Advertising in American Culture
Alicia Barber, Ph.D.
Analyzing Advertisements as Cultural SourcesPurpose: What is it trying to sell/promote?Audience: Who is the target customer?Strategies: Text, image, message
What can it tell us about American culture at the time of its production?
PurposeCultivating brand identityConvincing consumer to switch brandsIntroducing a new productLobbying for a political issue
StrategiesDoes the advertisement offer a reason why to buy the product? Or is it oriented more to emotional appeals? Does the ad feature the product or does it focus on the people using it? Does it address the reader directly with suggestions or commands? Does the ad offer a reduced price or a premium? Does a celebrity provide an endorsement? Does it play on fear or anxiety or make positive appeals?
19th Century Advertisements
Wanamakers 1902 Grand Depot
Wanamakers 1903 Philadelphia Store
Louis Sullivan: Carson, Pirie, Scott Building, Chicago, 1899.
R.H. Macys, 1908
Marshall Fields Tiffany dome
Marshall Field, pre-1900.
Women at Marshall Fields, Chicago, 1905
Christmas shoppers, a woman holding a parcel and walking past a covered store window at Marshall Field's department store on State Street, Dec. 1905
Looking into a Marshall Field & Co. department store window in Chicago's Loop, 1910.
The Rise of Mass CultureWave of new mass-marketed consumer goods: washing machines, automobiles, furniture, etc.Creation of community through new shared cultural experiences: radio, movies, magazines, tourism, advertising, etc.A new focus on the consumer.Harry Grant Dart, Picturesque America, 1909
*Consumer CreditBefore 1920, the average consumer could not borrow money.Allowed consumers to pay smaller amounts over time.Began with large items like cars, pianos, etc. Induced a speculative frenzy as many bought stocks with only 10% down payment.1924 ad for Ford Runabout with weekly purchase planBuy now, pay later!
1924 Advertisement for Work Rite radios
July 6, 1922. J. Walter Thompson Advertising Agency Ad
Ivory soap ad, 1929Youth demanded simple clothes instead of those fussy, elaborate styles of the 1900s. Clothes more expressive of youths own slim, natural graceclothes easier to wear in the thousand-and-one activities of modern women!The Modern Girl
Ponds ad from Ladies Home Journal, 1923.When girls started on their headlong career of swimming, golfing, riding and motoring, they were warned they would eternally ruin their complexions. But they just did not. After several years of sports and parties, their skin remains soft and fine. The modern girl still has the kind of complexion men bow to, fascinatingly fresh and smooth.
Dr. Wests toothpaste, 1935
Luis Sinco AP Photo/Los Angeles Times
Lego Ad, early 1960s
Volkswagen ad, 1963
Volkswagen ad, 1969
Sony Walkman ad, 1981