History 427: History of the Information Age

HIST 427: Mass Media and Early Advertising

This week, we discussed the rise of mass media and early advertising in the United States. This week marks the second and last week that I have acted as a discussion leader.

Mass Media

The emergence of mass media in the United States was not a clearcut revolution in technological invention. As the radio and television became prominent in the early to mid twentieth-century, Americans, debate ensued between pro and anti-advertising groups over the extent to which the US government should regulate mass media. In the 1930s, it was decided that, in comparison to Britain and the BBC, the US Government would take a more laissez-faire approach.

In addition to reading the assigned articles, we engaged in quick group research regarding the rise of television. We learned about the ways in which television networks came to power, as well as how networks perpetuated a sense of solidarity, or rather, conformity, amongst new American suburbanites.

Early Advertising

Thursday’s class discussion was by far my favorite. We traced a brief history of early advertising from the newspaper era to the contemporary period, and learned about the emergence of branding and slogans as sales tools. Deceiving sales tactics and hyperbolic (or downright dishonest) advertising has existed for as long as brands have existed.

While it is certainly true to a degree that we, as consumers, are becoming more savvy in terms of discerning between true and misleading advertising claims, early twentieth-century Americans certainly had their fair share of complaints. In 1905, Samuel Hopkins Adams, in a letter to the editor stated…

“Should the newspapers, the magazines, and the medical journals refuse their pages to this class of advertisements, the patent medicine business in five years would be as scandalously historic as the South Sea Bubble, and the nation would be the richer not only in lives and money, but in drunkards and drug-fiends saved.”

O’Barr, William M. “A Brief History of Advertising in America.” Advertising & Society Review 11, no. 1 (2010) https://muse-jhu-edu.umw.idm.oclc.org/article/377516 (accessed February 11, 2019)

…Indicating his dissatisfaction with the hyperbolic and extreme claims of some advertisements, as well as the “gullible” American public.

In addition to studying advertising, we read Jenny Yu, a National History Day participant’s, essay on FDR’s ability to communicate and control the media. Because mass media was in its early days, FDR’s Fireside Chats possessed a level, no matter how false, of intimacy between himself and each American household. Because of the lack of niche media venues, FDR had a distinct advantage in terms of agenda-setting and connecting to the American people, with his call to World War Two due to the Pearl Harbor attacks as an example.

Ending the period, each table had fun creating their own “early advertisement” for a building or location around UMW or the Fredericksburg area. Our table created a satirical “advertisement” for the University Center Dining Hall, in which we highlighted the tasty and nutritious brunch options of “animal meat,” lukewarm eggs, and a depressing salad bar. Other groups advertised UMW’s Simpson Library, Brock’s, (a popular downtown bar for college students) and Sugar Shack Donuts (another popular downtown destination.)

Sources Cited

“The Big Picture: ‘Overseas Information’ and ‘Education and Dependent Schools.’” Films Media Group, 2007, https://fod.infobase.com/PortalPlaylists.aspx?wID=98103&xtid=44952&loid=126617. Accessed 13 Feb. 2019.

Lawrence, Samuel R. “Introduction” in Brought To You By: Postwar Television and the American Dream. Austin: University of Texas Press. 2001. 10- 22. https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/umw/reader.action?docID=3443294

McChesney, Robert W. “Introduction.” In Telecommunications, Mass Media, and Democracy : The Battle for the Control of U.S. Broadcasting, 1928-1935. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. 3-8. https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/umw/reader.action?docID=272780

O’Barr, William M. “A Brief History of Advertising in America.” Advertising & Society Review 11, no. 1 (2010) https://muse-jhu-edu.umw.idm.oclc.org/article/377516 (accessed February 11, 2019)

Yu, Lumeng (Jenny). “The Great Communicator: How FDR’s Radio Speeches Shaped American History.” The History Teacher 39, no. 1 (2005): 89-106. doi:10.2307/30036746. https://www.jstor.org/stable/30036746

(Citations for all blog posts are also available here.)

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