The history of American advertising is one of my keen interests. It is fascinating to see how much the advertising aesthetic evolved through the changing times. Consumer needs were constantly changing due to wars, shifts in the economy, advancements in technology, politics and changing social mores.
Each decade had its own unique style of advertising, but one period really stands in stark contrast to today. The 1950s were sometimes referred to as ”the advertiser’s dream decade”. With the end of WW II came a new desire for Americans to spend money. Most households had a television and the advertising opportunities became huge, while traditional media such as radio, newspapers and magazines remained vital ad conduits during the decade.
Things that were in short supply during WW II became plentiful again. Pent-up demand for consumer products fueled a steady growth in manufacturing. But, by the end of the 1950s, consumers suffered from acute consumption anxiety. Marketers continued to offer “new and improved” products to maintain high consumer demand.
The postwar years also saw a huge increase in population. From 1945 to 1964, a global “baby boom” occurred, which fueled a housing boom. By the close of the decade, one-third of the U.S. population lived in suburban areas surrounding metropolitan centers, lured by the increase in transportation options and affordable housing for America’s new middle class.
That, in turn, fueled a need for appliances and other necessities to fill those new homes, and marketers rushed to introduce a vast array of products while manufacturers churned out new appliances, automobiles and consumer electronics. Many advertised products promoted labor-saving automation for increased productivity and leisure time. Heating and cooling products, kitchen and laundry appliances, furniture and decorating accessories, and frozen and prepared foods all promoted time-saving benefits.
Advertising reflected a conscious return to traditional family values. In a single generation, lingering memories of the Great Depression and war were replaced by positive futuristic portrayals of the idealized modern family: mother, father, son and daughter all enjoying the comforts of their new home, the convenience of their automobile and added leisure time together.
Today, that Golden Age of Advertising seems shocking in its sexism and racism. Sure, we have plenty of offensive ads today, but nothing like that time in America. Maybe, someone should make America great again… like in the 1950s.
A lot of people don’t realize it, but tiny weak hands kept women from opening ketchup bottles unassisted until 1953.
“Woe be unto you! ” was a jaunty little expression to hopefully distract from the fact that this woman is being physically abused for improper grocery shopping.
There has been a gradual change in the last decade, where many advertisers are promoting more positive messages. In 2017, because of our increasingly tense and unsettling political atmosphere, companies like Barbie, Airbnb, Dove, Campbell Soups and Apple have been using their ads to make statements in support of women, LGBTQ people, racial minorities. and anyone considered “different”. When looking back on history, we can see that advertising reflects the times. It’s hard to say what this decade’s ads will be known for in the future, but let’s hope it will be the opposite of the 1950s.