Close your eyes and imagine a world in which advertising provides only hard-core factual product information like inches and pounds, nuts and bolts, cubic feet–the stuff you’d want to know if you were a (non-corrupt) business or government procurement officer.
Got it? Me neither. But Inger Stole does, because she’s dug through the papers left behind by the antiadvertising movement of the 1920s and 1930s and written a new book, Advertising on Trial: Consumer Activism and Corporate Public Relations in the 1930s, summarized here. (Stole teaches at the Institute of Communications Research at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.)
When today’s octogenarians were kids, there really was such a movement. The book Your Money’s Worth: A Study in the Waste of the Consumer’s Dollars, was a best-seller. The authors, engineer Frederick Schlink and economist Stuart Chase, wanted people to buy goods “according to impartial scientific tests rather than according to the fanfare and triumphs of higher salesmanship.” (That was a long time ago in both style and substance. Read the whole thing here if you dare.)
Today, even those who would give the advertising industry an upraised middle finger have adopted its techniques. Stole has a hard row to hoe. Even her title was used thirteen years ago, for a how-to book subtitled “Managing Your Agency for Effective Results.”