Ad Industry 1950s-1970s
During the postwar era, Americans were quickly moving to the suburbs. There was an increase in spending on housing, cars, furniture, clothes, and household appliances (“Suburban Growth”). In the 1950s, the television rapidly became popular in American homes. The television industry promoted American consumer culture, which allowed the advertising industry to boom as Americans wanted to buy more. Television media products endorsed a homogenous depiction of the perfect suburban family- one where women were expected to be the housewife. This housewife image was perpetuated by advertisements that marketed products that the ideal housewife should want to buy (Courtney and Lockeretz).
Before the Civil Rights Movement, African American women were underrepresented in mainstream media. Those who did appear in media were often light-skinned or depicted in negative stereotypes to sell products to a white audience. During the Civil Rights Movement, there was an increase in representation as more advertisers started to market to African American consumers, but stereotypes still heavily prevailed (“African-Americans: Representations in Advertising”).
The Effects of Advertising
Media and self-perception are closely related. Given the media’s continual presence in society, it can function as a way for people to understand their place in society as they are socialized through the roles they see in media images (Crouteau and Hoynes 16-17). Children are constantly being bombarded with messages from the media, giving advertisements the power to act as an influential socializing agent. Many advertisements have messages about beauty, body type, and what it means to be “attractive” in society. One study found that 1 out of 3.8 commercials contained some sort of message about appearance (Downs and Harrison). The ideal version of femininity is sold through ads about fashion and beauty products, which offer items that can be purchased to achieve a certain type of appearance. Studies have shown that viewing ads centered on idealized beauty and body images have led to an increase in appearance dissatisfaction and body shaming, particularly for young women (Posavac).
I built this archive to demonstrate the ways women were portrayed in advertisements from the 1950s to the 1970s. Through this archive, I would like to bring attention to the insidious ways these trends are still at play in advertisements today. This archive consists of three collections of popular ad campaigns from the 50s to 70s that demonstrate the idealized version of femininity that was marketed to women. While searching for advertisements to include in this archive, I found that there was a severe lack of advertisements featuring women of color in any open-source archive. Therefore, the collections included in this archive are very whitewashed, which further demonstrates trends at play in advertisement structure. To address this archival silence, I have included a page in this archive focused on analyzing African American women in advertisements. While navigating this archive, keep in mind the limited number of ways women were depicted in these advertisements and the impact this had for people who did not fit into these defined categories. At the end, take a look at the Current Page to learn more about how, while subtler, these trends are still at play and continue to impact women today.
In building this archive, I wanted to choose large collections of advertisements. In order to understand the works of media images and its impact, one needs to look at trends of images rather than just one specific image, because stereotypes are instilled through the repeated use and exposure to imagery (Crouteau and Hoynes). All images included in this archive are from the DPLA.
“African-Americans: Representations in Advertising.” Ad Age, Josh Golden, 15 Sept. 2003, adage.com/article/adage-encyclopedia/african-americans-representations-advertising/98304/.
Courtney, Alice E., and Sarah Wernick Lockeretz. “A Womans Place: An Analysis of the Roles Portrayed by Women in Magazine Advertisements.” Journal of Marketing Research, vol. 8, no. 1, 1971, p. 92., doi:10.2307/3149733.
Croteau, David R., and William Hoynes. “Media and the Social World.” Media/Society: Industries, Images, and Audiences, Sage Publications, 2014, pp. 2-30.
Downs, A. Chris, and Sheila K. Harrison. “Embarrassing Age Spots or Just Plain Ugly? Physical Attractiveness Stereotyping as an Instrument of Sexism on American Television Commercials.” Sex Roles, vol. 13, no. 1-2, 1985, pp. 9–19. doi:10.1007/bf00287457.
Posavac, Heidi D., et al. “Exposure to Media Images of Female Attractiveness and Concern with Body Weight Among Young Women.” Sex Roles, vol. 38, no. 3/4, 1998, pp. 187–201. doi:10.1023/a:1018729015490.
“Suburban Growth.” Ushistory.org, Independence Hall Association, www.ushistory.org/us/53b.asp.