Advertisement

Theory and Society

, Volume 46, Issue 2, pp 143–176 | Cite as

Truth in advertising: Rationalizing ads and knowing consumers in the early twentieth-century United States

  • Daniel Navon
Article

Abstract

This article examines the way advertising was rationalized in the early twentieth-century United States. Drawing on a targeted archival comparison with the United Kingdom, I show how the extensive mobilization undertaken to legitimate and rationalize advertising, rather than changes in the techniques employed in the content of ads themselves, were seen by actors in the mid-1920s to explain most of the extraordinary advances made by American advertising. Building on that comparison, I show how American advertising was transformed, particularly around World War I, into a legitimate profession situated at the center of a network of expertise about consumers and their media. Under the banner of “truth in advertising” ads came to be regarded as a legitimate, rational, and sustained business investment, leading to an enormous increase in aggregate expenditures. I argue that future research should examine how this process fuelled mass media and contributed to the conditions for modern consumerism.

Keywords

Advertising Consumerism Governmentality Mass media Rationalization World war I 

Notes

Acknowledgements

I am very grateful for invaluable feedback from the Theory and Society Editors and reviewers as well as Peter Bearman, Claire Edington, Shamus Khan, Joshua Navon, Harrison White, and especially Gil Eyal.

References

  1. Abbott, A. (1988). The system of professions: An essay on the Division of expert labor. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  2. Adams, S. H. (1905). The Great American Fraud: A Series of Articles on the Patent Medicine Evil, Reprinted from Collier's Weekly. New York: P. F. Collier & Son.Google Scholar
  3. Adams, J. D. (1919). Advertising that destroys prejudices and obstructive customs: Hindrances that must be removed before a market can be developed. Printers’ Ink, 106(1), 61–63.Google Scholar
  4. Advertiser’s Weekly. (1924a). Convention closing scenes. Advertiser’s Weekly, 43(583), 351.Google Scholar
  5. Advertiser’s Weekly. (1924b). ‘You are to be congratulated’: Mr. Winston Churchill’s Inspiring Message to the Convention. Advertiser’s Weekly, 43(582), 236.Google Scholar
  6. Advertising Association (1949). The Story of the Advertising Association. History of Advertising Trust, History of Advertising Trust (archive), AA12/1/1.Google Scholar
  7. Arendt, H. ([1959] 1992). Society and culture. In N. Jacobs (Ed.), Mass media and modern society (pp. 85–94). New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers.Google Scholar
  8. Associated Advertising Clubs of the World (1924). International Advertising Convention Programme, History of Advertising Trust (archive), 21/262/1.Google Scholar
  9. Baudrillard, J. (1998). The Consumer Society: Myths and Structures (trans: Turner, C.) London: Sage.Google Scholar
  10. Bell, D. (1976). The cultural contradictions of capitalism. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  11. Bernays, E. L. (1928a). Propaganda. New York: IG Publishing.Google Scholar
  12. Bernays, E. L. (1928b). Manipulating public opinion: The why and the how. American Journal of Sociology, 33(6), 958–971.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Borsodi, R. (1923). National Advertising vs. Prosperity: A Study of the Economic Consequences of National Advertising. New York: The Arcadia press.Google Scholar
  14. Campbell, C. (1987). The romantic ethic and the Spirit of modern consumerism. London: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  15. Chandler Jr., A. D. (1977). The visible hand. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Chessel, M. (1998). La Publicité, naissance d’une profession, 1900–1940. Paris: Editions CNRS.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Chisholm, C. (1924). Finding the best marketing method in great Britain. Advertiser’s Weekly, 43(580), 52.Google Scholar
  18. Cohen, L. (2003). A consumers’ Republic: The politics of mass consumption in postwar America. New York: Vintage.Google Scholar
  19. Coolidge, C. (1926). Address Before the American Association of Advertising Agencies. Washington, D.C. October 27, 1926. The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=412. Accessed 23 Feb 2011.
  20. Coolsen, F. G. (1947). Pioneers in the development of advertising. Journal of Marketing, 12(1), 80–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Copeland, M. (1929). Marketing. In Hoover et al. (Eds.), Recent economic changes in the United States: Report of the committee on recent economic changes of the President’s Conference on Unemployment (pp. 321–424). New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  22. Crawford, R. (2004). The quest for legitimacy: The growth and development of the Australian advertising industry, 1900–1969. Australian Historical Studies, 36(124), 355–374.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Creel, G. (1920). How we advertised America: The first telling of the amazing story of the committee on public information that carried the gospel of Americanism to every corner of the globe. New York: Harper.Google Scholar
  24. Cronin, A. M. (2004). Currencies of commercial exchange advertising agencies and the promotional imperative. Journal of Consumer Culture, 4(3), 339–360.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Cronin, A. (2012). Advertising myths: The strange half-lives of images and commodities. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  26. Davis, E. (1921). History of the New York Times, 1851–1921. New York: New York Times.Google Scholar
  27. De Grazia, V. (2005). Irresistible empire: America’s advance through 20th century Europe. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Dewey, J. (1917). The future of pacifism. The New Republic, 11(143), 358–360.Google Scholar
  29. Dewey, J. (1918). Internal social reorganization after the war. The Journal of Race Development, 8(4), 385–400.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Divine, V. C. (1924). Changes for the good in retail advertising. Advertiser’s Weekly, 43(582), 268.Google Scholar
  31. Ely, K., & Waymire, G. (1999). Intangible assets and stock prices in the pre-SEC era. Journal of Accounting Research, 37, 17–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Ewen, S. (2001). Captains of Consciousness: Advertising and the Social Roots of The Consumer Culture. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  33. Eyal, G. (2013). For a sociology of expertise: The social origins of the autism epidemic. American Journal of Sociology, 118(4), 863–907.Google Scholar
  34. Field, A. J. (2006). Newspapers and periodicals – Number and circulation, by type: 1850–1967. In S. Carter et al. (Eds.), Historical statistics of the United States, earliest Times to the present (Millennial ed., pp. 253–266). New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  35. Foucault, M. (1991). Governmentality. In G. Burchell et al. (Eds.), The Foucault effect: Studies in governmentality (pp. 87–104). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  36. Foucault, M. (2008). The birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the college de France, 1978–1979. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  37. Fox, S. (1997). The mirror makers: A history of American advertising and its creators. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.Google Scholar
  38. Galbraith, J. K. (1958). The affluent society. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.Google Scholar
  39. Geissler, L. R. (1917). Association-reactions applied to ideas of commercial Brands of Familiar Articles. Journal of Applied Psychology, 1(3), 275–290.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Gentzkow, M., Glaeser, E. L., & Goldin, C. (2006). The rise of the fourth estate: How newspapers became informative and why it mattered. In E. L. Glaser & C. Goldin (Eds.), Corruption and reform: Lessons from America’s economic history (pp. 187–230). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Gitlin, T. (1978). Media sociology: The dominant paradigm. Theory and Society, 6, 205–253.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Goel, V. (2014). Chinese internet companies gain ground in global advertising competition. New York Times, December 15. http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/12/15/chinese-internet-companies-gain-ground-in-global-advertising-competition/. Accessed 17 Dec 2014.
  43. Graham, L. (1997). Beyond manipulation Lillian Gilbreth’s industrial psychology and the governmentality of women consumers. The Sociological Quarterly, 38(4), 536–565.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Hansen, Z. K., & Law, M. T. (2008). The political economy of “truth-in-advertising” regulation during the progressive era. Journal of Law and Economics, 51(2), 251–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Hawley, E. W. (1974). Herbert Hoover, the Commerce Secretariat, and the Vision of an “Associative State,” 1921–1928. The Journal of American History, 61(1), 116–140.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Hess, H. W. (1922). History and present status of the "truth-in-advertising" movement as carried on by the vigilance Committee of the Associated Advertising Clubs of the world. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 101, 211–220.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Hirst, S. A. (1924). Truth about Circulations: An appeal for a permanent three-party organization comprising advertisers, agents and Publishers. Advertiser’s Weekly, 43(582), 272–314.Google Scholar
  48. Hoover, H. (1922). American individualism. New York: Doubleday, Page & Company.Google Scholar
  49. Hoover, H., et al. (1929). Report of the committee on recent economic changes of the President's Conference on Unemployment. In H. Hoover et al. (Eds.), Recent economic changes in the United States: Report of the committee on recent economic changes of the President’s Conference on Unemployment (pp. ix–xxx). New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  50. Hoover, H., et al. (1933). Recent social trends in the United States: Report of the President’s research committee on social trends. New York: McGraw-Hall.Google Scholar
  51. Horkheimer, M., & Adorno, T. W. (1973). Dialectic of enlightenment. Continuum: Translated by John Cumming. New York.Google Scholar
  52. Hower, R. M. (1949). The history of an advertising agency: N. W. Ayer and son at work, 1869–1949. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Igo, S. E. (2007). The averaged American: Surveys, citizens and the making of a mass public. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Jameson, F. (1998). The cultural turn: Selected writings on the postmodern, 1983–1998. New York: Verso.Google Scholar
  55. Jones, B. D., Richardson, A. J., & Shearer, T. (2000). Truth and the evolution of the professions: A comparative study of "truth in advertising" and "true and fair" financial statements in North America during the progressive era. Journal of Macromarketing, 20(1), 23–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Kendal, F. C. (1924). The convention through American eyes. Advertiser’s Weekly, 43(582), 236.Google Scholar
  57. Kennedy, D. M. (2004). Over here: The first world war and American society. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  58. Kenner, H. J. (1936). The fight for truth in advertising: A story of what business has done and is doing to establish and maintain accuracy and fair play in advertising and selling for the Public’s protection. New York: Round Table Press.Google Scholar
  59. Kinter, C. V. (1945). The changing pattern of the newspaper Publishing industry. American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 5(1), 43–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Kreshel, P. J. (1990). John B. Watson at J. Walter Thompson: The legitimation of ‘science’ in advertising. Journal of Advertising, 19(2), 49–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Larson, C., & Mock, J. R. (1939). The lost files of the Creel committee of 1917-19. The Public Opinion Quarterly, 3(1), 5–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Leach, W. (1991). Brokers and the new corporate order. In W. R. Taylor (Ed.), Inventing Times Square: Commerce and culture and the crossroads of the world (pp. 99–117). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  63. Leach, W. (1993). Land of desire: Merchants, power, and the rise of a new American culture. New York: Vintage.Google Scholar
  64. Lears, T. J. J. (1983). From salvation to self-realization: Adveritsing and the therapeutic roots of the consumer culture, 1880–1930. In R. W. Wrightman Fox & T. J. J. Lears (Eds.), The culture of consumption (pp. 1–38). New York: Pantheon.Google Scholar
  65. Lears, T. J. J. (1994). Fables of abundance: A cultural history of advertising in America. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  66. Livingston, J. (1997). Pragmatism and the political economy of cultural revolution, 1850–1940. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.Google Scholar
  67. Lynd, R. S. (1933). The people as consumers. In H. Hoover et al. (Eds.), Recent social trends in the United States: Report of the President’s research committee on social trends (pp. 857–911). New York: McGraw-Hall.Google Scholar
  68. Lynd, R. S., & Lynd, H. M. (1937). Middletown in transition: A study in cultural conflicts. New York: Harcourt, Brace and company.Google Scholar
  69. Lynd, R. S. & Lynd, H. M. ([1929] 1959). Middletown: A study in modern American culture. San Diego: HBJ Publishers.Google Scholar
  70. Marchand, R. (1986). Advertising the American dream: Making way for modernity, 1920–1940. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  71. Marcuse, H. (1964). One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society. Boston: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
  72. Martin, J. L. (1999). The myth of the consumption-oriented economy and the rise of the desiring subject. Theory & Society, 28(3), 425–453.Google Scholar
  73. McKendrick, N., Brewer, J., & Plumb, J. H. (1982). The Birth of a Consumer Society: The Commercialization of Eighteenth-century England. London: Harper Collins.Google Scholar
  74. McMahon, A. M. (1972). An American courtship: Psychologists and advertising theory in the progressive era. American Studies, 13(2), 5–18.Google Scholar
  75. Miller, P., & Rose, N. (1997). Mobilizing the consumer: Assembling the subject of consumption. Theory, Culture & Society, 14(1), 1–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Milne, A. (1924). International advertising convention: Report of negotiations on the occasion of his visit to New York to the associated advertising Clubs of the world. History of advertising trust (archive), 3/1/1.Google Scholar
  77. Myers, K. H. (1960). ABC and SRDS: The evolution of two specialized advertising services. The Business History Review, 34(3), 302–326.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Nevett, T. R. (1982). Advertising in Britain: A history. London: Heinemann.Google Scholar
  79. Nimmo, D. D. & Newsome, C. (1997). Political commentators in the united states in the 20th century: A bio-Critical sourcebook. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.Google Scholar
  80. Norris, J. D. (1990). Advertising and the transformation of American society, 1865–1920. New York: Greenwood Press.Google Scholar
  81. Ohmann, R. (1996). Selling culture: Magazines, markets, and class at the turn of the century. London: Verso.Google Scholar
  82. Oswald, J. C. (1925). The advertising year book for 1924. Garden City: Doubleday, Page & Co..Google Scholar
  83. Owens, R. N. (1923). Goodwill in the accounts. The University Journal of Business, 1(3), 282–299.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Park, R. E. (1923). The natural history of the newspaper. American Journal of Sociology, 29, 273–289.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Pope, D. (1973). The development of National Advertising, 1865–1920. Columbia University.Google Scholar
  86. Pope, D. (1980). The advertising industry and world war I. The Public Historian, 2(3), 4–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Pope, D. (1983). Making of modern advertising. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  88. Presbrey, F. (1929). The history and development of advertising. Garden City: Doubleday, Doran & Company.Google Scholar
  89. Printers’ Ink. (1938). Printers’ ink: A journal of advertisers: Fifty years, 1888–1938. New York: Printers’ Ink Publishing Co..Google Scholar
  90. Resor, S. (1924). What the American Association of Advertising Agencies Does to make advertising scientifically more effective. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 115, 124–129.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Richards, T. (1991). The commodity culture of Victorian England: Advertising and spectacle, 1851–1914. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  92. Rorty, J. (1934). Our Mater’s voice: Advertising. New York: John Day.Google Scholar
  93. Rose, N., & Miller, P. (1992). Political power beyond the state: Problematic of government. The British Journal of Sociology, 43(2), 173–205.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  94. Ross, C. (2007). Visions of prosperity: The Americanization of advertising in interwar Germany. In P. E. Swett, S. J. Wiesen, & J. R. Zatlin (Eds.), Selling modernity: Advertising in twentieth-century Germany (pp. 52–77). Durham: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  95. Rydell, R. W. (1993). World of fairs: The century-of-progress expositions. Chicago: Chicago University Press.Google Scholar
  96. Schudson, M. (1978). Discovering the news: A social history of American newspapers. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  97. Schudson, M. (1984). Advertising, the uneasy persuasion: Its dubious impact on American society. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  98. Schudson, M. (1993). Symbols and smokers: Advertising, health messages, and public policy. In R. L. Rabin & S. D. Sugarman (Eds.), Smoking policy: Law, politics, and culture (pp. 208–225). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  99. Schwarzkopf, S. (2008). Respectable persuaders: The advertising industry and British society, 1900-1939 (Ph.D.). Birkbeck (University of London).Google Scholar
  100. Sewell Jr., W. H. (2005). Logics of history: Social theory and social transformation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  101. Shils, E. (1960). Mass Society and Its Culture. Daedalus, 89(2), 288–314.Google Scholar
  102. Siegfried, A. (1928). The Gulf between. The Atlantic Monthly, March, 141(3), 289–296.Google Scholar
  103. Starr, P. (2004). The creation of the media: Political origins of modern communications. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  104. Stoltzfus, D. C. S. (2007). Freedom from advertising: E. W. Scripp’s Chicago Experiment. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.Google Scholar
  105. Strauss, S. (1924). Things are in the saddle. The Atlantic Monthly, November, 134(5), 577–588.Google Scholar
  106. Tellis, G. J., & Ambler, T. (2007). The SAGE handbook of advertising. London: SAGE.Google Scholar
  107. Tipper, H. (1915). Advertising: Its principles and practice. New York: Roland Press.Google Scholar
  108. Tobin, W. A. (1995). Studying society: The making of recent social trends in the united states, 1929–1933. Theory and Society, 24(4), 537–65.Google Scholar
  109. United States Bureau of the Census (1930). Fifteenth census of the United States, 1930 (Reports): Census of Distribution, 1929. Washington D.C.: Bureau of the Census.Google Scholar
  110. United States Committee on Public Information. (1920). The Creel report: Complete report of the chairman of the committee on public information: 1917: 1918: 1919. New York: Da Capo Press.Google Scholar
  111. Vaughn, S. (1980). Holding fast the inner lines: Democracy, nationalism, and the committee on public information. Chapel Hill: UNC Press.Google Scholar
  112. Veblen, T. (1923). Absentee ownership and business Enterprise in Recent Times: The case of America. New York: Sentry.Google Scholar
  113. Venkatesh, S. (2015). The myth of advertising: The art of legitimacy. Public Culture 27(3 77):409-418.Google Scholar
  114. Weber, M. ([1905] 2003). The Protestant ethic and the Spirit of capitalism. Mineoloa: Dover.Google Scholar
  115. Whitworth, A. (1950). Fifty years service to advertisers: The story of the incorporated society of british advertisers. London: Incorporated Society of British Advertisers.Google Scholar
  116. Wiley, L. (1924). The development of American newspapers. Advertiser’s Weekly, 43(582), 250.Google Scholar
  117. Wilkins, M. (1992). The neglected intangible asset: The influence of the trade mark on the rise of the modern corporation. Business History, 34(1), 66–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  118. Wolman, L. (1929). Consumption and the standard of living. In H. Hoover et al. (Eds.), Recent economic changes in the United States: Report of the committee on recent economic changes of the President’s Conference on Unemployment (pp. 13–78). New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  119. Wood, J. P. (1958). The story or advertising. New York: The Ronald Press Company.Google Scholar
  120. Young, J. H. (1961). The Toadstool Millionaires: A Social History of Patent Medicines in America Before Federal Regulation. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  121. Young, J. H. (1992). The medical messiahs: A social history of medical quackery in 20th century America. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  122. Zieger, R. H. (1977). Herbert Hoover, the Wage-earner, and the “New Economic System,” 1919–1929. The Business History Review, 51(2), 161–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  123. Zwick, D., Bonsu, S. K. & Darmody A. (2008). Putting consumers to Work: Co-creation and new marketing govern-mentality. Journal of Consumer Culture, 8(2), 163–96.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of California, San DiegoLa JollaUSA

Personalised recommendations