Brought to You by Sugar

 Curio & Co. looks at vintage 1960s advertisements for sugar. Detail of a vintage Sunnington Morn packaging for Double Scoop cereal, image by Curio and Co.

Advertising and packaging in the 1960s was enough to give you a tooth ache.

It is truly amazing how much advertising messages have changed over the last fifty years. Today, advertisers are careful to distance their products from any ingredients that are seen as a health taboo. This means that they hide evidence of salt, fat, carbohydrates, and especially that demon of the cereal aisle: sugar. They use clever words to trick us into thinking the product is good for us, so sugary products become “naturally sweetened” or “honey-kissed”. Talk about sugar-coating! Products today have more euphemisms than a James Bond film.

Although it’s hard to believe it by looking at the supermarket shelves today, sugar wasn’t always seen as the bad guy. In fact, in the 1960s when artificial sweeteners were on the rise, sugar companies responded to the competition by singing the praises of sugar and all its benefits.

Sugar, they claimed, was a natural source of energy the body needed and without it consumers were robbing themselves of their vitality. The ads warned that exhaustion was dangerous, especially to your immune system, but that sugar turned to energy faster than any other food. (You can see the headlines in their imaginary Sugar-as-Superhero world: “Sugar saves the day again!”)

What’s more, ads in the 1960s made the argument that sugar would actually keep you slim and trim. The claim was that sugar would curb your appetite and prevent you from overeating. Go ahead and have an ice cream cone before lunch, the ads advised; it was the only way to lose weight. Some ads even went so far as to compare the calories in three spoons of sugar with a half a grapefruit, and just guess which they said was less fattening!

For shock value, sugar ads are right up there with those cigarette ads claiming that four out of five doctors preferred such-and-such brand of smokes. (Honestly – where did that fifth doctor go to medical school?!?)

Looking through the ads from those days can be hilarious. “It quenches fatigue.” “Willpower never tasted so good.” “Play safe with young ones – make sure they get sugar every day.”

The best, however, is the packaging that proudly proclaims that the product contains sugar. “Fortified with sugar,” just as the box of Double Scoop cereal shouts from those old Spaceman Jax comics. You can almost hear it: “Don’t buy those inferior brands of cereal! This brand has been made stronger with the addition of even more sugar!” It’s like you’ve stumbled into some topsy-turvy world.

Of course, it’s easy to laugh at it now, but what claims are we making today that will make future generations snort with derision? “They told people to eat more fiber? Doctors advised drinking how much water? They actually said ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away’?!?”

Well, maybe they’ll still believe these statements in the future – or at least four out of five doctors will, I’m sure. But that fifth doctor – keep him away from the patients.