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If This Isn’t the Most Sexist TV Commercial Ever, It’s Close

When Martha Teichner and a crew from CBS Sunday Morning came to the Packard Campus a few months ago for a story about our preservation work, I put together a varied package of clips from the moving image collections for her to react against. Now, I’ve put together clip shows for what feels like countless presentations in my seventeen years at the Library, but they’re never easy because, ironically, we have so many options from which to choose.

For Martha, I started with low hanging fruit–her first report for the CBS Evening News in November 1977. She was, as expected, quite amused to see her younger self. After that I really wasn’t sure what to choose so I reached into the grab bag to illustrate the kind of breadth and depth of our holdings we’ve written about repeatedly on “Now See Hear!”

The thing that really got her attention was a television commercial for now-defunct Eastern Airlines called “Presenting the Losers.” I’m still not exactly sure of the date other than it’s between 1967 and 1970, which was when Eastern was using the tag line “We Want Everyone to Fly” in its advertising. The TV ad was also part of a multimedia campaign, so knowing when the print ad appeared would definitely help**. Still, even taking into account the cultural context in which this ad was produced, its shameful–and shaming–message is startling.

Presenting the Losers (1967)

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Our copy of “Presenting the Losers” was included on a 16mm reel of similarly sexist TV ads compiled by J. Fred MacDonald, but none had quite the visceral impact of this one. Martha reacted quite strongly to it, and once taping stopped we talked quite a bit about her evolution from “girl reporter” to award-winning war correspondent. But it also allowed me to make the point that our collections aren’t just Hollywood blockbusters and prime time hits. In fact, much of the real value of our holdings is found in the ephemeral–home movies, educational films, TV commercials, etc.–for it’s there we find documentation of the lived experience, of our culture in a particular time and place.

So while nearly fifty years later we may look back on “Presenting the Losers” with wonderment and barely concealed disgust, I can only imagine what viewers in 2065 will think of the advertising being produced today. I suspect they’ll be as perplexed by some of our popular culture as we are by an ad that celebrates a business strategy based on judging women on their sex appeal.

** Update: My intrepid colleague Joe Puccio found a copy of the print ad in the 29 September 1967 issue of Time magazine. Thanks for the catch, Joe!

5 Comments

  1. Tom Bober
    February 25, 2015 at 6:17 pm

    Definitely startling because it is so blatant. It would interesting to compare/contrast this with advertisements from today that may be considered more subtle in their message of what is (or isn’t) beautiful. How do we react to this advertisement vs. a more current one with a similar message?

  2. Cynthia Meyers
    March 1, 2015 at 10:54 pm

    This strikes me as a very “Creative Revolution” style commercial, very similar to the Doyle Dane Bernbach ads with the headline “Lemon” for VW, or the Benson Hedges ads with the broken extra long cigarettes. Ad agencies were trying to counter the hyperbole of the hard sell with humor and tongue-in-cheek “failure” as a way to humanize their clients. Note that the “losers” are still quite attractive and so provide visual entertainment for viewers despite the voiceover’s claims. Maybe this was a Doyle Dane Bernbach (or Wells Rich Greene) ad.

  3. Ann McFerrin
    April 13, 2015 at 4:39 pm

    It sure looks like Ali McGraw in the very front of the print ad.

  4. Airport Advertising
    September 25, 2017 at 6:36 am

    Interesting perspective. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the subject.

  5. Larry & Rita Kritcher
    December 17, 2019 at 4:43 pm

    As a pilot and a flight attendant for about 23 years with Eastern, the ad appears both creative and nostalgic for our airline family.

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