cj#900> re: consumerism, advertising, & propaganda

1999-02-13

Richard Moore

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Date: Sat, 30 Jan 1999 18:20:01 -0600
To: •••@••.•••
From: Mark Douglas Whitaker <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Re: expanding Cienfuego's comments about consumerism: Silva on
  Laird, _Advertising Progress_

H-NET BOOK REVIEW
Published by •••@••.•••  (January, 1999)

Pamela Walker Laird.  _Advertising Progress:  American Business and
the Rise of Consumer Marketing_.  Baltimore:  Johns Hopkins
University Press, 1998.  xiv + 479 pp.  Notes, bibliographic essay,
and index. $35.95 (cloth), ISBN 0-8018-5841-0.

Reviewed for H-Business by Jonathan Silva <•••@••.•••>,
Department of History, The Ohio State University.

               The Other Side of Roland Marchand

In _Advertising Progress_ Pamela Laird tells the story of
advertising from the Civil War to 1920, exploring how it became an
essential tool for business success.  During the period under
investigation she clearly illustrates how advertising changed from a
rather simple instrument with a less-than-admirable reputation
acquired from snake-oil salesmen and the likes of P.T. Barnum, to a
business tool increasingly regarded as necessary and legitimate.
Linked with this change in attitude was the professionalization of
advertising by advertising agencies.

The evolution of advertising's form and function during the period,
from notifying customers to creating consumers, was direct influence
on its professionalization.  The increasing ranks of professional
advertising creators, employing new communications technologies and
an ever-increasing number of publications, redefined advertising
copy and art to persuade people that they needed things which they
otherwise would not have purchased--thereby creating consumers out
of customers. The author argues that professional advertising people
redefined advertising in this way for two reasons.  First, the
intense competition in an expanding national market required
manufacturers to rely more on advertising.  Second, as advertising
professionals sought legitimacy for themselves and their product,
they did so by linking "progress" to material acquisition, and
hence, had to convince traditional customers to become consumers.
This transformation, according to Laird, brought to the advertising
professionals "cultural authority."  The transformation of America
to a consumer-oriented society in the early twentieth century,
therefore, can be traced to the transformation of advertising
messages directed by a new cultural elite--the professional
advertising agent.

Laird outlines how advertising changed from its earlier form of
hucksterism to a powerful new business tool.  Her work shines as she
explains how and why professional advertising people removed the
stain of earlier advertising excesses and sought legitimacy for
their craft.  There are a few problems, however, and one exists in
the subtitle of the book.  Laird asserts that _Advertising Progress_
leads to the _Rise of Consumer Marketing_.  As one reads through the
book, however, "marketing"  becomes more difficult to understand.
In some instances it seems to mean sales, while in others she
equates it with advertising.  Very often, the author simply notes
the existence of some firm's "marketing problems" with little
explanation of what they are.  In her struggle with marketing, Laird
is not alone.  The work on marketing history is extremely thin, and
therefore, Laird had very little to rely on as a guide.

A second difficulty comes from Laird's assertion that professional
advertising people sought "cultural authority."  Laird argues that
the rise of the consumer culture is a "top-down" phenomenon by which
professionals, seeking cultural authority, endeavored to change the
behavior of the American population.  Advertising professionals, as
well as other businesspeople, were surely part of the transformation
of consumer America.  In Laird's analysis these people all have the
same goal in mind--cultural authority.  This argument dovetails
quite nicely with the work on the consumer culture by such
historians as Jackson Lears and Stuart Ewen, both of whom suggest a
hegemonic role for American businesspeople--particularly the
creators of advertising.  This theme in Laird's work, however,
challenges what Roland Marchand had argued in his book _Advertising
the American Dream_--that businesses and advertising agents took
advantage of the changes they recognized occurring in American
society.  Businesspeople boosted the transformation, but did not
initiate it or guide it.

While the book has some weaknesses according to this reviewer, those
weaknesses point directly to the important role this book serves for
those interested in advertising history.  Until Laird's book,
historians relied almost completely on Marchand's work to understand
advertising history. Laird offers us the other side of Marchand,
where advertising agents direct American customers toward
consumption, as opposed to Marchand's earlier interpretation which
suggests a secondary role for businesspeople.  In addition to
offering those interested in advertising history a chance to explore
a new interpretation, Laird's work would useful to people looking
for an introduction to the history of advertising.

     Copyright (c) 1999 by H-Net, all rights reserved.  This work
     may be copied for non-profit educational use if proper credit
     is given to the author and the list.  For other permission,
     please contact •••@••.•••.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Fri, 12 Feb 1999
From: Richard Clark <•••@••.•••>
Newsgroups: alt.politics.economics,alt.journalism
CC: Richard Moore <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Propaganda: essential to the political-economic status quo?

"The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and
opinions of the masses is an important element of democratic society.   
Intelligent minorities must make use of propaganda continuously and
systematically," because they alone "understand the mental processes and
social patterns of the masses" -- and can (and should) "pull the wires
that control the public mind."   Therefore our "society has consented to
permit free competition to be organized by leadership and propaganda,"
to achieve "consent," "without (actual) consent."  Propaganda is the
mechanism by which the leadership can essentially "mold the minds of the
masses," so that "they will throw their newly gained strength in the
desired direction."  Those in charge of this operation can "regiment the
public mind every bit as much as an army regiments the bodies of its
soldiers."   And so it is that the process of "engineering consent" is
the very "essence of the democratic process."  

-- So wrote Edward Bernays, shortly before he was honored for his
contributions by the American Psychological Association in 1949.

The intelligent few must recognize "the ignorance and stupidity of the
masses" and not succumb to "democratic dogmatisms about men being the
best judges of their own interests."   In fact they are not the best
judges; we are.  The masses must, therefore, be controlled for their own
good, and in the more democratic societies, where force is unavailable,
social managers must turn to "a whole new technique of control, largely
through propaganda."

-- These are the words of Harold Lasswell, one of the founders of modern
political science.  These words appear in the Encyclopedia of the Social
Sciences.


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