After World War II, the Institute for Propaganda Analysis studied and categorized Hitlers propaganda techniques. The categories of propaganda method--glittering generalities, name calling, transference, testimonial, plain-folks, card-stacking, and bandwagon--have since been used to analyze advertising. (Dieterich, 1976, p.3) Advertisers at this time left the world of grandiose theory and concentrated instead on technique-- the nuts and bolts of market research. The post-war consumer boom brought a proliferation of new products and a new medium of advertising--television. Advertisers structured effort to the routine collecting of large amounts of data, in parallel with the growth of survey research in psychology. The classic design of the psychology experiment, with matched test and control group responses to varied conditions, was employed on individual advertising campaigns. Advertising firms became social science research companies to the point that by the 1950s, the American Psychology Association included a Consumer Psychology Division. (Bogart, 1966, p. 3)

Despite the move away from over-arching theory and the embrace of the individual market research campaign to determine consumer attitudes, the advertising boom in the post-war period had a holistic effect, as noted by Marshal McLuhan in 1947:

The multi-million dollar, nation-wide educational
programs of the ad-man (dwarfing the outlay on
formal education) provide a world of symbols, witticisms,
and behavior patterns which may or may not be a
fatal solvent for the political traditions of America, but
which certainly do comprise a common experience and
a common language. (Twitchell, 1996, p. 132)

An astute observer could see that with post-war advertising, the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. Each individual campaign contributed to a commercial competitive culture that celebrated the acquisitive middle-class suburban nuclear family. Movements of the 1960s would insist on inclusion into this picture or reject it altogether. The "idealized" distorted mirror of American society that advertising presented would become part of the dialogue of social change. There would be growing awareness that products like cosmetics, frozen food, deodorant, white bread, and bras carried ideological meanings beyond their status as consumer goods.

Ironically, it was precisely the decade of the 1960s that advertising had reached an ascendancy, a claim to legitimacy as a science integral to the functioning of the economy. Advertiser J. Klapper's opening comment to a meeting of ad executives indicates the confidence: "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today . . . to further sanctify the marriage of pure psychological research and applied media advertising techniques". (Bogart, 1966, p.53) Oddly, once again the evocation of advertising as a science came wrapped in the rhetoric of religion, some fifty years after Coolidge's address and Guidlach's book. I imagine this rhetoric recurs because both religion and science lay some claim to Truth. Also, although advertisers employed scientific methods, they seemed to realize that they were operating in realms traditionally reserved for religion--belief, values, living habits, iconography, and motivation.

I would like to use H. Boyd and S. Levy's Promotion: A Behavioral View (1967) as representative of advertiser's mentality at their peak of confidence. They reasoned that our affluent society had met everyones basic survival needs, so our nations main economic problem was overproduction, too much supply and not enough demand. Therefore, advertising created sufficient demand by addressing people's "psychological and social needs. . . to generated goods and services in excess of those required". (Boyd & Levy, 1967, p.4) Of course, they noted mass production inevitably produced "products standardized, with little objective difference". When products are basically the same, then they can only compete for the consumer through price, but advertising solved that problem. Brand names could stand in as "shorthand for a constellation of perceived values". (Boyd & Levy, 1967, p.5) Manufacturers could escape price competition by attaching "brand image" and "cultural overtones" so that "the senses become attuned differently". (Boyd &Levy, 1967, p.6) This sensory shaping of demand tended to "short circuit channels of distribution" as the manufacturer can "build up sufficient demand for his product that the retailer and wholesaler must carry [it]." (Boyd & Levy, 1967, p.4) Given the competitive advantage that costly advertising created, they realized that advertising "tended to concentrate business in the hands of a relatively few large units". (Boyd & Levy, 1967, p.4) When Guidlach made a similar point fifty years earlier, he was issuing a caveat. But Boyd and Levy made the point in the sixties to show that advertising was indispensable to large-scale corporate mass production that wanted to avoid price competition.

After showing advertising to be essential on a macroeconmic level, Boyd and Levy moved to the consumer.
They noted that "basic elements of interest in sales and shopping and of receptivity to branded products and to the fundamental appeal and legitimacy of advertising. . . is observed in the childs close attention to commercials". (Boyd & Levy, 1967, p.50) Children exhibit high interest in ads so advertisers "meet and foster this interest" and provide "an important part of the teaching process". Advertising provided education or "learning how to consume". (Boyd & Levy, 1967, p.48) With advertising, children were "finding out how boy consumers are supposed to differ from girl consumers" and products could distinguish one throughout life as rich/poor, smart/dull, middle class/working class, and sophisticated/naive. Advertising provided "instruction on what to anticipate and aspire to as consumers". (Boyd & Levy, 1967, p. 49)

Research had found that "consuming is an integrated activity . . . a way to express a way of thinking or living". (Boyd & Levy, 1967, p. 34) The sum of one's consuming made up one's lifestyle, and Boyd and Levy believed that more study was needed in "how people create a lifestyle that is meaningful and coherent". (Boyd & Levy, 1967, p. 38)

The problem with "lifestyle" for advertisers was its individuality. The science would function better if lifestyles could be as standardized as the products sold. Audience researchers could not address individuals per se, but dealt with groups and played to the averages. (Boyd & Levy, 1967, p. 80) Demographics could help here. When doing market segmentation, they suggested "ideally use a stratification scheme that provides maximum variance between segments and minimum variance (bordering on homogeneity) within each segment". (Boyd & Levy, 1967, p. 25) So, advertisers needed to accentuate the differences between traditional demographic segments such as gender, ethnicity, age, and income, while promoting homogeneity of thought in consumption patterns within these segments.

Boyd and Levy saw the unique position of advertisers: they had "a lack of authority and a responsibility for controlling behavior without authority". (Boyd & Levy, 1967, p. 76) They saw themselves as providing the values and behaviors required to keep the economy humming along, but they had no actual authority. They had science instead of badges. Their frank assessment of advertising's control on the economy and on consumers required response. The promotion of excess, the drive towards standardization and consolidation, the status orientation, the predetermined gender roles, the stilted lifestyle options, the divisiveness inherent in demographics, all met voices of denunciation in civil rights, ecological, consumers rights, and feminist movements. The social upheavals of the 1960s would supremely shake advertisers faith in their science and in their understanding of American "lifestyle".


With Watergate and Viet Nam, the 1970s were a time of extreme disillusionment. Public confidence in corporations dropped from 70% to 15% in the 1970s. (Goldman, 1992, p.3) Advertisers learned from polling that people felt manipulated and insulted by ads. (Goldman & Papson, 1996), p.4) One reason is that advertisers had yet to catch up with social change. They were reflecting "the status quo of a time gone by" and presenting it as real, not as nostalgia. (Courtney & Whipple, 1983, p.24) Articles from Advertising Age like "Women simply dont see themselves in many ads today" (Kovacs, 1972, p.50) and "The working womans come a long way, but can advertising find her?" (1974) show some of the uncertainty. Feminism and environmentalism both seriously questioned the values and options advertising promoted. Even President Jimmy Carter in 1979 sounded a Freirian note in his malaise address to the American people: ". . . too many of us now worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns". (from website:
diag/hist13) Activists demanded non-commercial television and educational programming for children. Schools began expanding curriculum to include ecological and energy sciences, nutrition, and consumer education, so that students could in part understand advertising and see choices beyond those suggested by advertisers. Researchers in psychology and education began to examine the effects of advertising and television on children. All of this increased awareness presented huge problems for the advertising industry.

Advertisings response to the shift in consciousness took many forms. Nixon speechwriter Pat Buchanan advised a group of industry leaders "How can business defend itself? The answer is not distant. . . Pick up the weapon lying idle at your side, your advertising budgets". (Ohmann, 1976, p.41)) The generally accepted ideas of advertising--freedom, technological problem-solving, individualism, and the family, were updated. Now ideas such as "health" and "ecology" entered the rhetoric of advertising. In an effort that would come to be known as "trendbending", advertisers devised "green" marketing strategies that addressed citizens' heightened environmental awareness. (Popcorn, 1991, p.118) Of course, as the name "trendbending" implies, such strategies helped shape the direction of the new consciousness into a focus on individual purchasing decisions .

In further enactment of "if you want to beat your enemy, sing his song", retail marketing departments accelerated the production of curriculum materials. With no irony, the McDonalds Nutrition Action Pack stated "the ideal is to introduce new foods and nutritional concepts at an early age when new tastes and idea are more readily accepted until they become integrated into lifetime food habits". (Harty, 1979, p.18)

Outside of the classroom, advertisers responded to citizen disillusionment with the values of advertising by further commercializing the culture. Ronald Reagan appointed Mark Fowler to head the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) He was of the opinion that television was "just another appliance, a toaster with pictures", and lifted the twelve minute per hour limit on commercials. The door was open for half-hour commercials and even whole shopping networks like QVC and Home Shopping Network. (Twitchell, 1996, p.103) He deregulated the FCC so it no longer would make decisions like the 1969 ruling that removed the program "Hot Wheels" from the air as it was deemed to be "a program length commercial" for Mattel. (Telecommunications Policy Research Conference, 1988, p.5)) By the 1980s, Childrens programming was routinely conceived in toy companies' marketing departments. Shows like "He man" actually paid local broadcasters based on toy sales in the broadcast area. (Twitchell, 1996, p.103) The FCC also removed the requirement that stations put a separation device between children's programming and the commercials. To show just how much advertising increased in the 1980s: in 1971, advertising accounted for 18% of GDP, and by 1986, it was 24%. (Twitchell, 1996, p.243) In 1981, the total U.S. expenditure on advertising was 101.9 billion which increased annually by 15% to bring the number to 155 billion by 1989. (Key, 1989, p.39)


On top of the deregulation and increased spending, advertising underwent a major philosophical shift in approach. The methods described in 1967s Promotion: A Behavioral View are still employed, and in fact demographic and lifestyle studies have become much more sophisticated. However, one would be hard-pressed to find an advertiser today speak so frankly about controlling behavior. Much like in education, the language of advertising is now more cognitive and cultural. The 1980s brought a growth of information-processing research that focused on attention, memory, belief change, and the role of affect in cognition. Since these areas are also of interest to the educator, I will detail some of these findings at a later point.

In the 1980s, the watchword in advertising was "real". Standard techniques in shooting an ad ("picture perfect") were replaced with jumpy cameras, odd angles, arrhythmic editing, and documentary style all in an effort to catch the viewer and present some claim to authenticity. (Goldman & Papson, 1996, p.8) Secondly, a nostalgic, patriotic "hyperreality" represented a small-town 1950s America "when quality meant something". The style that emerged was as effective in selling the President as selling cars. This style included a grandfatherly voice-over, soft fades, and beatific lighting. This vision spoke to our dreamlife and suggested some timeless world that was more "real" than ours today. The technique was a way of recasting the vision of America that people in the 1970s had rejected as fake. This re-presentation of an ideal America managed to take hold though (or because?) it was an overblown archetypal fiction. These phenomena are highly sophisticated cognitive and cultural processes, as they deal with what kind of cultural value the mind puts on film techniques. At this point, an advertiser can target a certain audience not merely with the message, but also with such techniques as the pace of editing. The slow-paced nostalgia ad will not hold the attention of the 15 year old, and the 60 year old can make little sense out of an ad for a video game. Also, diffuse media outlets have now segmented to such an extent that few advertisers speak to the whole American audience. Demographic targeting can be done with techniques and also choices of venue that are quite specific.

In the 1990s, advertisers have treated their craft much like cultural anthropology. For example, Nissan sent a researcher to Costa Mesa CA to observe young Americans "in their natural habitat". The researcher rented a room form a couple to observe their preferences and style. When the couple discovered they were the subjects of anthropological study, they sued and settled out of court. (Twitchell, 1996, p.13) The need to associate products with "the real" led to accelerated cognitive colonization of concepts like youth, the ghetto, the small town, and unspoiled nature. (Goldman, 1992, p.25)

The 1990 have brought a new cultural phenomenon: the ad that incorporates people's resistance to ads. From a Subaru ad that ridicules the idea of car as status-symbol, Sprite's instruction "Image is nothing, obey your thirst" to a series of "Bo knows" Nike ads where the spectacle of the ad and the viewer's engagement is mocked, advertisers now routinely caricature the logic of the consumer finding identity in the product. (Goldman & Papson, 1996, p.12) They engage viewers by essentially complimenting them for seeing through the artifice and manipulation inherent in ads. In Freirian terms, advertisers have co-opted the denunciation to maintain claim to authenticity.

So what happens when young people find their negative perception of ads confirmed in ads? Does it merely create identification with the product or does it lead to greater understanding? Freire called the technique "populist manipulation of the masses", where institutions of power incorporate popular critiques of their power to maintain hold. He called this technique "a political opiate" but he also believed it "accelerates the process by which the people unveil reality". (Freire, 1971, p. 40) As advertisers promote cynicism about ads, they may also be promoting some collective understanding that may contribute to real cultural change. But clearly if advertisers are the only ones unveiling reality, then change will be highly unlikely. This is why educators need to unveil reality and demonstrate how advertisers employ information-processing, linguistic constructions, and visual communication to sell products. By looking at these pieces, we will ultimately understand how advertising techniques and values help shape the minds of our youth.


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