A marketing expert examines the intersection of World War II and various American brands.
As a historian with 40 years of experience in the marketing arena, Silverstein is keenly aware of the centrality of branding to 20th-century advertising. Here, he centers World War II as the catalyst for the later state of that industry. However, the work begins with World War I, during which the government launched an extensive advertising campaign that ranged from the famous “I Want You for U.S. Army” poster to conservationist appeals to consumers to eat corn flakes instead of wheat-based cereals. This initial foray into wartime propaganda with advertisers and private companies was “perfected” during World War II, Silverstein says. Moreover, the author points out how many American companies used the conflict to boost profits. For instance, a centerpiece of Coca-Cola’s branding was its pledge “that every soldier in the field would be able to buy a Coke for a nickel.” This campaign, the author notes, secured Coca-Cola 64 new bottling plants in Europe, including some personally requested by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. Other products, from Jeeps to M&Ms, were first created for wartime use. The book concludes with the rise of modern advertising in the 1950s and ‘60s, fueled by an economic and consumerist boom that was itself a product of the war. Three dozen print-ad reproductions complements the book’s engaging writing style, which sometimes tends toward nostalgia: “If you’re over sixty-five years of age, you are likely to remember a number of these brands and their catchy television jingles from your childhood.” Overall, it’s a convincing history about the role of World War II in developing brand consciousness among consumers in the United States. However, aside from looking at the “Dark Side” of branding in a chapter on corporate partnerships with Nazi Germany, it approaches most advertising campaigns with dewy-eyed sentimentality. Discerning readers may desire deeper analysis of the negative ramifications of business-government partnerships inside the U.S., which gave rise to the corporatization of the postwar American economy.
A skillfully written, if sometimes-uncritical, advertising history.
Silverstein brings into focus the evolution of products and trends started a hundred years ago that still hugely influence us today
William Faulkner said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Barry Silverstein proves how right Faulkner was in “World War Brands: World War II and the Rise of the Modern American Brand”. We are surrounded with the legacies of propaganda, products, marketing strategies, brands, slogans and ideas that originated or were developed during WWI, the Great Depression, WWII and the post-war Baby Boomer period. Step by step he shows how today’s marketing, products and branding are only the latest in a series of building blocks stretching back over one hundred years.
Whether influencing American attitudes toward a war or choosing one product over another, branding is carefully crafted and fine-tuned. During WWI, when it needed to mobilize a nation for war, the U.S. Government created the Committee on Public Information (CPI), a group of writers and artists, to sell the war and ignite patriotic fever. Who can forget the iconic poster of Uncle Sam saying, “I Want You”? In WWII there was the War Advertising Council (WAC) comprised of 400 ad agencies that built WWII itself into a megabrand to promote victory gardens, sell war bonds and make rationing patriotic.
Fusing commercial products with patriotism was a win-win for the country and for manufacturers. In WWII, Coca-Cola integrated its product with the war by stating, “Next to wives, sweethearts and letters from home, among things our soldiers mention most is Coca-Cola”. They were hardly alone. Reminding people of an earlier slogan, “Loose lips, sink ships”, Smith Bros. sold their cough drops as a warning to, “Keep Your Mouth Shut! Don’t Cough! Spreads germs!” The Stetson Hat company advised, “Keep it under your hat” “Keep it under your Stetson”.
This book is full of fun, informative facts like how the trench coat, wristwatches and zippers were created during WWI. I was fascinated to learn the war origins behind such diverse products as M&Ms, Kleenex and Duck (duct) tape.
Silverstein also pulls back the curtain on the dark side of brands. He reveals the companies, although respectable today, shamelessly collaborated with the Nazis in pursuit of profits. After the war such brand names as Associated Press, Bayer, Chanel, Ford Motor Co., and Kodak, among others, managed to reinvent themselves and change the public’s perception of their brand.
As times and attitudes changed, marketing morphed into a specialized, highly analytical profession that mastered the new technologies. The author shows how aided by greater mobility, convenience and technology Americans were able to shed the scrimping and saving mentality of a depression and two wars to embrace the consumerism and the new prosperity of the 1950s and 1960s. The Baby Boomers wanted to buy and were dazzled by new brands like Diner’s Club card, Howard Johnson, Burger King, McDonald’s, U-Haul. Detroit automakers created new brands like the Corvette Sting Ray, the Mustang and the Thunderbird.
Television provided an ideal showcase and was considered a ‘super brand booster”. TV viewing was divided into three consumer groups: daytime programming provided shows (soap operas) and products (Mr. Clean, Green Giant frozen foods, Maidenform bras) for housewives. Primetime was to appeal to families with variety shows such as The Dinah Shore Show sponsored by Chevrolet. Saturday morning programming offered children Annie Oakley, Bugs Bunny and The Lone Ranger while advertising “cereal, snack food, soft drinks, toys and clothing …directly to children”.
The beauty of this book is that it awakens us to the seemingly invisible world we inhabit. We are so inured to advertisements, billboards, jingles, slogans and propaganda that we don’t notice how they slip seamlessly into our minds and decisions. Advertising effects the way we live, what choices we make, where we spend our money and how we mold our perceptions. After reading, “World War Brands” you may never look at your favorite brands in the same way.
What do I think of this book? In the words of Tony the Tiger, a brand superstar, “It’s Gr-r-r-r-r-eat”!