Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Brand Mascots

In Satisfaction Guaranteed, Susan Strasser discusses the evolution of the advertising agency and its reshaping of the consumer mind from one of utilitarian and agrarian to that of modern, urban, and industrial. Strasser discusses how ad agencies weren’t only trying to sell new products to a consumer culture, “but also creating new domestic habits and activities, performed at home, away from stores and outside the marketing process” (p.89). In other words, by creating new activities (or the illusion of new activities) within the consumer’s home based in part or solely on these new activities, advertising agencies managed to make the products they were pushing a domestic imperative. As Strasser adds, “people who had never bought cornflakes were taught to need them” (p.89).
This major shift in the expanse and integration of advertisements didn’t really occur until the 1870’s newspapers and magazines began to offer “low rates to advertisers who bought whole pages” (p.91). From there, magazines such as Ladies’ Home Journal and newspapers such as the Saturday Evening Post, found themselves “supported by advertising revenues and designed to highlight the ads—to function as advertising media” (p.90) in the span of five years. These new advertisements “contributed to a larger change; the goals of advertising shifted from an emphasis on providing information to an attempt to influence buys by any means possible” (p. 90).
This unrelenting advert explosion soon broke free from the newsprint and glossed pages into the realm of posters, electric signs, and billboards. With the advent of new technologies, came the rise of ads in the public space, catching the consumer’s eye day or night. However, some of these “new technologies enabled advertisers to create billboards so intrusive that they provoked public controversy about the visual space for commercial purposes” (p.91). This led ads into the realm of politics, which ultimately, led to campaign reform against advertising on public property.
The ushering in of the 20th century also ushered in an expansion of services ad agencies offered: “many agents began to hire artists and copywriters and to offer clients coordination with the agencies that handled outdoor and transit advertising…and handled sampling and other nonprint promotions” (p.93). These product peddlers grew into multi-tasking leviathans of splash-page consumption. With a gestalt of goods-aggrandizers at their beck and call, advertisement agencies began to assault the consumer with carefully-planned ad campaigns that “encouraged new needs and new habits…by linking the rapid appearance of new products with the rapid changes in…social and cultural life” (p.95).
These new ad agencies insidiously created new activities to perform at home in order to sell their new products which initially either had not existed before or found its existence outside of the home (ie- shaves at the barbershop), then claimed that their prefabricated product simplified the subtle fabrications of fast-paced modern lifestyle.
To detract from the homogeneity of the assembly line and the monstrosity of the factory and to distract the consumer from questioning the need for such products, identifiable and, oftentimes, wholesome middle-men appeared. These advertisement avatars had the power to offer comfort and lend sage advice to the confused. Such identifiable humans such as King Gillette, Betty Crocker, and William Penn, the Quaker Oats figurehead, offered their countenance and signature to authenticate the merits of these new products and lent their flesh and blood to make factory goods real and a necessity. As Strasser puts it, these human mascots drew “a connection between new products and the presumed integrity of previous times” (p.118).
Furthermore, an abbondanza of grandmas sprouted up overnight at ad agencies all around town. These sweet, elderly ladies “gave advice through…traditional wisdom and old-fashioned comforts” (p. 119). Grandmothers became symbolic of the comforts of community and home, while their opinions were held in high regard. If a grandmother says it’s alright, then it must be. Who’s gonna question a Granny????
At the opposite end of the age spectrum were the Dutch-girl characters whom appeared on the scene and in ads, adorning white caps to signify cleanliness and play on the stereotype of nostalgic wholesomeness: “clean old-country Netherlanders, dressed in traditional costume” (p.121). These girls were in keeping with Campbell’s Kids who gave the soup “a distinct Cambell’s individuality” (p.95). However, the Cambell’s Kids caricatures had an otherworldly quality to them that was less in line with Dutch-girls and more in keeping with the Jell-O Kewpies.
Jell-O hired Rose Cecil O’Neill to make the Kewpies the “subject of her illustrated poems, published regularly in Good Housekeeping, and, reproduced as dolls, created a sensational fad” (p.117). Other companies caught onto this craze and, soon, “pixylike characters” were popping out of Avalon left and right selling soap and crackers to the consumer. These mascots, as well as Palmer Cox’s Brownies and the Post Toasties Elves, “implied the ‘magic’ of mass production” (p.115) and wielded the “’mystic power’ into service collecting cottonseed and coconuts, manufacturing Ivory soap, and distributing it to every house in the land” (p.115).
These magical characters proved popular and although many of them have shed this mass-marketed mortal coil, they were symbolic of a bygone era and/or an otherworld. The element of magic made the machinations infesting factories and the spokes and wheels that churned out pre-packaged products on the assembly line less confusing to a generation of individuals who were facing the accelerated progress of industry and modernity.

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