Just One Ad – The Secret Shame of Bathtubs

Our spotlight ad this week is a print piece for the cleaner Bon Ami from the 1930’s. The history buffs among us will remember this was the time of the Great Depression. We typically think of this era in terms of soup lines, the dust bowl and hobos, but I think we often overlook the thousands of small ways people were affected.

It took me far too long to understand the Bon Ami logo. Newly hatched chicks don't scratch and peck yet!
Don’t look now, but you’re cleaning your own bathroom! You go, girl!

On first glance this ad seems benign enough. A woman attending to her chores with the copy’s assurance that Bon Ami cleans just grand and won’t make your hands red. Sounds fine, but then you start to notice a few things. This woman is dressed awfully posh, she’s looking over her shoulder with an expression of slight…embarrassment? doubt? maybe a tinge of pride?… as a flush creeps along her cheeks.

The target market for this ad was well-off women who suddenly had to do without domestic help because of financial woes. I imagine families desperately holding onto a precarious social standing, while trying to conceal that they could no longer afford a maid and nothing says “I do my own cleaning now” like chapped hands. Certainly not as horrible as losing one’s house, but I can see where it would still be terrifying as you stare down the barrel of the unknown. Is this the first step in a financial free fall?

While some reviews of this ad state its intention is to make you feel bad about yourself, I read it more as a whisper of encouragement. “Yeah, things are hard and different now, but you can do it and here’s how.”

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