Mad Men showcased many kinds of relationships over its seven seasons, but perhaps the least complex—and longest lasting—was the codependent marriage between advertising and alcohol.
If Don Draper’s saga had lasted just a few more seasons, however, we might have seen more episodes in which the admen and adwomen tackled ads not only while drinking but about drinking.
Specifically, about women drinking—which in the mid-twentieth century was still a provocative concept.
From Prohibition until 1958, women weren’t even allowed to appear in ads for alcoholic beverages—and it wasn’t until the 1970s and the rise of women’s lib that the alcohol industry started going after young women.
But boy, did it go after them. Flip through old issues of Cosmopolitan—the magazine favored by the nation's growing ranks of liberated women—and the explosion in booze ads is staggering. While a 1964 issue we looked at only included one generic ad for a sherry cocktail wine, an issue from 1969—the starting point of Mad Men’s final season—featured six ads, promoting an array of indulgences.
By the mid 1970s, Cosmo was chock-full of booze campaigns, featuring between 10 and 18 ads per 250-or-so pages. By 1976, it had become one of the country’s top 15 magazines for alcohol ad revenue, according to the 1980 book The Invisible Alcoholics.
Progressive for the era and strikingly retro today, the ads reinforced what it meant to be a 70s Cosmo woman: confident, unconstrained, and gung-ho about the liberated lifestyle. We’ve compiled some winners from the magazine below.
This ad appears to have been slapped down with little consideration for the Cosmo audience, but this approach wouldn’t last very long.
"During the four decades between 1940 and 1980, women’s drinking increased dramatically, as 3 times as many women as men began using alcohol during those decades," wrote Kathryn J. French, a then-assistant professor at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, in a chapter about media and women’s alcohol consumption in the 1996 academic resource Evaluating Women’s Health Messages.
“With women’s changing societal roles, alcohol could more successfully be marketed to women, who have also grown in their financial clout."
Because at this point, alcohol is still simply a means to an end for women—the end being a man.
Soon, ladies would be treated to drinks specially designed for ladies (read: full of sugar). “In the late 1960s and into the 1970s, the liquor industry began to focus on female members of the baby boom with new products, such as wine coolers and other sweet-based drinks that are more like soda pop than alcoholic beverages," wrote French.
Come 1972, scotch wasn't some kind of bait meant to trap men into a relationship, but something women could enjoy as well. Ah yes, the peaty taste of liberation. (Notably, of the 12 alcohol ads in the April issue in which this one appeared, seven include references to men.)
Of course, staking a claim to the male-dominated world of scotch is only half the game—after all, feminism is about reclaiming aperitifs from grandmas everywhere!
Before, Seagram’s 7 (item number 2 on this list) was all about that man you wanted to tie down. Now it’s about you, too, womanfolk!
Notice that alcohol is still the man’s dominion, but at least women are learning the language!
And with that, we're suddenly two steps and a decade behind. Oh, did you think that collins was for you? Lord no, girls, it’s his. And dammit, you better keep it dry.
Because whiskey should be smooth—but not because men can’t handle it otherwise. No siree.
By 1974, women no longer need to prove that they can indeed drink alcohol. In fact, the way to a woman's heart appears to be through her liver.
When all else fails, you can always compare a consumer product—and especially alcohol—to a woman. (This strategy still holds true today, of course.)
If you're going to advertise alcohol, may as well harness the power of women in STEM. Other 70s Dewar's Profiles magazine ads featured women like architect Raquel Ramati and fashion/costume designer Ola Hudson—and should absolutely be turned into trading cards.