History of Advertising in America in the 1950s Part 1

About the history of advertising in the United States in the 1950s, the growth of marketing and research.

THE 1950S

In the early 1950s overproduction was glutting the scene. Marketing became of equal importance with production. Hundreds of similar products were competing with each other. Millions of working-class families moved into the suburbs and became middle class, upsetting traditional class categories. The GNP jumped from $300 billion to $400 billion between 1950 and 1955. "Convenience" foods began to appear--400 million frozen pot pies were consumed in 1958. In 1957, an estimated 5,000 new grocery items were introduced. The corporate-government structure had to sell more products so it could continue to make more products and expand. An all-out effort was launched to mass-analyze the American public, broken down into Designated Market Areas. Hundreds of social scientists moved into the ad business. By 1955, McCann-Erickson had 5 psychologists on its staff.

Ernest Dichter conducted hundreds of motivation studies from his headquarters on a mountaintop overlooking the Hudson River. He commanded a staff of over 25 resident specialists, and published a monthly called Motivations. Dichter had a "psycho-panel" of several hundred families; he did intensive analyses of the emotional makeup of each family member, and used the families to test products and ideas on different "types."

The concept of "style" has long been used to keep people buying. Constant model changes and shifting clothes fashions do not swell up from the needs of the populace; they are deliberate contrivances. During the 1950s "planned obsolescence" was ushered in. Products were purposely made shoddily so that they would self-destruct and the customer would have to replace them. And even if people owned usable goods already, the concept of "psychological obsolescence" induced them to buy a newer item.

According to Vance Packard in The Hidden Persuaders, the Color Research Institute gave out an identical detergent in 3 different boxes--one yellow, one yellow and blue, and one blue. Housewives stated that the soap in the yellow box was "too strong," and in some cases it ruined their clothes. The blue box received low ratings, often leaving their clothes "dirty-looking." The 2-color box received favorable responses. Another example of research done with a view toward future psychological manipulation of the buying public.

All segments of society were considered worthy of exploitation. Clyde Miller wrote in The Process of Persuasion: ". . . Think of what it can mean to your firm in profits if you can condition a million or 10 million children who will grow up into adults trained to buy your product as soldiers are trained to advance when they hear the trigger words 'forward march.'"

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