I’m frustrated. I can tell you this because I know we’re close and I know you won’t tell anyone. I just wrote a big thing about EVs that my partners want to hold until tomorrow because we already have so much EV content but I’m a petulant child and just want to publish stuff now now now and then never look back, and look to the next story and on and on forever! Oh well. I’ll just move on to something genuinely relevant and important, like this peculiar 71 year old cartoon magazine ad for a gas station. This old ad is incredible because if you’re just flipping pages, it actually can make you do a double-take and flip back to it, just to see what the hell is going on there. Which is really the ultimate achievement for a magazine ad, is it not? Let’s look at this crazy thing.
Here’s the ad in question, scanned from a November 1952 issue of Motor Trend:
Okay! Let’s just do a quick survey of the land here, and see what we’re dealing with: we have a car that looks like some composite of a few early 1910s cars, a radiator shaped a bit like a White and a body that resembles a Ford Model T coupé. The car has a well-laden roof rack, what appear to be curtains inside, and is occupied by a pair of middle-aged women wearing identical and very prim and proper clothing, including lace collars, spectacles, and a hat adorned with chains of flowers.
They also appear to be identical twins.
There’s also what seems to be a large dead moose lashed to the running board and fenders of the car, and the expression on the moose’s face is one that suggests that he has finally found true peace in the cold embrace of death:
Look at that face: the closed eyes, the satisfied smile, the relaxed demeanor – I’ve never seen another moose make looking being shot and killed by a couple of dowagers look so appealing.
Then, of course, there is what is arguably the focal point of the ad, the Mobilgas attendant, dapper in his crisp uniform, under a trio of trustworthy diamonds proclaiming CLEAN REST ROOMS, and, yes, pointing a rifle right at his face. That’s the detail that made me do a double-take the first time, because, well, at a glance it looks like the dude is about to blow his brains out.
Closer inspection suggests that he seems to be cleaning the rifle, as there is a rag in his other hand, and while I don’t pretend to be a firearms expert, I’m going to go out on a limb and say if you’re cleaning a gun, maybe don’t point it right at your eye? I don’t think he has a finger on the trigger, but I also am not 100% sure of that, either. Point is, these two old ladies trundled into a gas station with, what, 1,200 pounds of dead moose meat strapped to their car and now there’s a guy pointing a gun at his face.
I’m assuming this is all just related to the “extra friendly service” tagline, though the copy uses checking on your battery as opposed to cleaning your gun. Did this sort of thing actually happen? Would gas station attendants clean whatever firearms you happened to bring with you when you got gas? Would a company like Mobil want to encourage that?
Maybe these two women have hypnotized this poor bastard! They seem to look quite pleased with themselves as he dangerously handles that gun. Are they doing this with their mind, for sport? Is this how they landed that massive, beatific-looking moose? Are they dangerous? Should we be worried?
Is this a good ad? I can’t even tell anymore. If we interpret this picture in the most straightforward manner possible, the narrative is that a set of identical twin women took a hunting trip, killed a moose, and then stopped for gas on the way back, whereupon the gas station attendant cleaned their rifle. Okay. I guess that says something about service?
How would people react to this today? If this was done in a less cartoony and more modern manner? You know what? This is an ideal application for AI image generation!
I used the following description of the ad to produce these images:
old identical twin women go to gas station in a car with a dead moose strapped to it while the gas station attendant cleans a rifle by pointing it at his face
…and here were the results:
Huh. Look at that. The top one has a car that feels like a ’60s Mopar ute sort of thing at the bottom, and a more modern minivan up top. I see the old ladies, hunting, and a moose, and also a sort of moose-human hybrid being in there. Also that moose seems to have a segmented body, like an ant.
The lower pair of images grant antlers to some of the women, a bold choice, and I like the upper car; it reminds me a bit of a Renault Dauphine. The lower car has a sort of roof-mounted rifle, I think, and what may be a lot of blood on the side. Let’s take another stab at this, but this time with an even more photographic approach:
Well, I’m not sure these help, but they do seem less violent; in the top one, that moose seems more like a sweet pet, some kind of specially-bred lap moose, and in the second one, in that painfully-confusing car the moose doesn’t look dead at all. Would any of these work for a modern ad campaign for a gas station? Maybe, right? I mean, I’d probably still do a double-take, just like I did for their inspiration, made seven decades ago.
I think the takeaway here is pretty clear: don’t point a rifle at your face, dummy.