“V-8! It’s America’s lucky number in juice enjoyment!” this 1955 print ad exclaims, promising “taste-thrilling flavor.” So named because it comprises the juice of eight vegetables—celery, carrots, beets, spinach, watercress, parsley and the “Campbell” tomato—V8 also evokes another classic American symbol: The powerful V-shaped eight-cylinder engine. This juice promises to give you vroom. “No juice drinker should miss it. And especially you,” the syntactically-challenged copy reads.
It also promises, according to this ad, vitamins and minerals with very few calories. A can of V8 today includes 36 percent of your daily sodium requirement, but the copywriter here must have run out of room.
The real star of this ad, though, is the gorgeous, lush illustration. Sweating beets, a plump dewy tomato, turgid stalks of celery, lurid carrots and a tuft of parsley combine like Voltron to form a perfect, evocative V.
The design also instantly reminds one of the work of Italian Renaissance court painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo, who created portraits, like the 1590-91 inset here, of Rudolf II of Habsburg as the Roman god Vertumnus. Created out of veggies, fruits and flowers, the painting is not only a masterpiece of creativity, it also proves the rule that ad creatives have been making mediocre work out of, uh, borrowed ideas since the dawn of print. In 1955, V8’s agency would have been Needham, Louis & Brorby, a direct predecessor to today’s DDB Worldwide, per Ad Age Datacenter, so you can take that up with them.
As for V8 itself, the juice was first released in 1933, an invention of Frank Constable, who worked in Chicago as a contractor for William Gilbert Peacock. It was explicitly named after the V-8 engine in 1947, though earlier versions of it had names like Vege-min and Vegemin-8. Which makes us happy: In 1952, the 30th episode of “I Love Lucy” introduced the world to the 46-proof elixir “Vitameatavegamin,” an unmistakable nod to V8 and its predecessors. (“Lucy Does a TV Commercial” is consistently ranked one of the top five episodes of any TV show, and if you haven’t watched it recently, make yourself an “eight ball” V8 Bloody Mary and do yourself a favor.)
V8 was acquired by the Campbell Soup Company in 1948, hence that “Campbell” tomato. Campbell, which is celebrating its sesquicentennial this year (it turns out soup is good food), still owns the V8 brand and its offshoots, like V8 V-Fusion, which combines V8 with fruit juices. The iconic “should’ve had a V8” slogan was introduced in the 1970s, after a 1960s tagline “Wow, it sure doesn’t taste like tomato juice,” was put to bed. Fortunately that idea had enough legs to be, uh, borrowed in 1981 for “I can’t believe it’s not butter.”