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Canadian Review of American Studies/ Revue cauadienne d'etudesamertcaines Volume29, Number 2, 1999, pp. 127-134 Advertising Business, Advertising Culture KeithWalden 127 Thomas Frank. The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consum.erism. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1997. Pp. xii + 287 and illustrations. Pamela Walker Laird. Advertising Progress:American Business and the Ri.seof Consumer Marketing. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998. Pp. xiv + 479 and illustrations. Roland Marchand. Creating the Corporate Soul: The Rise of Public Relations a11d Corporate hna.gery in American Big Business. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: The University of California Press, 1998. Pp. xi + 461. Considering the centrality of advertising to modern life, historians have barely scratched its surface. Perhaps the sheer volume of evidence and restricted access to private records have been deterrents, but the intersection of business and cultural history may also be awkward. The former looks for 128 Canadian Review of American Studies Revue ca11ad1e1111e d'etu.desan-1er1cames 'hard' data about organizational structures, technological processes, and capital investment; the latter sifts opaque 'texts' for ambiguities and contradictions . As the traditional compartmentalization of knowledge breaks down, it is not surprising advertising history is attracting more interest, although practitioners often have pronounced leanings toward one side of the juncture. In Pamela Laird's Adwrtising Progress,the business history component 1s much more central and satisfying. She begins with a simple question: why did the iconic mainstays of nineteenth-century advertising-smoking factories, bewhiskered industrialists, and sumptuous nudes-disappear in the twentieth century? Where Jackson Lears's Fablesof Abundance (1994) emphasizes an ongoing tension in advertising between carnivalesque and rational impulses, Laird sees dramatic transformation, occurring primarily between 1870 and 1920. For her, there was no single or simple pattern to the metamorphosis. Advertising changed as retailers and manufacturers grappled with diverse problems of distribution brought on by industrialization. Aside from patent medicine puffs, most ads in the early nineteenth century were placed by merchants to announce only the availability, quality, and price of generic goods. Buyers presumably knew what they needed. As production expanded, new kinds of retail outlets that needed to attract customers from beyond local areas, like department stores and mail order stores, began to innovate with publicity, as did some manufacturers of high-end products who experimented with brand names. Business proprietors presided over this early proliferation. Advertising agents, appearing first in the 1840s, handled only the placement of ads, not the creation. Printers had a significant influence on design, pushing it towards graphic excess to demonstrate their technological capabilities, but advertisers themselves determined content and dissemination strategies, following their own intuitions about what appealed to the public, and proclaiming their own cultural authority. Images of factories , machinery, and mansions suggested they were spearheading the process of human betterment. Their investment in advertising had a ripple effect. Some printers acquired specialized technology which turned out more ornate and colorful materials. Newspapers bought faster presses with better capacity for illustrations, and began to cut their political allegiances. Magazines started to target mass Keith Walden I 129 audiences of consumers rather than intellectual elites. Advertising agencies began to expand in number and size. This evolution took a quantum leap in the 1890s with the widespread introduction of continuous process machinery and the takeoff of the merger movement. Large, intensively capitalized firms, churning out masses of goods, needed to expand markets and generate consistent demands. Many turned to brand names, trade marks, and packaged goods as solutions, all requiring intense publicity. The new scale of business had profound repercussions on advertising practice and content. Managerial organization in manufacturing produced a new appreciation of advertising specialists, and a greater willingness to let outsiders handle creative chores. Vast increases in spending subsidized ongoing improvements to presses, allowing magazine publishers, in particular, to produce more arresting visuals. As advertisers spent more money, their concerns about cost effectiveness intensified, leading to more sophisticated market research and more elaborate planning, as well as to ads with simpler messages, larger pictures, and images of consumption rather than production. Bearded proprietors and factories were replaced by housewives and domestic scenes. The moment for advertising specialists had arrived but it...


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