The production of many Rowntree confectionery lines, including the Aero bar, had ceased during World War II. As sugar rationing was finally coming to an end in the early 1950s, Rowntree relaunched Aero back into the UK confectionery market. A new J. Walter Thompson (JWT) print advertising campaign led by George Butler (Head of Art, 1942-61) and Bill Gaskell (Head of Art Buying, 1937-65) began in 1950. JWT selected esteemed and emerging portrait painters and illustrators of the time such as Anthony Devas, Frederick Deane, Henry Marvell Carr, Raymond Gabbott, Vasco Lazzolo, Norman Hepple and Bernard Fleetwood-Walker to create ‘large illustrations of girls’ heads’ in oil paint for the advertising artwork.
Images of young women often appeared in Aero advertising before the Aero Girls campaign. As Emma Robertson states in her exploration of Chocolate, Women and Empire, ‘images of women tended to predominate in Aero marketing, drawing on and further maintaining the links between women, chocolate and sex.’
It was the depiction of the women in the 1950s Aero adverts that differed considerably from the pre-war campaigns. These later images are calculatedly demure, showing only the women’s heads and shoulders. The younger women in their teens and early twenties often wear casual art school-style clothing such as striped t-shirts and scarves. The slightly older women in their late twenties and mid thirties are more stately in appearance, wearing earrings and less casual dress. Many sport short, modern gamine hairstyles. Make-up is minimal, and whilst the artists have shown their subjects wearing lipstick, their mouths are closed and not overtly sexualised. Unlike the 1930s and 1940s Aero adverts, these images of women are used in much more subtle way. Claims that ‘Aero milk chocolate is kind to the teeth’, or exhortations to ‘Obey that urge!’ have disappeared.
We now know that many of the women captured in these adverts were working in the creative industries. Some were artists themselves; many at least moved in bohemian social circles. Perhaps JWT were attempting to appeal to the notion of the new post-war woman. They were certainly looking for attractive young modern women who stood out from the crowd, as a testament to the Aero bar’s ‘difference’. Demographic considerations were not part of the advertising process at that time, and Rowntree wanted to communicate the unique properties of their product to as wide an audience as possible, not just to women.
The medium of the oil painted portrait was also an intelligent choice for the time and operated as a clever marketing device within the context of the Rowntree Aero campaign. By the 1950s the photographic image was everywhere in chocolate advertising. The painted portrait casts us back to an era before the mechanical reproduction of photography, and alludes to an experience that is special, and cannot be repeated elsewhere. The campaign slogan underlines this by proclaiming “For her - AERO – the milk-chocolate that’s different!” [from the arch rival Cadbury’s Dairy Milk].
Adverts appeared in newspapers and magazines such as the Daily Express, Daily Herald, News of the World, Picture Post and Illustrated. Many were published before television advertising began in 1955 and as former UK Advertising Manager David Lamb states, “press would be preferred because it provided better personal contact with potential customers. Magazines especially provided a private selling opportunity”.
The original paintings featured in these Aero adverts from 1950 to 1957 are known collectively as the Aero Girls. Twenty Aero portraits are now kept in the Rowntree & Co. Ltd archive at the Borthwick Institute for Archives, but little exists within Rowntree archive paperwork to explain who the women were or who painted them. Lamb says that “it was important that the models should be nameless – the difference of their beauty was anonymous. Therefore different enough by association, to draw total attention to the difference of the Aero chocolate bar”.
Written by Kerstin Doble
Dr Ralph Kaner (2012) George Harris: Rowntree’s Marketing Revolutionary. Talk at Tempest Anderson Hall, York, 11 Dec 2012.
Interview with David Lamb (March 2014), former UK Advertising Manager, Rowntree & Co. Ltd.
Fitzgerald, Robert (2007), Rowntree and the Marketing Revolution, 1862-1969. Cambridge University Press; New Edition (25 Jan 2007)
Emma Robertson (2009), Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester University Press.