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We were promised so much: the future, as seen by the ad-men

2016 is just so yesterday. It’s gone, old news, consigned to the bin along with the turkey carcass. It’s 2017 and the future is upon us.

Maybe it’s the residue of Christmas cheer, but today we’re putting aside our grumpy heads. We’re thinking positive. We’re considering what an incredible age we live in, and wondering what technological marvels are around the corner.

And for some clues, we’ll look at what five vintage ads promised us about the future.

Flying cars and suburban bliss

car of the future

More Power to You – America’s Independent Electric Light and Power Companies.

Picture courtesy of The Futurist

The flying car looms large in the 1950s imagination. In fact, in almost any futuristic vision from the 1930s to the early 60s, flying cars are part of the sci-fi furniture. Whether this says something about an unconscious need for freedom, or was just seen as a logical next step  - well, that’s a question for brighter minds than ours.

At any rate, this 1958 ad incorporates the flying car into the standard suburban dream. Mom and Kitty return from a grocery shop; Dad takes a break from mowing the lawn with Chip Jnr. Even Rover’s enjoying the trip. For its imagery, the ad capitalises on the flying saucer craze that had swept into the public consciousness a few years before. We note that the hairstyles of the future are remarkably similar to those of 1958.

The ad copy tells us what else is on the cards. Seeing as we are now in the future, there are hits and misses. Library books straight to your home – check. Ultrasonic dish washers – nope. We’re also reminded that all these advances will require more electricity – that makes sense, seeing as it’s an ad for a collective of power companies.

 

The gorgeous visions of Arthur Radebaugh

arthur radebaugh

Picture courtesy of Live Journal

If you’ve never come across Arthur Radebaugh, you’ve missed a treat. He was an illustrator who specialised in visions of the future. His beautifully rendered paintings and drawings - depicting a super-streamlined technological wonderland - influenced a whole generation. Echoes of his work are still seen in the cityscapes of sci-fi blockbuster movies.

Radebaugh’s most notable advertising work was for the American auto industry. In this example, Radebaugh takes the most mundane product imaginable – rubber O rings that act as oil seals – and elevates it to something remarkable.

We’re still waiting on the promised atomic-powered flying machines.

 

Yesterday’s future was a Vauxhall Cavalier

This neat 1988 advert for Vauxhall plays on the whole notion of incorrect future predictions. The film cuts back and forth between a 1950s programme on ‘The Car of the Future’ with shots of Vauxhall’s latest Cavalier. While the programme commentary asserts that ‘…such technology won’t be available to you, the average motorist, until around the year 2000’, the contemporary footage shows us Vauxhall have over-delivered, having got there 12 years early. The strap-line drives the point home, ‘the car of the future, now.’

We couldn’t help noticing that for all its advanced features, the Cavalier isn’t very much like the super-sleek car in the programme. Still, you can't have everything.

 

AT & T  - they got it right!

In their 1993 ‘You Will’ adverts, AT&T had a crack at predicting the future. They came up with SatNav, downloadable books and tablet computers. It all looks remarkably familiar. OK, none of this was too much of a leap in 1993. But we think that last shot of a tablet-like device is super-impressive, even if the height of its capabilities is sending a fax.

As for AT&T predicting their own future, someone in the youtube comments section drily notes, 'The company who will bring it to you… APPLE.'

 

The future for women: mascara and sexism

1968 ad for lestoil

In the future, we were told, we would live on the Moon. We would look upon the pale blue disc of the Earth. We would see the stars undimmed by atmosphere. We would uncover the mysteries of the universe.

And best of all, everything would be nice and clean. That’s because, while the men are out doing all the science stuff, women would be cleaning everything. Or at least that’s what this 1968 advert for Lestoil tells us.

Fascinating that one ad manages to get both the technological and the social landscapes of the future so badly wrong.

 

Happy New Year, Happy New Future

The streamlined, atomic-powered future we were promised hasn’t come true yet. But then again, there are developments that previous generations never imagined. In 2017, we’ll be watching carefully to see what futures the ad industry dreams up next - hold onto your hats, it’s going to be wild!

Just Tim 'n Mo

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