History of Advertising in America in the 1950s Part 2

About the history of advertising in the United States in the 1950s, the growth of science and advertising, trading stamps and contests.

THE 1950S

Giveaways, contests, and quiz shows proliferated in the '50s. Quaker Oats mailed out 5 tons of dirt from the Yukon in little pouches. Three coffee companies put actual money into their packages. Dial soap gave away an oil well. Remington Rand gave away one share of every company listed in the N.Y. Stock Exchange. One contest offered a free butler service. Competition was unbounded. The New Yorker found 312 "finests," 281 "world's bests," and 58 "America's onlys" in its pages over a 6-month period.

In the 1950s, trading stamps proliferated. Although clearly absurd, they proved to be a perfect advertising triumph. While customers knew they were paying more in stores that gave stamps, the stamps nevertheless instilled a feeling of thriftiness. After all, the customers were getting something for "nothing" (like television), and, significantly, they were acquiring "luxury" items which they wouldn't ordinarily have bought. By 1960, there were 250-500 stamp companies. S & H was servicing 60,000 accounts and operating 600 redemption centers. One stamp company ordered 30 million catalogs printed. Housewives marched on State legislatures when they were considering out-lawing trading stamps.

In the field of motivational research, the American petroleum industry found that people don't like to see pictures of gushing oil wells in ads because they resent sudden or easy wealth for others. A soup company which offered pantyhose as a premium found that people were turned off by the association of soup and feet. Then there was the Davy Crockett craze in 1955, which resulted in 300 Davy Crockett products involving $300 million.

The explosion of actual scientific advances rendered people susceptible to the designs of the admen, who used the new respect for science to sell products and introduced the Special Ingredient, the Miracle Ingredient, TCP, Activated Charcoal, Gardol, Miracle SLS, M-3, Solium, Microsheen, RX-2, WD-9, R-51, Trisilium, and others.

The confection and soft drink industry suffered a setback in the 1950s. Between 1950 and 1955, consumption of such items dropped 10%. Presumably, citizens were worried about dieting and tooth decay. (Much of the anti-sugar publicity was generated by the manufacturers of low-calorie products and toothpastes.) The industry hired Dr. Dichter. He told them that the real problem was a guilt feeling about self-indulgence on the part of the individuals in the market area. He advised them, for instance, to emphasize bite-sized pieces in order to give people a feeling that they weren't eating too much. Ultimately, the sugar industry began a campaign promoting candy as a dietary aid, suggesting that people try the "scientific nibble" of sweets to control their appetites.

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