During my vacation on the Oregon Coast, my brother-in-law invited me to flip through a pile of LIFE magazines dating back to the 1940s. He bought hundreds of the musty periodicals from a junk collector for $50, which, he told me was a steal. He stands to get a handsome return on his investment by clipping out all the vintage ads for liquor and automobiles and selling them on eBay for $5 a pop. I can see why there is a market for this sort of thing. Full-page ads with striking images and attention-grabbing copy – these artifacts of Mad Men-era marketing make for cool man-cave décor.
I was leafing through a 1968 issue when a headline caught my eye: DON’T BE A POOL DROP-OUT. Behind the boldface print was a sad sack in paisley shorts sitting in what I presume to be an empty pool. The advertisement suggests that only educated pool owners use HTH Dry Chlorine Bagettes for “clean, healthy, sparkling water.”
The concept appears to be a riff on public service campaigns that encouraged young people to stay in school – a movement the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, got on board with when he sang “Don’t Be a Dropout” in 1967. Turns out this relic from "The Golden Age of Advertising" was likely produced by Doyle Dane Bernbach, the legendary Madison Avenue agency that’s said to have been the inspiration for AMC’s “Mad Men.” Olin Mathieson Chemical Corp., which owned HTH Pool Care at the time, was a client of theirs.
I can just picture Don Draper pitching Olin.
CUT TO: Interior. Board room. Don enters, stubs out a cigarette in an ash tray. He nods to the Olin executives seated around the table.
Don: Gentlemen. Statistics suggest thousands of students are dropping out of school every year. But I’d like to draw your attention to a different type of dropout that’s equally concerning.
Don nods to his protégé, Peggy Olson, who unveils concept art set on an easel.
Don: I present the “Pool Drop-Out.” Tagline: “HTH Dry Chlorine: The mark of an educated pool.”
Olin executives shift nervously in their seats. One of them, Jim, a heavyset man approaching 50, breaks the silence.
Jim: Don, Olin doesn’t want to appear insensitive to the plight of nation’s public school system.
Paul Kinsey, Sterling Cooper’s beatnik copywriter, scoffs.
Paul: It’s not insensitive. It’s funny!
Don: It’s more than funny. It’s bold.
Jim: Alright, Don, let’s try it your way.
Anyway, it’s interesting to think that HTH advertised in one of the nation’s leading news weeklies, right there with some of the biggest consumer brands in the world: Cadillac, Whirlpool, Jim Beam and Pall Mall, among others.
It’s a cool piece of pool industry history. And, no, it’s not for sale.
Off the Deep End is an occasional blog from PSN Senior Editor Nate Traylor.