marycatelli (marycatelli) wrote in bookish,

Advertising the American Dream

Advertising the American Dream:  Making Way For Modernity 1920-40 by Roland Marchand

A cross-sectional view of advertising over the Roaring 20s and the Great Depression.

Lots of interesting stuff.  An overview of the agencies themselves, their geographical concentration, their somewhat touchy attitude -- and why (no man was considered for Who's Who based on his advertising career), the people who wanted to elevate taste vs the people who threw everything aside to sell, the problems that they were unquestionably among the urban and the prosperous, which raised questions about their ability to fathom ordinary people and seems to have fostered a great deal of contempt, too.

The beginning of True Story and the tabloids.  Once they managed to accept them as advertising venues, they imitated not only their writing style ("short words and shorter sentences" -- the editor tried them on the elevator operator and rejected what did not past muster) but their sensationalistic stories.  "Because I Confessed, I found the Way to Happiness" was the title of an ad for condensed milk and a recipe book (featuring only recipes needing the milk, of course); a woman confessed how she loved a man, but while he liked her, he wanted a good girl who could cook, and her married friend saved the day by lending her the cookbook.

Radio had the opposite problem.  It had spread from the rich to the poor so it was supposed to be elevating, and they were wary of using approaches that lowered it.

The discovery that you could sell useful articles in color -- which advertisers loved, since you could make new colors new announcements.  And the ensemble of clothes and handbag and shoes that enabled so much more to be sold.

Moral stories often told.  Unlike movies and other stories, in ads, the First Impression could not be overcome.  How you could enjoy the same goods as a member of the upper crust -- or how the upper crust suffered from the same problems.  How civilization had weakened us through some lack of our natural lives, but that could easily be fixed by this product.  (Chewing gum was sold as jaw exercise; the softer food of civilization meant we needed the exercise.)

Visual cliches, like the painting of the business man's office overseeing a factory below -- lasted for some time after the offices and factories were usually separated.  The soft focus family circle -- a woman alone never got the soft focus treatment, but a child increased the chances, and a husband made it almost certain.   Staring off at the city of the future.  The sentimental village, which was shown with cars and phones, but on the other hand, always had only one church steeple, and seldom featured a grain elevator.  The ray of light from an unknowable source.

The changes brought on by the Depression.  Such as ads listing the prices much more often.  The increase in images -- a lot less white space.  And the determined men.  Particularly the young men whose fathers had failed to buy life insurance for their education.
Tags: author: m, genre: non-fiction, review, subject: history

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