Pamela E. Swett, S. Jonathan Wiesen, and Jonathan R. Zatlin, Eds., Selling Modernity: Advertising in Twentieth-Century Germany

By Mennel, Barbara | German Politics and Society, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

Pamela E. Swett, S. Jonathan Wiesen, and Jonathan R. Zatlin, Eds., Selling Modernity: Advertising in Twentieth-Century Germany


Mennel, Barbara, German Politics and Society


Pamela E. Swett, S. Jonathan Wiesen, and Jonathan R. Zatlin, eds., Selling Modernity: Advertising in Twentieth- Century Germany (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007)

Selling Modernity: Advertising in Twentieth-Century Germany combines twelve fascinating articles of equally high quality that are organized in chronological order and provide an overview of the history of advertising in Germany, while establishing different thematic concerns and theoretical clusters. The essays communicate the cooperative purpose to engage with the history of advertising in Germany, exemplified by the essays' many cross-references and thematic connections. While the volume as a whole creates a cohesive account of the history of advertising, the individual essays take different theoretical and methodological approaches to the question of advertising and, thus, highlight diverse aspects of the complex field of advertising. This volume constitutes a welcome addition of intriguing and specialized essays for those who are experts in the field and an introduction to the expanding field for newcomers to the topic. In addition, Selling Modernity presents a core of names, concepts, and ideas associated with paradigmatic moments or shifts in the history of advertising.

Among the many topics, with which advertising intersects, three sets of relations create threads throughout the volume: one, the relation between innovation in material culture and advertising; two, the relation between advertising and propaganda; and three, the relation between the United States and Germany. Additional topics, such as design and architecture also create bridges across different chapters. Kevin Repp's opening article about the advertising campaigns by department stores in the Weimar Republic entitled "Marketing, Modernity and 'The German People's Soul': Advertising and Its Enemies in Late Imperial Germany, 1896-1914" makes the failure and success of two advertisement campaigns by department stores in Berlin a prism into the relationship between class, architecture, advertising, design, German nationalism, and American influence. Repp analyzes the Wertheim department store's neo-Gothic architecture and restrained advertisement as a response to an antisemitic attack by the "'industrious Mittelstand'" that claimed to represent "the true strength and heritage of the national economy, small shopkeepers and artisans" fighting against "the large-scale structures of commercial modernity" (32).

The question of American design in advertising posters, addressed in Repp's well-written and complex essay, continues in the subsequent article by Corey Ross, entitled "Visions of Prosperity: The Americanization of Advertising in Interwar Germany." Ross portrays shifts in interwar advertising from an emphasis on the product to the solicitation of the consumer and from design to text as an effect of Americanization, contextualizing these shifts in different approaches to advertising in the United States and Germany. His essay carefully outlines the discourses of Americanization and modernization, on the one hand, and advertising and propaganda, on the other. These different pairings create threads throughout the volume, always carefully placed in their historical and contemporary dimensions.

As Victoria de Grazia points out in her forward to the volume, one of the distinct qualities of the German case concerns the history of the Nazi era and its particular relationship to advertisement. Hence, several essays address the multi-faceted nature of advertisement in the Nazi era. Nevertheless, the central issues addressed in the three essays on advertisement in Nazi Germany--the porous boundary between propaganda and advertising and the paradoxical nature of national ideology and international industries--extend beyond these chapters. Consequently, Ross's essay foreshadows the close proximity of American advertisement and Nazi propaganda, while Holm Friebe's essay on Hans Domizlaff gives an account of the life of one of the most influential figures in German advertisement whose career spanned from the Weimar Republic to the postwar era, and whose marketing strategy, in the words of Friebe, exemplified "a 'conservative revolution' within marketing," "a reactionary ideology with a modernist surface culture" (79).

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