A successful marketing campaign can stay with consumers long after it's ended. Whether it’s a catchy jingle that still pops into your head years later or a colourful character reappearing to spruik a popular product, great advertising makes an impact.

Some are clever, funny, and thought-provoking, but there are others that venture into downright wacky territory.

Decades ago, there were less restrictions on what products could be advertised and who they could target. This made advertisers more ambitious with their marketing strategies, where in hindsight they could have been more conservative.

Don’t believe us? Check out the proof we dug up from our collection.

Three colourful advertisements, including a board game, photoshopped on a black and white background

Further south

Renowned photographer Frank Hurley was the official photographer of Sir Douglas Mawson’s Australasian Antarctic Expedition (1911-1914).

The trip was sponsored by various companies including Cascade Ales & Beer. To capitalise on the mystic around Antarctica and the public’s fascination with penguins, Frank snapped a photo of the crew holding up a sign for Cascade Ale’s & Beers amongst the penguins. The sign reads, ‘Cascade Ales & Beer reach farther south.’

Black and white photo of a beach with hundreds of penguins on it. Among the penguins are two men holding a sign that reads 'Cascade Ales + Beer reach farther south'
Frank Hurley, Cascade ales & beers reach farther south [penguins, sea elephants, a man wearing a hat and holding a sign and several other men on the Nuggets beach, Macquarie Island, Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 1911-1914], nla.obj-158925103

A sweet read

Before restrictions around advertising to children came into effect, companies could be more direct in their marketing towards kids. In 1927 the confectionery company MacRobertson’s released the Max-Mints Alphabet Book.

 MacRobertson's was created by Macpherson Robertson in 1880 and was bought by Cadbury in the 1960s.

Whether the educational benefit of the book outweighs the promotional element borders on questionable with lines such as ‘Arthur is an artist, And [sic] he regularly chews A tin a day of “MAX-MINTS.” Just to help along the muse.’

Cover and inside page spread of a short book. The cover has an orange background and has kids holding letters and standing in a tin with 'Max-mints' on it. Large text reads 'MacRobertson's Max-Mints alphabet book'. The page spread shows large letters and black and white illustrations.
MacRobertson (Firm) issuing body & Specialty Press, MacRobertson's Max-Mints alphabet book (Melbourne, Vic), 1927, nla.obj-278715145

A Kodak moment

In late 1919 excitement was building for the air race which would see teams compete to successfully complete the first flight from England to Australia.

The Kodak company seized the opportunity to show how their cameras could expertly capture important life events by giving all competitors one of their cameras. They also decided to award 800 pounds, a silver coffee set, smoking set, decanters and more to the team with the best photographs. Captain Sir Ross Smith, his brother Sir Keith Smith and their crew took out first place for their incredible photographs of their journey. They were lucky to also be joined by photographer Frank Hurley on their trip.

It was an event that captured the attention of the nation, and it certainly was a flashy move by Kodak’s marketing team.

Man in military uniform standing next to front of plane, reaching up with camera in his hand while man in cockpit reaches down to grab it
Sir Ross Smith handing his Kodak up to Sir Keith, just before leaving Richmond, N.S.W, for Melbourne, 1919, nla.obj-472920954

You can read more about the Smith brothers and the 1919 air race in our blog on Aviation families in our collection.

Playing with fire

Bryant & May (Brymay) manufactured safety matches. In the late 1920s they decided to release a children’s book called The Brymay Toy Book. The book shows kids how they can create fun toys out of match boxes.

Book cover with children running along a path that leads to a large building. Also walking on the path is a living box of matches with matchstick arms and legs and a head made of fire.
Bryant & May, The Brymay toy book (Vic.), 1928, nla.obj-9169899

Using a mascot whose head is a ball of fire to promote a product to kids is a questionable choice at best.

Two pages of book about building toys out of match boxes. On the left page are instructions to create a train car and grandfather clock. On the right page are instructions to create a dresser and a house
Bryant & May,The Brymay toy book (Vic.), 1928, nla.obj-9171699

It’s hard to argue with the fun, novelty aspect of the designs but you’re not likely to see a book like this today. It’s not a match made in heaven.

Forget the destination it’s the journey

The Sanitarium Health Food Company released a board game in the 1940s which allowed players to learn about the challenges they face in procuring wheat for their products.

Players are rewarded when they land on a green circle with messages like ‘Good rains move to No.15’ and ‘Escorted across Indian Ocean by Australian Cruiser.’

But if you land on a red circle, you get punished with the likes of ‘Grasshopper plague go back to No.16’ and ‘Floods go back to No.17.’

Colourful board game with variously sized and colours circles and rings
Sanitarium Health Food Company, Wheat-convoy, c.1940, nla.obj-498265913

Does knowing the hardships behind securing wheat make your cereal taste better? You can be the judge of that.  

Healing in your future

One of the collection items which toes the line between advertising and actual content is The stars - their message to you.

This book claims to deliver wisdom from the stars, interspersed with tips about how Zam-Buk ointment can improve your life.

Man in long robes with large staff standing near books, a globe and a telescope looking at the stars. Yellow text at the top reads 'The Stars - their message to you'
C.E. Fulford (Australasia), The stars - their message to you, 1920, nla.obj-185095163

Zam-Buk is still sold today but they’ve retired their future predicting gambit.

Have your cake and hear it too

While many companies may have a jingle, Swallow & Ariell’s took it a step further and created sheet music to celebrate their range of block cakes. The sheet music was available for purchase at Loebel’s Royal Arcade Melbourne.

Cover and inside page spread of a sheet music booklet. The cover shows a woman holding a cake towards a man and children, with the text 'Cut yourself a piece of cake'. On the inside, music for a song and a colourful picture of a fruit cake are shown
James, Billy & Swallow & Ariell Ltd., Cut yourself a piece of cake and make yourself at home, 1923, nla.obj-178550052  

If you want to help your children understand art in advertising, you can check out this free digital classroom.

Start exploring advertising in our collection.