History of Advertising in America in the 1930s and 1940s

About the history of advertising in the United States in the 1930s and 1940s, government regulation, World War II ads, psychology and advertising.

THE 1930S AND 1940S

More books hostile to advertising were published: 100,000,000 Guinea Pigs, Eat, Drink and Be Wary, Partners in Plunder were among them.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, when governor of New York in 1931, told the Advertising Federation of America: "If I were starting life over again . . . I would go into the advertising business in preference to almost any other."

Bethlehem Steel opened a Public Relations Dept. in 1930; General Motors in 1931; U.S. Steel in 1936.

The U.S. Government attempted to regulate advertising to an unprecedented degree, but failed. Congress Bill S. 1944 was introduced in 1933 by Sen. R. S. Copeland (although it was largely written by Rexford Guy Tugwell, a welfare liberal who was appointed an under secretary of Agriculture by FDR). The bill was a significant threat to the manufacturers and advertisers. It provided for strict controls, by the Government, of industrial quality and of advertising. It represented one of the New Deal's moves toward a "planned economy." The bill was hotly contested and finally defeated in 1934. A milder law--the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act--was passed with the approval of both advertising and industry.

In the early 1940s, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission came down hard on certain advertisers for phony claims. But in general, advertising made a comeback after the Terrible Thirties. During W.W. II, advertising advanced further. The War Advertising Council, consisting of representatives of all aspects of advertising, assisted the U.S. Government in preparing and conducting campaigns for recruitment, war bonds, and other wartime necessities. War-time tie-ins were universal: An air-conditioner manufacturer claimed that he was sinking Japanese ships because the periscope lenses of American submarines had been made in an air-conditioned shop. Similarly, "Hitler smiles when you waste miles," from B. F. Goodrich. Or, "Idle words make busy subs. Keep it under your Stetson."

After W.W. II, television flourished and the modern superagency coalesced. Psychologists and sociologists were brought in by the advertising agencies to study human nature in relation to selling; in other words, to figure out how to manipulate people without their feeling manipulated. "Mr. Mass Motivations" himself--Dr. Ernest Dichter, president of the Institute for Motivational Research--made a statement in 1941 that typifies the developing advertising consciousness. He said that the successful ad agency "manipulates human motivations and desires and develops a need for goods with which the public has at one time been un-familiar--perhaps even undesirous of purchasing."

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