Classic Ad Review: Anacin and the Real Housewives of Whitehall Labs

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The Real Housewives of Whitehall Labs
The Real Housewives of Whitehall Labs Credit: Whitehall Laboratories

This 1968 "Housewife Headache" print ad by the Ted Bates agency, which previously sold Anacin with a diagram of a human head and hammers, shows a few solid cracks in the sanctified image of the suburban housewife.

In the '50s, with GIs home and needing jobs, including the ones women had done during the war, becoming a Mrs. was pushed as the golden ticket. It was the culturally approved ambition that led not only to kids, but the consumption of big-ticket items for the home. Indeed, advertising did its part to pump the economy, targeting women with the brighteners, whiteners and polishers that supposedly would keep family life clean, tidy and happy.

Four years earlier, in 1964, Betty Friedan had published "The Feminine Mystique," with its shocking unveiling of "the problem that has no name"—that (upper-middle-class) housewives were feeling unfulfilled and isolated, despite the unprecedented consumer comforts available to them.

This Anacin ad, then, actually ventured into some of the progressive territory that Friedan had explored. Indeed, "Housewife Headache" alluded to the darker side of a housewife's existence, and broke down the problem into two clear parts. Visually, there's the catatonic eyes of a robo-housewife whose brain is filled with dark, horrific visions of endless toil—ironing, dishwashing, grocery shopping and chauffeuring. Meanwhile, the copy serves as a kind psychotherapist, showing support for her "nervous tension" and "fatigue." It even acknowledges that housework is a "mild form of torture."

Anacin, then owned by Whitehall Labs, gives you "twice as much of the strong pain-reliever doctors recomment most—as the other leading extra strength tablet," it says, and "doesn't leave you depressed or groggy." (That reference was to the other "Mother's little helper" popular at the time, a tranquilizer called Milltown.) What it didn't explain was that Anacin was an upper with a secret ingredient: caffeine.

See how up the Anacin lady of the house can be? With her hair up and dressed up she's all set for an evening on the town with her best guy.

It was an ad for a problem that still isn't accurately named, never mind resolved. But it's sure nice to think that the cure for "housewife headache" is taking two tablets and leaving the house.

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