Additional Readings

th-1

“What you call love was invented by guys like me—to sell nylons.” Thus Don Draper, of “Mad Men,” sums up the persuasive power of advertising. Ads tell us what to want; they use concepts like “authenticity” and “self-expression” to co-opt our attempts at resistance. But they can also challenge the status quo, pushing the culture in new, productive directions. The modern history of advertising is both cynical and ennobling—it combines manipulation with novelty, convention with progress.

Writing in 1960, E. B. White reflects on the rise of television advertising, which, he observes, is making the world less local. In pieces from the same period, E. J. Kahn and Dwight MacDonald report on the marketing of Coca-Cola and youth culture, respectively—in effect, they show us how advertising helped invent the American teen-ager and the era’s popular concept of Americanness. Meanwhile, Thomas Whiteside chronicles the successful campaign to end widespread cigarette advertising, while Henry Louis Gates, Jr., tells the story of Michael Jordan’s transformation from a basketball player into a global brand. Emily Nussbaum explains how advertising can shape the content of television shows, and Jill Lepore dives into the history of political advertising. Finally, in a piece called “True Colors,” Malcolm Gladwell explores the world of mid-century women’s hair dye: for a generation of women, he writes, its marketing (“Does she, or doesn’t she?”) evoked “the contradiction between the woman you were and the woman you were supposed to be.” Ads manipulate us for mercantile ends, but that doesn’t mean they can’t help us envision new lives, too.

—Erin Overbey and Joshua Rothman


TV has kept the farmer up late at night, has lured the unwary candidate to offshore islands, and has drawn quiz contestants first into chicanery, then into perjury. It has given liver bile and perspiration a permanent place in the living room. …

601203_r29073-1185.jpg


There are six and a half million outdoor signs advertising Coca-Cola in the world today, give or take a few thousand that regularly get blown down, swamped, burned up, or otherwise maltreated. “Drink Coca-Cola” is the first printed greeting received by air travellers alighting at Bangkok or Hong Kong, and by motorists approaching La Paz, Bolivia. …

590214_r29075-320-240.jpg


A Nike spot that Michael Jordan is particularly proud of aired in 1997; in it, he gives a recitation of the missed shots and lost games, concluding, “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” Fade to the Air Jordan logo. …

980601_r29077-320x240-1481841543.jpg


The emphasis on controlling the content of cigarette advertising rather than the sale of cigarettes themselves is an indication of the power that advertising has attained in American society. …

701219_r29076-320-240.jpg


Shirley Polykoff was flamboyant and brilliant and vain in an irresistible way, and it was her conviction that none of those qualities went with brown hair. The kind of person she spent her life turning herself into did not go with brown hair. …

990322_ra396-320-240.jpg