From Total War to Total Diplomacy: The Advertising Council and the Construction of the Cold War Consensus

By Daniel L. Lykins | Go to book overview

1

The Opportunities of War: Advertising Counters Old Enemies and New Threats

Advertising professionals strive to discover opportunity in all events. The industry and its clients did not exempt World War II, so often depicted as a time when patriotism overwhelmed self-interest, from their pursuit of advantage. One ad man, contemplating the consequences of the outbreak of war in Europe, foresaw it delivering “the American advertiser from the fear that has oppressed him.” 1 He predicted that the profits of war would revitalize the American economy and end the threats he believed the New Deal presented to advertising and free enterprise.

After America entered the war, fulfilling that prophecy of deliverance from expanded government authority required a unified industry reaction. This prompted the creation of the War Advertising Council in early 1942. 2 The Council oversaw the wartime merger of private and government propaganda and directed its presentation by business and the media. The resulting commercial advertising and public service campaigns, combining patriotism, business boosterism, and attacks on New Deal liberalism, promoted support for the war and the business-defined free enterprise political economy. This structure served as the foundation for programs seeking public backing for the hot war against fascism and the Cold War against communism.

The Advertising Council reflected the industry's successes and failures of the 1920s and 1930s. Institutional advertising, first created during World War I to keep brand names alive, sought to mold opinions rather than just sell products. 3 The success of this style of advertising led to industry claims that it could instill ideas in the public mind. During the prosperous 1920s, advertising applauded itself as the genius driving the “newly discovered [economic] perpetual motion machine” and staked out a position for itself as the voice of free enterprise. 4 This claim illserved the industry when the economy soured in the 1930s.

The Depression produced public disillusionment with America's free enterprise system. The “American Way of Life, ” the slogan of the consumer culture promoted by advertising in the 1920s, “took on a hollow ring.” 5 Americas's business

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