"Revolving Shelves", General Electric, 1958
In the 1950s, General Electric was one of many home appliance companies vying for a place in the expanding suburban market for home goods. In 1958, it launched a campaign for its new “revolving shelves” refrigerator in concert with ads for other appliances including washing machines, televisions, and microwaves. The campaign was designed by Young & Rubicam, one of the titans of Madison Avenue and perhaps one of the most successful advertising agencies of all time. The campaign included both print and television ads, with the print ads following a format standard for the time--featuring an illustration of the appliance placed in a friendly looking home and surrounded by family members, with one third of the page devoted to copy that detailed the specifics of the appliance.
The most famous ad of the campaign, however, was a television ad featuring the famed Hollywood stars Elaine May and Mike Nichols discussing the exciting features of GE’s new refrigerator. In a parody of 1950s soap operas (a term which, ironically, Young & Rubicam was responsible for coining through its soap television ads that funded these daytime serial dramas), May tries to say a passionate goodbye to Nichols, who weaves his reply into a discussion of all that GE’s refrigerator has to offer. The ad, the first to ever use famous actors rather than announcers, brilliantly combined pop culture references, humor, information, and the excitement of television to exploit the ever-expanding market potential that suburban sprawl created for home appliances.