Propaganda & Mass Persuasion: What Are You Gonna Buy When You Get Home?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

What Are You Gonna Buy When You Get Home?

War affects consumer trends greatly. The advent of the radio, subsequent advertising, and possibly the modern era of consumer communication stemmed from returning G.I.'s from WWI and the technology they had used. Spam, the famous mystery meat, held a special place in the hearts of the boys that got used to eating it in the trenches. When the soldiers of the 20th century came home, they kept some of their uniform items with. Such is the birth of the popularity of the plain white t-shirt.
In WWII though, companies and advertisers had a unique dilemma: how do you sell something which you can't make to people who can't buy it?

You advertise the intention. In this respect, advertisers we're not only advertising a product to buy, but a vision of America that the G.I.'s were fighting for and the rest of the country was sacrificing for. As Stuart Ewen explains in chapter 15 of his book PR!, the "shortage of consumer goods ... made product advertising pointless." Instead advertisers choose to advertise themselves as an intracle part of what would be post-war America.
Speaking from personal experience, I can attest to the stories of service members and one of their great past times being speaking about what they will do when they get home. As a member of the USS Enterprise, I knew well in advance what the first things I would do, eat, and buy would be when I returned to home port.
This assertion by corporations to sell themselves as essential and deserved pieces of American life would be effective both to the American public and on an international level. Nearly a decade and a half later, this "wondrous and critical" technologies would take center stage in the famed "Kitchen Debate" between then Vice-President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. In it, modern conveniences such as dishwashers and Cadillac were on display, prompting the Russian head of state to grow angry at the display of American consumer technology dominance.


Blogger A. Mattson said...

A great post.

Selling something we could aspire to in the postwar future. A home, cars, appliances, dreams of consumer plenty. Selling these visions sold an American ideal lifestyle, a dream of what we were fighting for, working for all those long hours in the factories and ship yards.

Your comparison to the Kitchen Debate is apt. Capitalism beats socialism by installing a nicer kitchen. Keep the homefires burning!

3/19/2009 7:03 PM  

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