Academic journal article Journalism History

Selling Detroit on Women: Woman's Day and Auto Advertising, 1964-82

Academic journal article Journalism History

Selling Detroit on Women: Woman's Day and Auto Advertising, 1964-82

Article excerpt

From 1964 to 1982, automotive journalist Julie Candler's monthly column in Woman's Day helped readers navigate the male sphere of driving with useful tips from purchasing to maintaining a car. The popular women's magazine published the "Woman at the Wheel" column to attract auto advertising, but it never did. This paper examines the representation of the woman car driver and themes present in the "Woman at the Wheel" column and reasons for its failure to attract auto ads. Textual analysis, interviews, and archival research show that Detroit automakers' gendered bias of the female car buyer kept them from advertising in women's periodicals such as Woman's Day.

Julie Candler's "Woman at the Wheel" column in Woman's Day found a receptive audience when the magazine created it in 1964. More and more women were driving to jobs outside the home, stay-at-home moms stuck in the suburbs lobbied for a second car, and still others were taking their drivers' exams for the first time. They looked to their trusted supermarket magazine for advice. From Candler's column they learned how to buy a car, change a tire, teach their teenager to drive, handle a motor home, and call the service garage when a high squeal followed a loud "CLUNK, CLUNK."1 But Woman's Day did not hire Candler to craft a column just for readers; the magazine wanted to attract automobile advertisers. It never did.

At a time when women's opportunities outside the home were growing, U.S. carmakers continued to embrace stereotyped notions about women drivers and to dismiss women as buyers. Candler's column, which appeared from 1964 to 1982, challenged those cultural assumptions.

This research studied a women's magazine that has received little previous scholarly attention.2 The "Woman at the Wheel" column also is significant for running more than eighteen years in a major women's magazine.3 Woman's Day editors and writers such as Candler crafted content for the modern woman whose daily life increasingly involved the automobile.4 The magazine's failure to gain car advertising during that period shows the strength and long-lasting nature of the auto industry's gendered bias about women.

To look at the relationship between editorial content and advertising sales, this paper examined the representations of the woman car driver and themes present in 189 "Woman and the Wheel" columns from June 1964 to September 1982. This number represents a complete set of those published. Using qualitative textual analysis of the columns and interviews with Candler, the authors demonstrated that an interest in cars and driving in the 1960s and 1970s was definitely a feminine concern.

The research also studied the advertising climate during the column's tenure with particular focus on two concerns: the extent to which automakers and their advertising agencies were aware of the female car buyer's importance as a target audience, and media-buying and creative decisions that kept automakers from viewing women's periodicals such as Woman's Day as serious venues for information about their products. Interviews with a Woman's Day editor from the 1980s and with advertising executives, as well as archival research and reports from the trade press, showed that considerable market buzz about the female car buyer existed, but automakers focused their advertising strategies on the male car consumer.5

When Candler's first column appeared in June 1964, Woman's Day was a successful player in the women's general interest market. From humble 1931 beginnings as a free A&P grocery store leaflet, it became a full-scale, albeit only six-page, magazine in 1937. It had reached a circulation of 3 million by 1944 and 4 million by 1958, when new owner Fawcett Publications took over.6 By 1972, its circulation had reached 7.5 million, and in 1982, it was at 6.9 million.7

In the 1960s and 1970s, the editorial pages of Woman's Day featured articles on food, fashion, and home similar to those appearing in its massmarket counterparts known as the Seven Sisters Better Homes & Gardens, Family Circle, Good Housekeeping, Ladies' Home journal, McCall's, Redbook, and Woman's Day). …

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