Advertising in the 1950s

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1953 advertisement for Willy's automatic transmission cars.

Despite fierce competition from radio and television advertising, print advertisements remained an influential advertising medium in the 1950s. Print advertisements allowed the consumer to read the ad more than once, and so it could include more specific details on the product than a television or radio advertisement (Young 39). Most consumers responding to these ads were women, who did 80%-90% of the shopping and spending in the 20th century, and so were directed towards them (Young 47). While the ads were targeted towards women, though, the majority of the people creating them were male (Young 47). Because of this, many advertisers produced ads that stereotyped women as “virtual housewives” who did all the cooking, cleaning, dusting, and vacuuming (Young 47).

Men were treated very differently in 1950s advertising. Through advertising, the influence of gender roles is apparent in which products would be sold to a man and which would be sold to a woman. Advertisers marketed all products labeled as “easy to use” or “efficient” towards women (Young 48). This came to include products like automatic transmission cars, self-pasting wallpaper, and quick-drying paints (Young 48). Although these items seem to be more traditionally used by males, their “ease and efficiency” put them squarely in the realm of women. Advertisements for automatic cars became tricky, then, because advertisers had to interest men in the product through their wives. The 1953 advertisement for Willy’s automatic transmission cars, for example. It presents the man as the dominant subject, as he will likely buy the car, but makes it clear that he would be buying the car to please his wife, since according to 1950s gender norms, he would not buy a “labor-saving device” for himself. 

Advertising in the 1950s