I am a great fan of the television series “Mad Men,” set in an early-sixties Manhattan advertising firm. I often laugh at the fashions and incorrect behavior, mostly on the part of male characters, in that well-played depiction of a time I still remember. And viewers often cringe at the portrayal of women as second-class citizens dependent upon men for their happiness.
Created two decades earlier, this Lipton ad makes us squirm today because of its equally unflattering portrayal of women.

Appearing in 1942, the advertisement echoes the uncertainty of a time when American families faced the worldwide chaos that was enveloping them. Lipton Tea illustrates that unbalance in the first panel as the wife’s stance makes her seem weak and submissive: a depiction which would attract displaced men to the product. The couple leans far towards the right in such a dramatic fashion that they almost look like Tangoing dancers.
The ad takes advantage of women’s fears about the climbing divorce rate which shot up from 1.8 per 100 couples to 2.8 in the first year of World War II. As the war pulled the nation’s economy out of the Depression, couples could finally afford divorces. 

Lipton’s propaganda poses the threat that husbands would stop loving wives and divorce them if they could not brew decent tea.
In contrast, they create a balanced setting in the second panel depicting a harmonious family gathered around a pot of Lipton Tea. The normalcy of the scene subtly promises the reader a return to prewar stability if only the wife learns to make “a good cup of tea.”
Read more British and American tea history in A Social History of Tea by Jane Pettigrew and Bruce Richardson.

Leave a Reply