the gift she’ll never forget”: she’ll be investing in a lifetime of post-trauma therapy to help her deal with the horror of being given this soppy, creepy creature from His Redstuff (Life, November 1951).

Flexible Flyer, Life Magazine 1951

I loved tobogganing as a boy, and this is one nifty ad for the classic sled. No “Rosebud” angst here (Life, November 1951).

Milton Bradley Games, Life Magazine 1959

I don’t recall any of these games (except Chutes and Ladders, although it was Snakes and Ladders up here) so clearly they had a limited life span, although that Uncle Wiggly Game looks pretty bitchin’. And remember: always wear a tie when playing Racko (Life, November 1959).

Gifts on Wheels

Caddilac, Life Magazine 1955

Damn straight it would be “the Christmas they’ll never forget” if someone gave me a Cadillac, particularly if it’s the pictured model (Life, December 1955).

Plymouth, Life Magazine 1950

You can drive proudly to Grandma’s — via a Norman Rockwell ad — in the new family Plymouth. Scream loudly, Junior: Gran is upstairs trying to grind her sedative into a fine pulp before dissolving it into two shots of Bols advocaat in an attempt to deal with this lot. Hey, isn’t the middle child Patricia Krenwinkel, one of the Manson girls? Better make it a double, Granny (and hide the carving knife and forks) (Life, December 1950).

Mobile Oil, Life Magazine 1949

Before heading to Granny’s, though, make sure you top up the car with Mobil Oil (Life, November 1949).

For the Home

Speed Queen, Life Magazine, 1949

I vaguely remember my parents still having a washing machine like this in the mid-60s. I must say, though, in my day the phrase “Speed Queen” had a whole other connotation (Life, November 1949).

Clock Radios, Life Magazine 1951

How nice that they got one each of the Stepford Wives and Children for a clock radio ad. Or perhaps Leering Daddy spiked their OJ with a couple of Miltowns (Life, November 1951).

Zenith, Life Magazine 1959

Whaddya mean, Zenith doesn’t have a solid state iPad equivalent? (Life, November 1959).

Magnavox, Life Magazine 1951

Here is famed ventriloquist Edgar Bergen watching a razor sharp transmission of his puppet, Charlie McCarthy, on this luxurious Magnavox TV, with his wife and daughter. Yes folks, presenting Candice Bergen, age 5 (detail below).

Candice Bergen 1951

(Life, November 1951)

Motorola TV, Life Magazine, 1959

If Magnavox isn’t your brand of choice, you can pump for a Motorola Television FM-AM Radio, Multi Play Changer — here, with a creepy clown on the TV’s “12 ½” BROADVIEW screen” along with a record player that changes and “plays all three record types … 33 1/3, 45 or 78 r.pm.”  I also love how they use the different family portraits for the corresponding product demographic identification (Life, November 1959).

RCA Record Player with Little Nipper, Life Magazine 1959

If you want a more basic model, there’s this one from RCA … although, frankly, what I really want is the Little Nipper figure (Life, November 1959).

Columbia House, Life Magazine 1960

Once you have all this high end stereo equipment, how about joining the Columbia House Record Club for something to play on them. I’ve spotlighted some of the more interesting selections, including Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, which is probably one of the few titles here that still sells. Check out the blurb for The Brothers Four: “Folk favorites sung by today’s most exciting team ‘in sprightly fashion.’”   Also note the sadly recently deceased Dave Brubeck, above (Life, December 1960).

HMV, The Face, 1984

I do declare … lose the socks with the shorts and loafers, bub, before heading into HMV (and there’s Little Nipper again, albeit in a stylized fashion here) (The Face, December 1984).

Boots, New Musical Express, 1983

Let’s Dance, Kissing To Be Clever, Rio, Thriller, No Parlez … yep, it’s 1983 (… and Synchronicity too) (New Musical Express (NME), December 1983).

Woolworths, Q Magazine 2001

Meanwhile, almost 20 years later, titles have jumped from £3.99 albums to £12.99 CDs. As for available selections … Yes! to Moby, that first Coldplay album, and that great Blur compilation, but I’ll pass on that ghastly Santana disc (Q Magazine, January 2001).

Beatles CDs, Uncut Magazine, 2010

I’m still waiting for them to officially reissue their Christmas Flexidiscs, complete with Tiny Tim (Uncut, January 2010).

Very Special Christmas, Vanity Faire 1996

As someone who worked in record retail during the late 1980s and early 1990s, I probably heard this damn thing a few hundred times. It has its moments, but … (Vanity Fair, December 1996)

RuPaul Ho Ho Ho, Out Magazine 1998

… I’ll take RuPaul’s Ho Ho Ho instead (and the tag line is brilliant) (Out, December/January 1998).

Columbia Classic Videos, Uncut 2002

Talk about a fast transition … 10 years ago, these classic titles were “now available on DVD” …. and today DVDs are fading away. I’ll take Vertigo with a side order of The Wild One for starters and Taxi Driver for dessert (Uncut, January 2002).


Of course, a subscription to a loved one’s favourite magazine always makes for a great seasonal gift that keeps on giving year round — just like a social disease only decidedly more pleasant. Why there’s …

Macleans Subscription 1965

… Maclean’s in Canada. See that shade of green in the order form below? Cublet and I have noticed that variants on this particular shade always popping up in mid-century colour films and television as a visual code for luxury. You never see it anymore (December 1965).

Macleans Subscription Form 1965

Macleans 2003

Almost 40 years later, Gordon Sinclair is gone and Santa is in.  The subscription price has also gone up a few pennies (November 2003).

Lennon Magazine Subscription Uncut 2005

John Lennon aptly demonstrates the advantages of subscriptions-as-gifts for the mail-bound gift giver (Uncut, December 2005).

   NME Santa Cover 1983

Of course magazines often tie the season in with year-end editions and themes, a few examples being this great Jazz Santa graphic for an NME cover (and whatever happened to Marilyn?) … (December 1983)

Christmas Tree Crafts, Life Magazine 1950

… Life’s cut-out decorative cardboard crafts that can be made in an hour (as if today’s urchins have that kind of time to spare) …. (December 1950)

Motorhead Calendar, Flexipop 1981

… or this tuly “ace,” festive Motorhead calendar for 1982, courtesy of the fine folks at Flexipop (December 1981).


Part Two focusses on seasonal entertaining.  Be it having a drunken shindig in advance of Santapalooza or having the whole family over on the 25th for turkey and all the fixins (and a drunken shindig), here are 62 years worth of tips that tell you what you need to know about being prepared, what to serve (and which consumables make great gifts), and how to capture it all for posterity.

So, take a deep breath, get out your checklist and let the preparations begin …

The Invitation Process

To begin, invitees must first be contacted.  You can notify the expected guests in a variety of ways.

Gibbon Cards, Life November 1951

Perhaps you could do so via a lovely Gibson Christmas Card (Life, November 1951) …

HP, Toronto Life November 2006

…. or you could be creative and make/print them yourself at home.  Note: pictures from last year of Grandma heaving under the Christmas Tree after one too many Brandy Alexanders probably wouldn’t make for the most appropriate festive image (Toronto Life, November 1996).

 UK Post, Q January 1998

Whether you make or buy your cards or invitations, you’ll still need to mail them out.  Here, Pete is blackmailing/stalking poor Louise into responding.  Run Louise, run: the 26p isn’t worth it (Q, January 1998).

Canada Post, Canadian Magazine 1969

Also be sure to sure to get everything in the mail on time to avoid that “Christmas Blush” (whoa, that’s cloying).  Hey Santa: this is what the elves are for (Canadian Magazine, December 1969).

Bell, Life November 1959

Perhaps you could simply call and ask your guests to your gathering.  If you do so, ensure that the colours of your lipstick, nail polish, and top match that of your phone and Christmas cookies.  Also ensure that the phone accomplishes the unrealistic feat of floating in space, ahead of the cookie jar (Life, November 1959).

Remember to Decorate and Be Prepared for Guests!

Life Nov 59 Holiday Sprinkles BLOG

You’ll need to have your place suitably seasonably decorated.  What could possibly say Merry Christmas more than spraying tons of possibly toxic, flammable Annie Sprinkle, er, Holiday Sprinkles over seemingly everything (Life, November 1959).

Life Nov 59 Samsonite port BLOG

You’ll probably need some additional seating, and this Samsonite portable furniture should do the trick.  Somehow, those dresses don’t seem Samsonite-table appropriate (Life, November 1959).

 CanMag Dec 69 Kleenex Holiday Colours BLOG

Don’t forget the purty kleenex in the bathroom and, as one of my redneck nabes calls them, “asswipes.” Perhaps “you’ll have the most radiant bathroom in town” may not have been the best choice of words.  BTW, is that a Barbra Streisand doll? (Canadian Magazine, December 1969).


You’ll of course need refreshments for your guests, and it’s a safe bet that having some brewskis on hand is a good thing.

 Beer, Life Magazine

This ad, that I procured as a stand alone page and isn’t necessarily seasonally-targeted, coronates Beer as “America’s Beverage of Moderation.”  I don’t know when I’ll get that chance, but I hope to one day use that tagline in a conversational sentence.  Can I also say how much I’ve always loved the sound of the word “beverage.” (Life, date unknown).

Schlitz, Life 1950

And then there are the less moderate.  You know how the song goes, “What made Milwaukee Famous …”  BTW, the woman in the ad is a dead ringer for an old time actress but I can’t put my finger on who.  Any ideas, dear readers? (Life, December 1950).

Miller Beer, Out 1996

Apparently Miller is the beer of choice for those with ADD.  Meowy Claws looks decidedly non-plussed with the drunkenly accessorised Christmas finery (Out, December/January 1996).

Booze, Glorious Booze!

If there is one thing I learned from undertaking this exercise, it’s that Christmas may truly trump the summertime when it comes to promoting potent potables.  I actually had to whittle this section down to something manageable.  However, I’m still pretty blown away that I came across no gin ads in any of the issues.  For shame.

Let’s get started with a round of “You Touch It, You Drink It” with ….


Smirnoff, Macleans 1965

The 1960s meet the 1840s (Macleans, December 1965).

Smirnoff, Out 1998

I’ve tried this mantra myself when wrapping up booze as gifts, and sometimes it even works (Out, December 1998).

Stolichnaya, Vanity Fair 1996

I love this illustration, although while the illustrator nailed Omar Sharif, his Julie Christie is less successful (Vanity Fair, January 1996).

Absolut, Details 1991

I could have done a post of just Absolut ads through the years.  However, since it is my vodka of choice, I’ll include these three favourites (Details, December 1991) …

Absolut, Details 1994

… (Details, December 1994) …

Absolut, Out 1996

 … and wouldn’t I love that train set (Out, December/January 1996).

The Dark Stuff

Black and White, Life 1960

You can have Lassie as long as the iconic Black & White terriers are all mine (Life, December 1960).

Seagrams VO, Macleans 1965

This gets my vote as the “Most Canadian” Whisky ad of the ’60s.  It makes me want to go curling … and I don’t even like curling (Macleans, November 1965).

Glenlivet, Out 1995

Makes you think, doesn’t it?  (Makes me think about wanting to go upstairs and pour a shot of Glenlivet over ice) (Out, December/January 1995).

Chivas Regal, Vanity Fair 1996

Ladies and Gentlemen: the most disconsolate snowman in history (Vanity Fair, December 1996).

Jack Daniels, Rolling Stone 2010

Especially the “give generously” part (Rolling Stone, January 2010).

Remy Martin, Out 1995

I find this ad for Remy Martin interesting because, take away the bottom paragraph text, and this is could have run at almost any time from the 1960s onwards.  Whereas most ads date themselves via images, fonts, or messaging, this has a timelessness to it (Out, December/January 1995).

Break Out the Egg Nog and …

Bacardi, Out 1998

… (Out, December/January 1998) …

… And a Liqueur for After …

 Grand Marnier, Details 1994

Yellow Submarine had the Apple Bonkers.  Is this the Grand Marnier equivalent? (Details, December 1994).

Frangelico, Details 1994

Wise move, Vincenzo (Details, December 1994).

Soft Drinks

Not everyone wants to pony up to the bar, plus there has to be designated drivers (and we’ll need mix, too).

Pepsi, Life 1960

I love the graphics in this one, and also the promotion of the “new, convenient 12-ounce can” (Life, December 1960).

Coke, Life 1960

It looks like Santa learned his lesson from that Canada Post ad up near the top.  And I’ll bet dollars to donuts that there’s more than Coke in Santa’s glass (Life, December 1960).

Coke, Macleans 1965

Low-budget crafts are all yours in cartons of Coke (Macleans, December 1965).


Chesterfield, Life 1950

Wowie Zowie, this is a particular favourite.  What a foursome.  I was wondering “Where’s Frank?,” until I remembered that Sinatra’s career was pretty much in the toilet at this point (Life, December 1950).

Phillip Morris, Life 1955

There’s nothing I love more than opening up a Xmas present and having it reek of cigarette smoke (Life, December 1955).

 Food, Glorious Food

Madame Benoit, Canadian Magazine 1969

Those of us north of the border and of a certain age will undoubtably remember foodie sensation Mme. Benoit.  It looks like Santa’s goose is cooked, as it were.

Whenever I think of goose for Xmas, I recall an episode of The Lucy Show where she and Vivian had a turkey vs goose battle for a joint-family Xmas one year (Canadian Magazine, December 1969).

Accent Spice, Life 1951

I don’t recall this “third shaker” at all but am damn impressed how mom balances that big turkey while wearing those high heels (Life, November 1951).

Jello, Life 1955

Ah, bless (Life, December 1955).


A good cup of coffee is often been needed to help wind down a night of drunken debauchery or to help perk up the de-perked.

 Coffee, Life 1955

Speaking of designated drivers … a visually terrific ad that communicates its message well (Life, December 1955).

Silex, Life 1951

When all these ads are lined up, it does appear that Santa is quite the player.  “Good coffee!  I want it! And that’s why I’m here!”  Sure, der Redstuff with the leering gaze.  Many would believe you.  I am not among them (Life, November 1951).

Vanity Fair, Starbucks 2006

Grandma’s certainly playing hard to get with that squash recipe.  Time to dangle a Brandy Alexander in front of her to get her talking.  And would someone alert them that the cat is looking to be let in (Vanity Fair, December 2006).

Coffee, Life 1950

This one just begs for a caption contest: “Sing pretty Joe — they’re ______”  The detail below appears to confirm that Joe and the gang did indeed meet the required “pretty” benchmark (Life, December 1950).

Coffee Detail, Life 1950

Home Movies & Photos: Reliving the Christmas Magic

Why of course you’ll want to capture every, single, solitary moment of Christmas magic to relive again and again and again and again.  Who wouldn’t want that visual reminder of Grandma’s post-Brandy Alexander heaving or cantankerous Aunt Myrtle and Uncle Lance’s tuneless, non-harmonized  caterwauling of “Mele Kalikimaka” as the family plants uncomfortable smiles on their faces.  Here are some of the ways to make those key moments forever immortal in your family history.

Kodak, Canadian Magazine 1969

I’m wondering if my parents may have seen this ad at the time as my dad had that very movie camera (and I now have it for creative projects) and photo camera too.  We had a slide projector as well, but I don’t recall it being the model featured here.  Luckily, I don’t remember my mother having that yellow jumpsuit either (Canadian Magazine, December 1969).

Kodak, Macleans 1965

I like the emphasis on “every happy moment” (see Myrtle and Lance, etc.) (Macleans, December 1965) .

Kodak, Life 1951

The thing about cameras is that they’re not only for Christmas, but for year round and the whole family.  Why, with a camera in her hands, l’il Susan here could be a budding Lina Wertmüller for all we know (Life, November 1951).

Spending Time With Those Subscriptions Once the Celebrations Are Over

With your targeted gathering done, perhaps you could spend some downtime reading through some of those subscriptions that were suggested in Pt. 1, and read up on some of their inevitable holiday features on topics such as …

Phil Spector Christmas, Q 1999

Q’s look back on the making of the Phil Spector Christmas Album (you’ll get no argument from me regarding it being the “Greatest Christmas Album Ever!” claim) (Q, January 1999) …

Q Magazine

 … “20 Things You Need to Know about Rock & Roll Christmas,” with a festive Marilyn Manson (Q, January 2005) …

Keith Richards, Rock and Folk 2006

… interviews with Keith Richards featuring a clever integration of his name (Rock & Folk, Janvier 2009) …

Elvis and Santa, Rock and Folk 2006

… or simply a fetching picture of Santa and Elvis (Rock & Folk, Janvier 2009).

Finally, here’s this: The late, great Bea Arthur as Mrs. Claus in one of her many commercials for Shopper’s Drug Mart here in Canada, back in the 1980s.  

… And for those of you who aren’t Christmas lovers, directly below is a ditty for the decidedly less festive and, for my money, the best anti-Christmas tune ever: “Blue Xmas (To Whom It May Concern)” by Miles Davis with Bob Dorough on vocals, from 1962.

I’d like to wish all of you a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Swell Solstice, or whatever it is you choose to celebrate: just be sure to have a good one.
Text © 2011/12 VariousArtists

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