About Ad Art

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We have also taken a distinctive approach when it comes to categorizing the collection. With one exception, we have deliberately avoided classifying the works based on individual motifs. Instead, we have attempted to create a more dynamic and contrasting system by limiting the categorization to overarching themes. Visitors can also create their own themes using the search function (see 3. Search).


1. Best of Ad Art

The „Best of Ad Art“ category features 1,500 detailed views from vintage posters, advertisements and magazine covers that we particularly like.

2. Consumer Goods

The essential purpose of advertising is to generate new needs and thus stimulate consumption. In this category, we can see how attempts are made to establish products in our everyday lives or to attract potential customers by penetrating new segments. It includes advertising for food, drinks, household appliances, housing, cosmetics, fashion, and cigarettes as well as for magazines, leisure activities, sport, events and culture. Through this graphic art, we witness economic upturns, encounter delighted people and catch a glimpse inside fully stocked refrigerators.

3. Travel Posters

Aside from the consumption of goods, mobility and travel in particular grew to an unprecedented extent between 1891 and 1970. We would find it hard to imagine the kind of astronomical development that people born at the end of the 19th century witnessed in this area. They saw things that were deemed impossible at the time of their birth transformed into reality:

1891: Work begins on building the Trans-Siberian Railway (the longest railway in the world).
1897: Oldsmobile, the first major automobile brand, starts producing cars.
1912: The Titanic embarks on its maiden voyage and sinks.
1927: Charles Lindbergh completes the first solo flight across the Atlantic.
1969: Apollo 11 lands on the moon.

The advertisements in this category feature travel destinations all over the world, reached by bicycle, motorbike, train, boat or airplane. They also show people looking for adventure in some far-off place, conveying the message that the whole world – or perhaps a part of it, depending on their budget – is their oyster.

4. Sex Appeal

Since sex appeal is based on subjective perceptions, it is not an easily definable concept. It is associated with characteristics such as self-confidence, a sense of physical well-being, the ability to communicate, humor, and intelligence, as well as – in general – people who are socially successful and satisfied with themselves and with life. However, sex appeal is primarily understood as a combination of an attractive appearance and sexual charisma.

The blurred line between sex appeal and sexism is forever being crossed in advertising too. However, research shows that where exactly this line lies varies significantly depending on the perception of individual viewers. The term “sexism,” which shares the same suffix and negative connotations as the word “racism,” was coined during the feminist movement in 1960s America.

Sex appeal is both the easiest conceivable way to make an advertising message attractive and, in the case of some products, the most effective. Sex appeal works by capturing people’s attention first, then stimulating their imagination, conjuring up fantasies that are associated with the product being advertised in a positive way that reinforces people’s desire to buy it. This principle can be seen applied more or less subtly in various forms throughout the 1891 to 1970 period, with the Art Nouveau pieces in particular proving surprisingly promiscuous.

Our collection features over 3,600 vintage designs which could be said to have sex appeal. These include images of beautiful people, movie stars and TV celebrities, as well as cosmetics, fashion, drinks, cigarettes or cars. Yet magazines, airlines, spa resorts and manufacturers of bicycles and coffee are also among the advertisers who have used sex appeal to vie for the public’s attention.

5. Vintage Cars

For a long time, cars were arguably the most advertised product of all, especially in US magazines. The first pieces of graphic advertising we acquired were 15 full-page ads for cars that were published in The Saturday Evening Post and other magazines in the 1940s and 50s. They are the cornerstone of our collection.

In 1895, there were around 300 cars on the road in the USA. In 1970 – the latest point in our collection – almost 30,000,000 cars were produced worldwide (2013: 88,000,000). No other product offers a better reflection of the spirit of the age, progress, wealth and the importance of mobility than the car. That is why we have dedicated an entire category to this exceptional commodity and status symbol, singling it out as a unique motif. The advertisements in this category feature well over 2,000 of the finest vintage cars from all eras, highlighting the pride and sense of freedom felt by people who owned vehicles like these. Of course, the advertisers were also particularly keen to portray the admiration and envy of those who did not (yet) own one.

6. War Propaganda

More than 100 wars were fought in the period between 1891 and 1970, but many vintage posters, ads and magazine covers originate from the following conflicts in particular:

1914–1918: First World War
1917–1920: Russian Civil War
1927–1949: Chinese Civil War
1931–1933: Manchurian War
1936–1939: Spanish Civil War
1937–1945: Second Sino-Japanese War
1939–1945: Second World War
1947–1949: Arab-Israeli War
1950–1953: Korean War
1954–1962: Algerian War
1957–1975: Vietnam War
1967: Six-Day War

In times of war, advertising was primarily used for propaganda. It is striking to note that all conflicting parties use very similar means, exploiting similar enemy stereotypes, fears, appeals and symbols. The main differences in propaganda advertising lie in the way in which the concept of patriotism is expressed.

This category features themes and motifs such as psychological warfare, the glorification of war, heroism, stereotypical portrayals of the enemy, munitions, war bonds, appeals for vigilance, thrift, discretion, productivity and consumer goods that were promoted in connection with images of war. Despots, leaders and revolutionaries are pictured in these works, as are children, heroes, perpetrators, victims, soldiers and civilians. However, very few of them portray the immeasurable suffering caused by all these wars.

Other themes include pre- and post-war propaganda, political systems and the Cold War, in which we also include space travel (the Space Race).

7. Roaring Twenties

The 1920s have always had a special appeal for us. For this reason, Mad Men Art is dedicating a large special exhibition to the „Roaring Twenties“ on their hundredth birthday, which shows over 2,000 graphic advertisements and magazine covers from the 1920s.

The Roaring Twenties refers to the decade of the 1920s in Western society and Western culture. It was a period of economic prosperity with a distinctive cultural edge in the United States and Europe, particularly in major cities such as Berlin, Chicago, London, Los Angeles, New York City, Paris, and Sydney. In France, the decade was known as the „années folles“ (crazy years), in Germany, as the „Golden Twenties“ emphasizing the era’s social, artistic and cultural dynamism. Jazz blossomed, the flapper redefined the modern look for women, and Art Deco peaked.

Nations saw rapid industrial and economic growth, accelerated consumer demand, and introduced significantly new changes in lifestyle and culture. The media, funded by the new industry of mass-market advertising driving consumer demand, focused on celebrities, especially sports heroes and movie stars. In many major democratic states, women won the right to vote, which had a huge impact on society.

The spirit of the Roaring Twenties was marked by a general feeling of novelty associated with modernity and a break with tradition. Everything seemed to be feasible through modern technology. New technologies, especially automobiles, moving pictures, and radio, brought „modernity“ to a large part of the population. Formal decorative frills were shed in favor of practicality in both daily life and architecture. At the same time, jazz and dancing rose in popularity, in opposition to the mood of World War I. As such, the period often is referred to as the Jazz Age.

The Wall Street Crash of 1929 ended the era, as the Great Depression brought years of hardship worldwide.