Advertising and the Transformation of American Society, 1865-1920

By James D. Norris | Go to book overview

3
ANY FOOL CAN MAKE SOAP

I'll tell you a secret about the soap business, Mr. Norman. There's no damn difference between soaps. Except for perfume and color, soap is soap. Oh, maybe we got a few manufacturing tricks, but the public don't give a damn about that. But the difference you see is in the selling and advertising. We sell soap twice as fast as our nearest competitor because we outsell and out-advertise 'em.

-- Evan Llewelyn Evans to Victor Norman in
Frederic Wakeman The Hucksters ( New York, 1946), 23

Before the last decades of the nineteenth century, the few advertisers who sought to create demand had, for the most part, directed their efforts toward middle-class consumers. Given the lack of disposable income among most of the urban working class, this represented simply a wise business decision. Why advertise luxury items to people with hardly sufficient income to purchase the necessities? However, as previously noted, during the last quarter of the nineteenth century, per capita income increased by about 50 per cent and real per capita income by approximately 100 per cent. Working-class families enjoyed at least some modest discretionary income, and middle-class status seemed within the grasp of many Americans (see Figure 1.9). Many of the new consumer industries such as soap and toilet goods, prepared foods, tobacco, and even popular magazines, enjoyed decreasing cost and low enough unit prices to be well within the means of working-class consumers. In these industries, national markets and mass consumption became obtainable goals. Advertising professionals, especially copy writers, realized that advertisements, regardless of the social status of prospective consumers, needed to appeal to the deep-seated desire of Americans for middle-class status. Little wonder that both these industries and advertising flourished.

In his analysis of the development of national advertising, Frank Presbrey

-47-

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Advertising and the Transformation of American Society, 1865-1920
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents ix
  • Figures xi
  • Preface xiii
  • 1 - The American Economy in Transition 1
  • 2 - The Men, the Media, and the Message, 1865-1900 27
  • 3 - Any Fool Can Make Soap 47
  • 4 - Leisure Time for the Ladies: Bicycles, Cameras, Appliances, and Other Luxuries 71
  • 5 - Trademarks and Brand Names--Selling the Image 95
  • 6 - I'D Walk a Mile for a Camel 127
  • 7 - Advertising Comes of Age 143
  • Notes 171
  • Bibliography 193
  • Index 201
  • About the Author *
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