Brought to You By: Postwar Television Advertising and the American Dream

Article excerpt

Brought to You By: Postwar Television Advertising and the American Dream. Lawrence R. Samuel. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2001. 266 pp. $50 hbk. $22.95 pbk.

A New York writer and consultant, Samuel clearly believes in the effectiveness of television advertising, if not for every individual product, then certainly as propaganda for consumption. "The aim of this book is to show how television advertising was ground central for the postwar American Dream, both shaping and reflecting our national ethos of consumption," he writes.

Moving chronologically from the first television advertisement, which aired in 1941 and showed a Bulova clock while the announcer read the time, to the 1964 death of the Burma-Shave roadside ad campaign (abandoned after decades in favor of television), Samuel's book is packed with examples. Lively writing and entertaining ads and anecdotes make the text eminently readable. Tales about the problems of advertising on live TV-as when television show host Jack Paar inadvertently caused a bottle of Bufferin to explode in the middle of his program-are funny even today.

The book is divided into three sections. In Part I Samuel argues that television advertising effectively taught Americans to be consumers after years of depression and wartime privation. Using a variety of strategies, such as celebrity testimonials and programs that essentially were commercials and through the sheer volume of ads, he asserts, industry used television to turn American citizens into consumers "by reaffirming our national and individual commitment to consumption and leisure."

Samuel explores the pressure on advertisers and ad agents to outdo one another in Part 2, equating their drive for success with an individual's desire to "keep up with the Joneses." They hired professional jingle writers, used animation, began to run campaigns instead of showing the same ad over and over, and dabbled with competitive advertising in order to increase the effectiveness of ads.

Part 3 examines the shift toward a youth orientation during the early 1960s, as ads incorporated music, turned up the volume, included African Americans in response to the Civil Rights movement, and relied increasingly on color television to hawk their wares. The author also examines the sexualization of advertising, especially ads directed at teens, and concludes that this trend foreshadowed, if not helped to cause, the sexual revolution that followed a few years later. …