Advertising to Advertisers

April 02, 2023

On my Tumblr I often post images, usually details from ads, that I find in broadcasting and trade magazines from the 1930s through the 1960s. These ads are aimed at others in the media and advertising industries. Broadcast stations, networks, magazines, and newspapers advertise in the trades to convince advertisers and agencies that buying time or space will result in higher sales.
I find these ads very illuminating: they show us what people at that time believed was a good selling message about the role of media and advertising.  The ads also reveal attitudes toward consumers that are, to our 21st-century eyes, retrograde at best.
"How do your markets grow?" (1951)
Here’s a 1951 ad that represents consumers as lettuce heads—brainless and passive—being watered (nurtured) by the advertising messages from a watering can, presumably held by an advertiser or agency or media outlet. “How do your markets grow?” implies that all that is necessary to increase sales is to simply spread that ad message on those passive smiling lettuce heads.
"Reception's getting better all the time!" (1954)
Here’s a 1954 ad with a then-common trope of the television set containing a live person connecting with consumers in their living rooms. In this case, a buxom woman reaches out to touch a male viewer. The advertiser’s message, when delivered by a sexy woman, will sell products because “reception’s getting better all the time!” 
"The Three P's: Promotion, Publicity, Pulchritude" (1960)
Using sexual attraction to sell is a basic strategy. In this 1960 ad women, advertisers are instructed on the “Three Ps: Promotion, Publicity, Pulchritude.” Draping women with exaggerated secondary sex characteristics on products such as seeds, pencils, and pickles ought to sell, right? The implication is that male consumers won't care about the quality of the pencils and pickles because they will be so besotted with the beauty of the women.
"This is interest. This is ENTHUSIASM!" (1953)
A magazine ran a series of house ads in 1953 that instructed advertisers on the difference between “interest” and “enthusiasm.” Sure, a consumer might be interested in a product, but what advertisers want is their enthusiasm because it "is interest raised to a buying pitch!" Here the astronomer is interested in the stars he sees through his telescope, but jumps off his seat in enthusiasm when he focuses it instead on the window of a woman undressing. 
"This is interest. This is enthusiasm!" (1953)
The power of advertising in the magazine goes to outer space in this 1953 ad. A space alien is mildly interested in the arrival of male astronauts but is bug-eyed with excitement by the arrival of a female astronaut with large breasts. Attraction to large-breasted women is universal, of course.
While it’s easy to laugh at these ads today, or be outraged by their offensiveness, I think we can gain insight into how people in the media industry at that time represented themselves to each other—not to the public. Claiming magic powers over passive consumers and claiming that sexually appealing women were key to selling were not new tropes or rare ones. But they do indicate that the tools they deployed then were, in actuality, rather limited.


Follow this website

You need to create an Owlstown account to follow this website.

Sign up

Already an Owlstown member?

Log in