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Trends in Consumer Advertising

Author(s): John Benson

Source: Journal of Marketing, Vol. 3, No. 1 (Jul., 1938), pp. 20-26
Published by: American Marketing Association
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Accessed: 13/09/2008 04:23

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Journal of Marketing.
President, American Association of Advertising Agencies
is so
many sided a
subject that copy by what people currently think and
I can deal with it in one of two ways: feel.
either give you a bird's-eye view of The first radical step forward was the
trends or discuss some one of them more "reason why" appeal introduced by
thoroughly. I take it that you prefer to Lord & Thomas decades ago. That was
have me do the former, from what your based on human rather than mechanical
chairman suggested in inviting me to reasons for buying a product. Washing
address you. machines, for instance, were promoted
I shall touch on such questions regard- not so much for their qualities of con-
ing consumer appeal, as: struction as for the time and effort saved
Changes in the character and appear- the housewife, and the leisure she could
ance of it, from time to time. enjoy. That was the beginning of subjec-
How readers react to advertising as it tive values in advertising, so much
is being printed or broadcast. What they debated nowadays.
like and dislike about it. The next step forward was scientific
The rising tide of consumer and reader demonstration. This was a new tech-
resentment against advertising and what nique in copy, born of a popular flair for
we are doing to meet it. science which was then being exploited
Steps being taken or projected to im- in the public mind and in the schools.
prove consumer appeal, so that it may Latin and Greek were being displaced by
be more acceptable to the reading public. physics and chemistry. Things had to be
With much of this some of you are scientific to be true. The copywriter was
quite familiar. All I aim to give you is a not slow to utilize that trend. He found
perspective of what has happened in the scientific reasons for the use of foods and
past and what is going on now, in the other products; liked to quote learned
gentle art of persuading people to buy authorities in support of them. Of course
through printers' ink. this opened the door to much buncombe
In method of appeal, copy has under- and abuse, which still exists. It is so easy
gone some radical changes through the and so impressive to dress up a faker in
years. During the third of a century of learned garb and have him confound the
my own experience I have seen consumer mere layman. This won't be so easy
appeal swing from a mere business card hereafter, with the Wheeler-Lea Law
to the highly sophisticated and subjec- in effect.
tive approach of today. Another change occurred about this
In doing so it has been largely in- time which was a real advance, and that
fluenced by public sentiment. We hear was in physical appearance of the ad-
a good deal about the power of adver- vertisement. There was a marked im-
tising to mould public opinion; much provement in typography, in layout and
more might be said about the shaping of in design, pioneered by Calkins and
* An addressbeforethe American
Holden and the J. Walter Thompson
tion, Washington, C., May, 1938. Company. Leading artists were em-

ployed to paint pictures of real merit. tising to sell the goods. That meant
Physical impression became an adver- "pressing" in copy, a straining after
tising art. more effect and a heavier punch. Ex-
This followed an uplift in public taste travagance became extreme.
throughout the land, especially in regard The other bad influence was public
to the home and its decoration. Mr. Bok, fear. Distress was so wide-spread, a
then editor of the Ladies' Home 7ournal, mood of panic was created. People were
started a crusade in this direction, for easily alarmed. Copywriters took ad-
better taste in architecture, in furniture vantage of it. They appealed to all sorts
and pictures. Other magazines followed of fears, of loss of health, of waning
suit. Some were devoted to that one beauty, of failure in life and love. If you
theme. From all of this advertising took did not use a certain tooth paste, you
its cue. might fall a prey to pyorrhea; if you did
Then there came into American life a not eat a certain food, you might be
brutalizing period, the effect of the missing vitamins indispensable to health;
World War. For years human horror had if certain cosmetics were not used, mar-
been daily news. Hate and coarseness riage might be wrecked.
prevailed everywhere. People earned un- We still have the fear motive with us,
heard of incomes, and spent them on the and it is still effective in advertising.
fleshpots. Some critics feel that inspiring fear is a
There was a cheap prosperity in the socially dangerous thing to do, especially
land. Sex was rampant, and business in times of public uncertainty and dis-
morals sank. tress. Its influence is widespread and
The effect upon advertising was very may break down rather than build up
marked. Sex appeal of the most blatant public morale. Much of it is resented by
sort appeared in print. Vulgarity leered some consumers and laughed at by
from many a page. Claims were un- others, for its far-fetched warnings and
restrained by either facts or reason. senseless threats.
Media censorship slipped lower year by A good influence of the depression has
year. Things were being printed in maga- been awakening the consumer to the
zines which would have been spurned a need of getting her money's worth. She
few years before. It was a day of getting wants more facts about the things she
while the getting was good, and then buys. Wants to know more about in-
the bubble burst. We plunged down like gredients, uses and resistance to wear
a plummet. and tear. Mere claims are not enough. It
The country was abruptly disil- is not merely a question of getting her
lusioned; people felt hostile to an eco- money's worth, but also of fitting a
nomic system which had caused so much product to its proper use.
trouble, and advertising was its mouth- As a result advertising is much more
piece. It came in for a sharper scrutiny informative than it used to be; labels
than it had ever known before. We have more descriptive. This trend is bound to
had the critics on our back ever since. grow. If giving the reader more facts is a
The depression did a number of things better way of selling goods, you may be
to advertising copy, some good and some sure more facts will be forthcoming. Re-
bad. The bad ones were notably two. tailers are awake to this trend. Their
The consumer market became so thin Consumer-Retailer Relations Council is
that extra pressure was put on adver- advocating not merely laboratory test-

ing of goods for sale in stores but also An ad on Fleischmann's Yeast was
honest advertising and descriptive labels. headlined ten years ago: "Five Who
National advertisers cannot afford to Might Pass Your Windows." Today: "I
fall behind in the competitive bid for Am Sorry, Brown, but We Need a
public favor. Hustler On This Job." And of course
This rather rambling tale about trends Brown ever after took yeast to build up
in copy and their dependence upon strength.
changing moods in people is by no Here is one on Odorono. "That Mys-
means scientific or accurately related in terious Art of Being a Woman." Today:
point of time. That would require a more "Every girl owes it to herself to make
exhaustive study than I have had any this arm hole odorless."
chance to make. But I believe it is es- You see how much more direct and
sentially true, based on over thirty years specific is today's advertising, swift mov-
of experience in advertising. ing, colorful, frank and indelicate; much
In comparing advertisements printed nearer to the needs and desires of the
ten years ago with those we see today, reader.
there is also a marked difference in the We all know that modern advertising
technique of approach. Those ten year has gone pictorial. Commercial art has
olds seem pale today. Their headlines become photographic. There is much less
were more dignified and less pointed. demand than there used to be for the
They were not so personal or dramatic; painter's brush. Photographs are more
not nearly so frank and vulgar; there realistic. Mere beauty in advertisements
was less pointing of the finger at specific is at a discount. Some of the most effec-
needs. tive typography and display scare-heads
Let me cite a few examples: itself into the reader's consciousness with
Ten years ago Colgate ran a tooth stud-horse type and a welter of photo-
paste ad with a headline which said: graphic situations, which have the fast
"Guard those lovely teeth; they are action of a movie.
priceless." A year ago Colgate ran an- Readers do not want supposition any
other ad on the same product, and the more; they want reality; they want the
headline read: "Coffee and doughnuts intimate and graphic details of actual
again; that means he hasn't a job yet." occurrence, and they want it in a flash.
The comment is from a drug store The picture magazines which have
waitress, who implied that the poor sprung up like mushrooms indicate that
fellow's breath smelled so bad, he could people are real picture minded. They
not get a job, and should have used want to see what happens and just how
Colgate's. it happens.
Here is a ten year comparison between An interesting comparison of news
advertisements of Ivory Soap. Said the pictures put out by ACME was recently
earlier headline: "Fair White Hands and made by a student of the subject, to in-
How to Keep Them." Today's version dicate what kind of pictures go over big
reads: "Caught Red Handed, or Kay and what fall flat.
Learns A Lesson." For instance, a picture of Dr. Robert-
Ten years ago Lux headlined an ad as son emerging from a ten day burial in a
follows: "Every Musical Show in New mine disaster in Canada went over big.
York Uses Lux to Double the Life of It showed his eyes staring with horror
Stockings." Now: "Just My Frowsy as rescuers reached for him at the top.
Luck; Another Run." A picture of the drought disaster in

the West in 1935 went flat. It was general acts to modern advertising. Do the
in character. masses like it or dislike it? Frankly we
Another one showing a drought victim don't know, on the whole.
shooting his cattle because he could not We do know that consumer bodies and
feed them, sold big. women's clubs criticize it for being
Some flood pictures did not sell, but largely misleading, much of it salacious
one showing a drowning man clinging to and indecent, most of it uninformative.
a gasoline tank afloat while thousands In their opinion it does not serve the
stood by helpless, was widely printed. consumer in any reliable way; is bent on
Two lynching pictures were com- selling goods and uses all the tricks and
pared. One showing a milling crowd devices of cajolery and emotional appeal
about the victim did not sell; another to do so.
showing the actual lynching, with the Not all women leaders feel that way
negro dangling against a tree, sold big. about it; but many do, and are quite
Apparently the pictures people like vocal.
are intimate glimpses of horror and sus- How far their ideas reach down among
pense. Also, sex appeal of actual people, the masses who read and buy from ad-
whether celebrities or not. vertising, we don't know; we would like
Not a very nice reflection on human to find out. There is grave danger in it,
interest. People seem to be barbarians if the agitation persists. These leaders
at heart. among women are influential in their
There is a school of thought in adver- own communities; what they think and
tising which believes in the same kind say is important; in a local sense they
of appeal which journalism uses, bold- make opinion. What they think about
and as their opponents would say, advertising might easily affect millions
shameless. Such technique would have of uncritical women.
been impossible ten years ago. The pub- The organized women are becoming
lic would have revolted. Today they consumer conscious. They know their
seem to take it in their stride. rights and their power to enforce them.
There is to be sure a large body of They are bent on getting their money's
papers which do not go along with such worth and they are bent on having ad-
appeal. At least 40% of the newspapers vertising serve them with reliable in-
of this country decline to publish pic- formation about merchandise, its uses,
tures of this ultra sort. its resistance to wear and tear, its wash-
People also like humor and entertain- ability and immunity to exposure. There
ment. That explains the tremendous is no doubt about that. Just how they
vogue of radio and its widespread use as will strike we don't know. They may
a medium for selling goods and it also boycott the undesirable advertiser. They
explains the vogue of color comics in may seek and obtain legislation to pro-
advertising, now accepted by hundreds tect themselves. They may bring pres-
of newspapers and reaching a combined sure to bear on publishers and retail-
circulation of some 25,ooo0,000. ers.
We used to think that the "funnies" How effective they can be in legisla-
were read mostly by the children; now tion is writ large in the recent food and
Dr. Gallup finds that up to 70% of adult drug measure passed by Congress. While
readers also enjoy them. not as drastic as they would like, it has
This brings us to the very vital ques- teeth in it which no advertiser can afford
tion as to how the American public re- to flout.

We also know that whatever people she likes to toy with the idea and gets a
think about advertising has not as yet real kick out of doing something herself
made any serious inroad on the volume to realize them. That helps her self-
of advertised products being bought in respect.
this country. People seem to feel pretty "Cosmetics," said an authority in a
generally that they are good products, recent speech, "have reached so high a
and of a quality on which they can rely. perfection that now they can reflect the
Some may think them a bit higher priced inward graces of the mind." That's a
than the unbranded, and feel that ad- mouthful. Another remarked that cos-
vertising is the cause. But they go on metics are a woman's triumph of hope
buying. over fact, and the net result is immensely
I am also convinced that the American beneficial, in improving the looks of
public instinctively likes advertising. women, their freshness and personal
Otherwise it never could have had so charm.
wonderful a growth. Its influence is far- So one might go on indefinitely illus-
reaching. It suits the American tempera- trating the warm appeal of advertising
ment; is cordial and optimistic. It gives to the average human. And it also feeds
to the common things of the market a his or her self-esteem in bidding for
romance which helps people to carry on. patronage and judgment of value in the
goods promoted. There is a subtle flat-
The average life is drab. Very few are
rich, or wise or beautiful. Statistics show
tery in that.
on how small an income the average There is without doubt a rising tide of
family has to live. Its tether is very resentment against advertising in this
short. Radio and the movies are an es- country which has been gathering mo-
mentum for the past three years. Just
cape. So is advertising. It paints so many
harmless rainbows; suggests so much how widespread it is we don't know;
happiness to be derived from owning but we do know it is serious. The Crowell
and using mere things. If it's a piano survey dug up some very unpleasant
which is being promoted, its objective facts. It estimated, from actual calcula-
value is submerged in a dream of sub- tions, that not less than 5,000,000 or-
jective interests, with visions of social ganized women are exposed to adverse
entre for the children, of musical eve- propaganda of the most sweeping sort,
nings at home, of cultural advancement. from influential sources like Universities,
The stiff fingered little boy or little girl
Government officials and such com-
may have no talent for music, and socialmercial protectors of the public as Con-
doors may be barred to them at best; sumers' Research and Consumers'Union.
and still the fancy free mother enjoys an It also uncovered a very voluminous
escape from the stark realities about her.
reading of such poison books as "Ioo,-
Here is an illustration more up to ooo,ooo Guinea Pigs," "Skin Deep,"
date: Many a plain woman dreams "American Chamber of Horrors," etc.,
about being beautiful, and cosmetic ad- by the public. Hundreds of public li-
vertising comes along with its offer of abraries reported circulating thousands
skin one loves to touch, of a school girlof copies of these books to their patrons,
complexion, and of youthful charm, at and the use of them by schools and col-
an age when physical forces are on the leges as required reading in their classes.
ebb. She knows well enough that these Advertising has become a subject for
prospects are a vain illusion, and still discussion wherever women meet, and

most of it is adverse in one way or an- We don't want to kid the public and
other. we don't want to kid ourselves. We are
Not all the consumer movement is looking for the facts. We are sponsoring
anti-advertising. Many of the women are and have financed a study of the social
intelligent and fair minded; anxious and economic value of advertising, con-
merely to get their money's worth. ducted by the Harvard Business School
Naturally they are interested in adver- under the auspices of the Advertising
tising as a guide to value. Many have Research Foundation. This study will
been misled about it. They want to know go to the root of the matter. And take
the truth. They want to think well of two years to do. Then it will be pub-
advertising. It is up to us to give them lished, whatever the findings, white,
facts, both benefits and abuses, and a grey or black. We feel confident of the
clearer understanding of its true func- outcome, whatever faults are found.
tion. The menace thus becomes an op- At our A.A.A.A. Headquarters, we
portunity, which it would be folly indeed made a survey of magazine advertising,
for us to miss. by a jury of six copy experts and media
We are not missing that opportunity. censors, which showed that only 5.6%
We are launching a Consumer-Adver- of the ads were in violation of our code
tiser Council to stem the tide of mis- and another 4% were debatable; that is,
understanding. It will have three major more facts were needed to determine
functions: to keep in touch with the con- whether true or false. Not a bad showing
sumer movement everywhere, find out to make but bad enough to urge reform.
what women think and how they are Consumers should be told about it.
being influenced against us; produce or What is being done or projected to
procure the facts and have them prop- regulate advertising, clean it up our-
erly disseminated where they are needed; selves?
and invite complaints from responsible We have been working on a media
consumer sources, about advertising or censorship plan for some time to close
any phase of it, or any campaign, to be the gate on undesirable copy. It would
honestly investigated, explained or ad- have to be cooperative, with the most
justed by the advertiser involved. This influential publishers included, and a
would give the women a court of redress, joint investigator to get the facts and
and the advertisers a means of knowing appraise them.
what consumers think about their copy. That has been much facilitated by the
Obtaining the right kind of material Wheeler-Lea Law, with its wide open
to use in news releases, in speeches and definition of false advertising and its
lectures, and in pamphlets, is no easy penal provisions. If the media could keep
task. No special pleading would do. advertisers from getting into the clutches
Every statement would have to be of the law by means of a censorship
judicial, and non-partisan; reflect both directed at complying with its pro-
sides of the question; admit faults and visions, then it would be welcomed
offer ways and means of removing them. rather than resisted by advertisers, and
Anything smacking of propaganda would our problem would be well on the way
soon lose influence and be worse than towards a solution.
useless. There has been too much of The Wheeler-Lea Law is a good one;
that; it has hurt rather than helped our protects the consumer and does not
cause. handicap honest business. Its definition

of false advertising is a masterpiece of advertising appeal more effective, more

protection to both. It does not deal with accurately aimed at the market being
literal falsehood or literal truth; it deals sought, including copy testing, reader-
with a false impression, however pro- ship of both ads and publications, and
duced; and it does not split hairs about checking lists of principles to be applied
trade puffery, subjective inducement or in writing effective copy. They would
emotional appeal. It outlaws dishonesty make a story by themselves.
which injures either health or pocket- Undoubtedly we are headed for higher
book. ethical standards in advertising, for
I wish I had time to tell you something more consumer service, and for more
about the steps being taken to make certainty of response.