Selling Youth: How Market Research at the J. Walter Thompson
Company framed what it meant to be a Child (and an Adult) in 20th
Stephen M. Gennaro
Doctorate of Philosophy
Graduate Program in Communication Studies
McGill University, Montreal
A thesis submitted to the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research in partial fulfillment
of the degree of PhD.
29 August 2007
Copyright Stephen Gennaro 2007
Table of Contents
Perpetual Adolescence and the Selling of “Youth” 4
The Culture Industry 11
Examining the Advertising Agency 17
Discourses of Adolescence: How Society Instructs its Children
(and Adults) to be Young 31
The Discourse of the Child as a Blank Slate 32
The Romantic Discourse of Childhood 34
The Puritan Discourse of Childhood 35
Adolescent Psychology: Institutionalizing Discourses about Children 39
Sigmund Freud: Psychoanalysis and Adolescence 45
John Broadus Watson: Behaviourism and Adolescence 51
Conclusion: The Creation of the ―Adolescent‖ 60
J. Walter Thompson and the Modern Advertising Agency 62
The Business History of Advertising 64
Why the Economy Needs Advertising 77
Advertising‘s Social Role 82
How the J. Walter Thompson Company Defined Advertising 88
Understanding the Consumer: Research at J. Walter Thompson 95
John B. Watson: The Behaviourist Inside the Agency 97
Television: New Technology and New Developments in
Consumer Research 101
The Consumer Panel 106
The Personality Profile Project 111
The Personality Profile Project: Understanding Why the Consumer Buys 124
The Results of the Personality Profile Project 124
Age as a Determinant of Consumer Behaviour 129
Heterosexuality (Sex) 130
Conclusion: Adolescent Needs Become Lifelong Needs 158
The Youth Market: How Advertisers Decide Who is Young 159
The Post-war Youth Market 160
The Youth Market at J. Walter Thompson 163
Socio-Economic Factors of the Youth Market 165
Youth Market Attitudes 172
Defining the Youth Market 175
Extending the Youth Market 177
7 Up and the J. Walter Thompson Company 185
The Seven-Up Brand 185
7 Up Advertising and Market Segmentation in the 1940s and 50s 187
The All Family Drink: Lifestyle Marketing to all Lifestyles 195
The Youth Sell and the Cola Wars 206
Where There‘s Action: The Peer Group 213
Conclusion: Soda or Autos, it‘s all the Same Thing 218
The Imagined Community of Youth 221
The Completion of Adolescence or Adolescence Prolonged? 221
Imagined Communities 235
Appendix 1- ―Like One White Pea in a Pod‖ 241
Appendix 2- 7 Up Advertisements 242
List of Objects
Figure 1.1 ―J. Walter Thompson Corporate Structure‖ 1957 67
1.2 ―J. Walter Thompson Corporate Structure‖ 1957 68
1.3 ―J. Walter Thompson Corporate Structure‖ 1957 105
Figure 2 ―Like One White Pea in a Pod‖ 1957 71
Figure 3 ―Personality Profile Project: Heterosexuality Results‖ 131
Figure 4 ―Being a Mustanger Brought out the Wolf in Wolfgang‖
1965 advertisement, Ford Mustang. 134
Figure 5 ―Personality Profile Project: Change Results‖ 137
Figure 6 ―Bernard was a Born Loser‖1965 advertisement, Ford Mustang. 140
Figure 7 ―Youth is a Terrible Thing to Waste‖1966 advertisement,
Ford Mustang. 150
Figure 8 ―Personality Profile Project: Association Results‖ 155
Figure 9 ―Support the War Movement‖ 1944 advertisements, 7 Up. 189
Figure 10 ―Boys Like Girls who Make Seven-Up Floats‖ 1960
advertisements, 7 Up. 192
Figure 11 ―The All-Family Drink‖ 1948 advertisement, 7 Up. 197
Figure 12 ―Pizza Fire in your Throat‖ 1962 advertisement, 7 Up. 199
Figure 13 ‖Why we have the Youngest Customers in the Business‖
1955 advertisement, 7 Up. 202
Figure 14 ―Let‘s Play House‖ 1954 advertisement, 7 Up. 204
Figure 15 ―Wet and Wild‖ 1967 advertisements, 7 Up. 206
Figure 16 ―Sparkle‖ 1956 advertisement, Coca-Cola. 209
Figure 17 ―Things go Better with Coke‖ 1965 advertisement, Coca-Cola. 210
Figure 18 ―Now it‘s Pepsi-for those who Think Young‖ 1963 advertisement,
Pepsi Cola. 212
Figure 19 ―Where There‘s Action‖ 1965 advertisements, ―How to Mix and be
Popular‖1967 advertisement, 7 Up. 216
Selling Youth: How Market Research at the J. Walter Thompson Company
Framed What It Meant to Be a Child (and an Adult) in 20th Century
This thesis examines the marketing discourse of ―perpetual adolescence,‖ a term, which
describes the ways in which the advertising industry trains all people, young and old, to
be consumers of ―youth‖ in a marketplace that privileges adolescence over adulthood;
with ultimate goal of achieving access to an adult wallet that is controlled by a consumer
with child-like sensibilities. The discourse of perpetual adolescence came to prominence
after WWII when drastic changes in population and the emergence of a new middle class
were influential factors in shifting ideologies surrounding what it meant to be a child, a
teenager, and an adult. One of the key institutions in the crystallizing of new ideologies
about ―youth‖ was the advertising agency, who through advertisements framed and
defined the family unit in postwar America to American consumers. The thesis looks
specifically at the interior of one of the largest advertising agencies of the 20 th century the
J. Walter Thompson Company. Through an examination of their practices in consumer
research with behaviourist John B. Watson, the Consumer Panel, the Personality Profile
Project, and a series of advertisements produced for The Seven-Up Company between
1942 and 1968, the J. Walter Thompson Company in the post war period aimed to further
expand the youth market into the more profitable age category of 25-44 year olds by
selling ―youthfulness‖ to adults. Consumers were promised the romanticized sensibilities
of youth but were only given the destabilized identity of adolescence. Explicitly, J.
Walter Thompson sold images of ―youth‖ to adults who longed to be young again. In
doing so they implicitly ―took the lid off‖ of a time that adults were supposed to have
already conquered—adolescence—by drawing them back to a destabilized identity that
required the affection and acceptance of their peer group for validation, which could be
only be attained through the continual purchasing of consumer goods.
Vendre la jeunesse : comment la recherche de marché au J. Walter Thompson Company a
encadré ce qui veut dire être un enfant (et un adulte) en Amérique pendant le 20e siècle.
Cette thèse nous permet d‘examiner le discours, issu du marketing, que nous désignons
par « adolescence perpétuelle ». Nous avons conçu cette expression pour décrire les
différentes formules utilisées par l‘industrie publicitaire afin d‘apprendre aux gens — tant
les jeunes comme les personnes âgées — à devenir des consommateurs de « jouvence »
dans un marché qui privilégie l‘adolescence à l‘âge adulte. Le but étant l‘accès au
portefeuille du consommateur adulte ayant des sensibilités d‘enfant. Le discours de
« l‘adolescence perpétuelle » a toujours été présent dans la publicité, mais est devenu
déterminant après la Deuxième Guerre mondiale. Des changements majeurs en ce qui
concerne la population ainsi que l‘émergence d‘une nouvelle classe moyenne influencent
de façon décisive les changements idéologiques de l‘époque entourant la conception de ce
que veut dire être un enfant, un adolescent et un adulte. Une des industries clefs
permettant la cristallisation des nouvelles idéologies concernant l‘idée de jeunesse a été
l‘agence publicitaire. Cette dernière à travers la publicité encadre et définit la cellule
familiale des consommateurs de l‘Amérique d‘après-guerre. Notre thèse se concentre plus
spécifiquement sur l‘une des plus grandes agences publicitaires du vingtième siècle : la J.
Walter Thompson Company. À travers l‘examen des pratiques concernant la recherche
sur le consommateur avec le behavioriste John B. Watson, le Consumer Panel, le
Personality Profile Project et une série d‘annonces publicitaires produites pour les
compagnies Seven Up et Ford entre 1942 et 1968, nous pouvons dire que la J. Walter
Thompson Company, en cette période d‘après-guerre, cherche à étendre son marché à une
catégorie d‘âge ayant un pouvoir d‘achat beaucoup plus grand, les 25-44 ans, et cela, à
travers l‘offre de « sources de jouvence » aux adultes. Les consommateurs se font
promettre certaines caractéristiques idéalisées de la jeunesse, mais n‘obtiennent que
l‘identité déstabilisée de l‘adolescence. De façon explicite, la J. Walter Thompson
Company vend des images de la jeunesse à des adultes qui désirent être encore des
jeunes. Ainsi, implicitement la compagnie expose au grand jour les problèmes d‘une
période que les adultes devaient avoir conquise — l‘adolescence — en les ramenant vers
une identité déstabilisée ayant besoin de l‘affection et la reconnaissance de leur groupe
d‘appartenance pour se faire valoir et qui peut seulement être atteinte à travers l‘achat
continu de biens de consommation
A task as large as the completion of a thesis although written by one person is never
completed without the guidance and assistance of a large group of people; it takes a
village. When I first conceived of the idea of completing my BA, MA, and PhD in less
than six years combined, everyone, except my wife Alicia believed I was crazy. Alicia‘s
strength, support, and continual willingness to compromise and even humour me and my
ridiculous time-lines are the backbone upon which this thesis was constructed.
Additionally, my children, James and Elise have also compromised a great deal in
allowing Daddy to disappear for days and weeks at a time to conduct research and write
this thesis. The honour of completing this degree is shared with my parents, siblings, and
grandparents. Jason, that copy of Dostoyevsky‘s Crime and Punishment for my 14th
birthday changed my life. Many thanks to Dom and Vince, and my colleague Greg
Taylor for always having ―room at the inn.‖ From an academic standpoint, I am in
eternal debt to Dr. Bernard Lightman, Dr. Erin McLaughlin Jenkins, Dr. Steven Bailey,
and Dr. Jenny Burman who believed that I could make a positive contribution to
academia when so many schools took a pass on me. Thank you to Dr. Carrie Rentschler
who spent countless hours in discussion with me via email or in person with continual
suggestions and positive re-enforcement to refine my ideas and continue to pursue the
notion of perpetual adolescence, even when it felt like a Pandora‘s box. Dean Fafoutis,
Samar Habib, and Michael Angelo Tata in the editing process of earlier articles
challenged me to refine my ideas and I thank them for helping bring clarity to the project,
A portion of both: “Purchasing the Teenage Canadian Identity: ICTs, American Media,
and Brand Name Consumption,‖ in the International Social Science Review Volume 80
Numbers 3 & 4 (2005) and ―Sex & the City: Perpetual Adolescence Gendered Feminine‖
in Nebula 4.3 (March 2007) have been reprinted in this thesis with permission. The staff
at Duke University‘s Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library, especially
Lynn Eaton, was incredibly helpful in providing me access to all of the JWT material and
in making the reproduction of many of the advertisements possible. Ultimately, the
success of this thesis is directly related to the omnipotent supervision of Dr. Jonathan
Sterne, who knew when to push and when to pull, and who believed in me and was never
shy in showing it. J, thank you is simply not a strong enough phrase to illustrate my
Lucille, I did it!
Introduction: Perpetual Adolescence and the Selling of “Youth”
During the 2007 Super Bowl, Diet Pepsi released its latest television commercial
in the ―Forever Young‖ campaign to Canadian audiences, titled ―the make-out.‖1 The
campaign had been around since 1999 and had already produced 11 commercials, but
―the make-out‖ was being publicized as a ―must-see‖ commercial. 2 The ―Forever Young‖
campaign pictured consumers in their 30s revisiting their favorite memories of youth (be
it their hairstyles, musical preferences, relationships, etc.) before deciding that they were
happier being in their 30s and would rather feel young by drinking Diet Pepsi than
actually reliving those youthful experiences. The practice of ―selling youth‖ can be found
everywhere in advertising today. Youthful advertising – that is, advertising that promotes
youthful sensibilities rather than focusing on the utility of the product for sale – has
become a standard method for advertising agencies in marketing to consumers of all age
brackets. For example, in 2004, the adolescent consumer (referring to consumers under
the age of 18) accounted for approximately $600 billion in consumer spending, and
advertising agencies themselves spent an estimated $15 billion in preparing targeted
advertisements to these young consumers. 3 In addition to this enormous investment by
advertisers in the youth market, there continues to be a significant amount of money spent
by advertisers in creating images of youth that are targeted to adult consumers, such as
the Diet Pepsi campaign described above, the Kellogg‘s Mini-Wheats ―The Kid in Me‖
1 CNW Group, ―Making Out‖ During Super Bowl XLI: Diet Pepsi Debuts New 'Forever Young' Canadian Commercial. News release.
Mississauga, ON, Jan. 29, 2007. http://www.newswire.ca/en/releases/archive/January2007/29/c9934.html
3 An increase of almost 250% in advertising costs from only ten years earlier, and a drastic increase from 100 million dollars spent in
1983. All figures are in US dollars. Susan Linn, Consuming Kids: The Hostile Takeover of Childhood (New York: The New Press,
2005) 1; Juliet B. Schor, Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture (New York: Scribner. 2004) 21.
campaign from the 1980s, or Oldsmobile‘s 1970s campaign ―This Ain‘t Your Father‘s
Furthermore, George P. Moschis‘ work on ―gerontographics‖ (which refers to the
segmenting of the aging American population into niche seniors markets based on their
lifestyle preferences) suggests that in attempting to attract consumers in the growing
―seniors‖ or mature market in America at the end of the 20th century, studies have shown
―that older people do not relate to older models. They relate more to those
chronologically younger by 10 to 15 years. Therefore, spokespersons should be
considerably younger than the average age of the target market.‖5 Moschis suggests that
one of the key themes in advertising successfully to the aging marketplace is to place a
focus in advertisements on what he calls a ―youthful self-concept.‖ As Moschis states,
―the aging person wants to maintain his or her youthful self-concept, so messages that
reinforce the perception of being the ‗same person,‘ the notion that a person of a certain
age is like a person of any age, can be rather effective.‖6 This youth focus in current
advertising is not new. Instead, the marketing discourse of perpetual adolescence
emerged in the early 20th century with advancements in adolescent psychology and came
to the forefront of advertising in the 1960s when the demographics of the baby boom
created an increased focus on the youth market. The advertising industry‘s growth and
sustainability throughout the 20th century was closely tied to its ability to sell ―youth‖ and
―youthfulness‖ as a lifestyle and a tie-in to whatever product was being promoted.
4 The exact amount of money spent on this type of advertising is much more difficult to track since the advertisements themselves are
not categorized in house as ―ads with a youthful flare for older consumers‖ and no such data currently exist.
5 George P Moschis, ―Marketing to Older Adults: An Updated Overview of Present Knowledge and Practice,‖ The Journal of
Consumer Marketing. Volume 20, Issue 6 (2003) 516-26.
6 Ibid., 516.
What follows is an examination of the marketing discourse of what I will refer to
as ―perpetual adolescence.‖ This term describes the ways that the contemporary
American culture industry trains both young and old to be consumers of ―youth‖ in a
marketplace that privileges adolescence over adulthood.7 By doing so, American society
has effectively erased the traditional lines of distinction between adulthood and
adolescence. 8 This thesis examines the success of the discourse of perpetual adolescence
in American advertising throughout the 20th century. It traces the history of how
American advertising agencies borrowed ideas from adolescent and social psychology to
fragment the American marketplace into a series of niche markets for specific brand-
name commodities. The most notable niche has been the ―teenage‖ or ―youth‖ market,
which came to be a central focus of advertising agencies in the middle of the 20th century.
Throughout the 20th century, advertising was one of the main purveyors of the discourse
of perpetual adolescence in the American culture industries.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels argued that the ruling ideas of society at any
given moment are the products of the ruling class. 9 That is, the dominant ideology of a
society reflects the interests of those with the most power, and those who have the most
power are those who have the best access to the system of production. Therefore, what
they produce reflects their desires, dreams, hopes, and aspirations for their society. Their
7 Here, the term ―culture industries‖ is used in a similar fashion to how Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer use the term to refer to
all of the industries involved in the appropriation and de-politicizing of art, through its mass production and selling for profit. Theodor
Adorno and Max. Horkheimer, ―The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception‖ in The Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans.
John Cumming (London: Verso, 1991).
8 This argument is further developed in: Stephen Gennaro, ―Purchasing the Teenage Canadian Identity: ICTs, American Media, and
Brand Name Consumption,‖ International Social Science Review Volume 80 Numbers 3 & 4 (2005) 119-136, and Stephen Gennaro,
―Sex & the City: Perpetual Adolescence Gendered Feminine,‖ in Nebula 4.3 (March 2007),
9 Karl Marx and Fredrich Engels, ―The Ruling Class & Ruling Ideas‖ in Media & Cultural Studies: Key Works, revised edition. Eds.
Douglas Kellner and Meenakshi Gigi Durham, 9-12 (London: Routledge, 2006).
products reinforce the base of their power by reproducing their lifestyle as the standard
for what is ―normal.‖ Those who do not have access to the system of production are
compelled to accept the images, ideas, and objects of the dominant class as normal even
when it does not reflect their real lives. Instead, this system keeps them subjected to
poverty, domination, and subordination. In short, those who control what Marx called the
means of material production also control the system of intellectual production because
objects carry ideas and ideologies with them. Although youth do not constitute an
economic class, they are subjected to the same types of domination in the cultural sphere
that the working class is subjected to in the economic sphere. When we apply the Marxist
analysis of power to the cultural production of youth in American society, we see that
young people are defined and categorized largely by people who are not members of their
own group – namely, adults. Thus, the American culture industry‘s representations of
youth more closely represent the dreams, fears, ambitions, and hopes of American adults
than they represent of the actual lived experiences of America‘s children.
The United Nations defined children in its 1989 Convention on the Rights of the
Child as anyone under the age of 18.10 Furthermore, although terms such as adolescent,
child, teenager, and youth have been used in academic disciplines, corporate plans, and
medical fields to refer more directly to a category of individuals who have a specific set
of attributes and functions, this thesis sets out to prove that such distinctions are
essentializing and therefore problematic. Rather, I argue that the categories of age and
development that such terms associate with childhood are social constructions that have
become so widely used and represented that they have become what Stuart Hall would
10 The United Nations, The Convention on the Rights of the Child (The United Nations, 20 November 1989).
call ―naturalized codes.‖11 Following Louis Althusser‘s ideas of ―obviousnesses‖ and
Antonio Gramsci‘s explanation of how ideology is most dangerous when it becomes
invisible, such that it is seen as normal, silly, or stupid, Hall uses the term ―naturalized
codes‖ to refer to the representation of an ideology that has become so widespread in our
culture that we no longer process and analyze the symbol and instead simply accept it at
face value.12 Under this schema, terms like adolescent, teenager, child, and youth all
represent an implicit ideology that has become so normalized that we no longer see the
dangers inherent in them, the structures of power they contain, and the ways in which
they not only colonize children but deny them any access to channels of power. To
reiterate: the American culture industries‘ representations of youth more closely represent
the dreams, fears, ambitions, and hopes of American adults than they reflect the actual
lived experiences of America‘s children. The idea of segmenting children‘s lives into
distinct categories, periods, or compartments to be analyzed and studied is in fact a
marketing discourse that has become naturalized and invisible through its continual
valorization in the media and in the medical and academic disciplines of adolescent,
behavioural, and social psychology.
I propose here that the reasoning behind this romanticization of youth and
youthful sensibilities (while at the same time denying children equal civic rights) is
closely tied to earlier competing discourses of childhood, namely, the romantic and
puritan discourses discussed in Chapter 1. These discourses became crystallized in
11 Stuart Hall, ―Encoding/Decoding‖in Media & Cultural Studies: Key Works, revised edition. Eds. Douglas Kellner and Meenakshi
Gigi Durham, 163-173 (London: Routledge, 2006).
12 Louis Althussier, ―Ideology and Ideological State Apparatus‖in Media & Cultural Studies: Key Works, revised edition. Eds.
Douglas Kellner and Meenakshi Gigi Durham, 79-87 (London: Routledge, 2006); Antonio Gramsci, ―The Concept of Ideology‖in
Media & Cultural Studies: Key Works, revised edition. Eds. Douglas Kellner and Meenakshi Gigi Durham, 9-12 (London: Routledge,
American popular discourse at the beginning of the 20th century with the
institutionalization of adolescent psychology. Building on the romantic and puritan
notions of childhood, adolescent psychologists like G. Stanley Hall and Sigmund Freud
classified adolescence as a time of turbulence and instability that required a conquering in
order to grow up. Throughout the 20th century, and most notably in the period following
the Second World War, the advertising industry built upon the existing psychological
discourses of what it meant to be young and old (discourses found in adolescent and
social psychology) to create a marketplace where all consumers are continually reminded
of the beauty of youth and being young at the same time as they are returned to an
adolescent state where they rely on the purchasing of consumer goods in order to gain a
personal security and stability that never actually arrives. The continual desire for
youthful sensibilities enacts what Adorno and Horkheimer so brilliantly describe in their
essay ―The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception,‖ in Dialectic of
Enlightenment: ―the culture industry perpetually cheats its consumers of what it
perpetually promises. … The promise, which is actually all the spectacle consists of, is
illusory: all it actually confirms is that the real point will never be reached, that the diner
must be satisfied with the menu.‖13 Today, in American advertisements, consumers are
promised the romanticized sensibilities of youth but are given only the destabilized
identity of adolescence.
The history of perpetual adolescence as a marketing discourse is also the history
of the creation of a youth consumer market and is therefore intertwined with the
13 Emphasis is mine. Adorno and Horkheimer, ―Enlightenment as Mass Deception‖ 139.
advertising industry and its growth in the United States.14 The term ―youth consumer
market‖ has a double meaning, in that it refers to the creation of a destabilized youth
identity based on an over-saturation of images and identities for consumption by the
culture industries, but it also refers to the valorization and idealization of youth
sensibilities to adults. Perpetual adolescence, then, is a marketing discourse both to the
old and to the young. A person can be both an adult and a perpetual adolescent. The
barriers between adulthood and adolescence are fluid and permeable, and people
continually move back and forth between a desire to ―grow up‖ and a desire to ―stay
young‖ throughout their life. As people move in and out of perpetual adolescence, the
culture industries are always trying to sell them newer and flashier images of youth for
possible ownership and consumption in order to bring them back to perpetual
adolescence. Explicitly, youth is represented as romantic, innocent, pure, nostalgic, and
something to be desired by all. Youth is represented as not only safer, stronger, more
alive, and freer, but also as more powerful. Youth is no longer something directly tied to
the biology of age. Implicitly tied into these representations of youth are discourses of
adolescent psychology and social psychology, which have suggested that adolescence is a
destabilizing time of struggle where individuals rely on their peer group to formulate an
identity and outwardly express their inward self in a fashion that is both socially
acceptable by adults and approved by peers. This affection and acceptance could only be
gained and attained (as promised in advertisements) through the continual purchasing of
newer, flashier, and prettier consumer goods. This is how perpetual adolescence starts,
and why it never ends.
14 This argument is further developed in: Stephen Gennaro, ―Purchasing the Teenage Canadian Identity: ICTs, American Media, and
Brand Name Consumption,‖ International Social Science Review Volume 80 Numbers 3 & 4 (2005) 119-136.
The Culture Industry
The popularity of the Birmingham School‘s adaptation of Antonio Gramsci‘s
notion of hegemony over the last quarter century has created a widely recognized
interpretation of culture that accounts for the agency of the individual even in the midst of
a mass consumer society.15 However, is it possible that, in rewriting our critical approach
to the media so that we begin our analysis from the starting point that the consumer has
the freedom to choose and interpret their media experiences, what we have in fact done is
let the culture industries and power elite of monopoly capital off the hook? While not
discrediting the Birmingham approach to cultural studies, this project places a stronger
emphasis on the production of messages, meanings, and culture by using the economy
and economics as an avenue for exploring social issues. A Marxist cultural critique
suggests that although the consumer may appropriate and interpret the messages they
receive from the culture industry as they please, the messages and consumer choices
made available to them are prescribed by the culture industries and dictated by the
economic desires of larger corporations to dominate the marketplace. This project
combines the openness of the cultural studies approach of the Birmingham School, by
acknowledging the possibility for agency, with the less optimistic political economy
approach of the Frankfurt School theorists, by situating that agency into a heavily
controlled environment of highly stylized and packaged media messages. For Adorno
and Horkheimer, the culture industry is not about a chaotic over-saturation of cultural
images that individuals randomly encounter, but rather each and every cultural image is a
15 The Birmingham School is a term often used to represent the contribution of scholars in British Cultural Studies such as Stuart Hall,
Raymond Williams, Dick Hebdige, Angela McRobbie, and others that began at the University of Birmingham‘s Centre for
Contemporary Cultural Studies, which was created in 1963/64. See Douglas Kellner, ―Cultural Marxism and Cultural Studies‖
planned part of a firm and complex rational system of production and promotion. The
system itself perpetuates its own existence by producing only those products that conform
to its ideologies and rendering those that oppose the system as outcasts and taboo.16 It is
precisely because of this focus on the production of media messages, while still allowing
for individual agency, that the work of Frankfurt School mass-society critics like Theodor
Adorno and Max Horkheimer provides the foundation for my examination of discourses
of perpetual adolescence.
In their now famous 1944 collection of essays, The Dialectic of Enlightenment,
Adorno and Horkheimer examined the similarities of the American society of plenty,
where they resided, with the Fascist society of Nazi Germany, which they fled. They
asked what happened to the ideals of enlightenment.17 One drawback of using the work of
Adorno and Horkheimer is that it is often viewed by scholars as elitist and predicated on a
desire for a return to the Enlightenment. However, what The Dialectic of Enlightenment
actually calls for is a return to the ideals of enlightened thinking, since for the Frankfurt
School as a whole, it is enlightened thinking upon which their critical Marxist analysis of
society is based: the social freedoms of civil society are ―inseparable from enlightened
thought,‖ and it is the growth of economic productivity and the resulting increase in
commodities of mass culture that have deteriorated the existence of enlightened thought.18
As Adorno and Horkheimer argue, ―the task to be accomplished is not the conservation of
the past, but the redemption of the hopes of the past.‖19
16 Adorno and Horkheimer, ―The Culture Industry‖ 149.
17 Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, The Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans. John Cumming (London: Verso, 1991) Introduction.
18 Ibid., xiv.
Adorno and Horkheimer use the term ―enlightenment‖ to denote the ―movement
of civil society in the aspect of its idea as embodied in individuals and institutions.‖20
What is paramount to this definition is that for this embodiment of civil society, truth is
not only found in the rational consciousness of its individuals and institutions, but also
(and equally) found in the forms in which this consciousness plays itself out in everyday
life.21 For Adorno and Horkheimer, the culture industry (primarily radio and film) have
turned enlightenment into ideology in everyday life by creating a finely tuned mechanism
of production and promotion, which perpetuates an illusionary value system that allows
individuals to become more occupied with the images of consumption than with the
actions of citizenship.22 It is through the social façade that individual happiness can be
found through the practice of consuming that the economic and social power of the mode
of production and the ideology of the culture industry becomes hidden to consumers. In
this process, the ―truth‖ that is being sold is not enlightened truth, but rather empty shells
of commodities acting as surrogate forms of culture. This is why Adorno and
Horkheimer title the culture industry ―enlightenment as mass deception.‖
Where earlier critiques of mass society worried that the masses might gain
cultural or political status and agency, which would disrupt the inequality of the class
system, Adorno and Horkheimer argued that, in fact, the great problem with mass society
was precisely the opposite. The tool that created mass society itself – the culture industry
– would not lead to the rising up of the lower classes but instead to maintaining existing
social inequalities. It does this by promoting sameness in everything: in products,
identities, lifestyles, and industries. The culture industry, like film, television, or radio,
20 Ibid., xiv.
22 Ibid., xvi.
are all selling the same thing: false happiness, false individualities, and surrogate
identities. 23 They are all working to get people to become politically apathetic. ―The
culture industry with promises of stardom and leisure worked to turn off the brains of the
masses and occupy their thoughts with shiny objects instead of political activism.‖24 The
culture industry recycles the same dominant ideologies in the same products. For
example, according to Adorno and Horkheimer, the sameness of movies means that the
viewer knows the plot and the ending before the movie begins; the viewer is immediately
aware of who the villain is and who the love interest is without ever being specifically
told. In music, the listener can recognize the ―hit song‖ from only hearing the first few
bars. This is because for a product to be successful in the culture industry, it has to be
different enough from existing products that consumers will want it, but similar enough
that consumers will recognize it as something worth desiring.
Adorno and Horkheimer use the term ―pseudoindividuality‖ to refer to how, just
as with products and industries, identities and lifestyles are all the same in a mass society
– a notion upon which advertising is predicated.25 We are sold the idea that we are
individuals, but our identity is tied to our ability to be part of a group. We are unique if
we have our own style, but style is dictated to us by advertisers. Therefore, lifestyle
choice has been removed. Adorno and Horkheimer turn to de Tocqueville‘s explanation
of how in a society governed by a monarch, the king or queen dictated what was
acceptable behaviour by explicitly stating to its citizens ―do as I do or die.‖ Adorno and
Horkheimer suggest that in a capitalist democracy, it is the culture industry that dictates
23 Adorno and Horkheimer, ―The Culture Industry‖ 131.
24 Ibid., 137.
25 Ibid., 154-155.
behaviour by explicitly stating ―do as you want to do‖; however, those who don‘t
conform to what is represented as ―normal‖ are made outcasts or outsiders of society and
left to obscurity. 26 Furthermore, the constant emphasis on newness and style, which are
the byproducts of this system, present individuals with a false sense of choice and a false
sense of identity where the differences between the general and the particular are
removed. This sameness in the culture industries is what Adorno and Horkheimer meant
by the term ―the incurable sickness of entertainment‖; that is, entertainment is the
prolongation of work under late capitalism. 27 It is sought by those who want to escape the
mechanized routine of the labor process so that they can cope with it again. But the
problem is that the mechanization from which the worker tries so hard to escape is so
thoroughly replicated in all areas of leisure that the off-duty worker can experience
nothing other than images of work itself during his or her off-work entertainment. This is
the problem: amusement turns into boredom, since to be amused someone has to be so
dulled and numb that they can‘t think. Therefore, amusement and entertainment require a
lack of critical thought, a ―turning-off‖ of the brain. The purpose of entertainment is to
not stimulate thought. This is how entertainment makes people apathetic, because to be
entertained means to be in agreement.28 Agreement means putting things out of your mind
and forgetting suffering (even when it is on display). At its root is powerlessness. It is an
escape, not from the thoughts of reality, but instead from the thoughts of resisting reality.
The liberation that amusement promises is from thinking!
26 Ibid., 133.
27 Ibid., 136- 137.
28 Ibid., 135-144.
What makes the problem so significant is that, as Adorno and Horkheimer tell us,
―the whole world is passed through the filter of the Culture Industry.‖29 So it is the culture
industry that decides which images get in and which images are kept out of cultural
production. Following Adorno and Horkheimer‘s critique, the culture industry is like the
filter on a cigarette: it gives the security of protection, but that security is an illusion since
the filter on a cigarette does not protect the smoker from the most harmful substance of
the cigarette (the nicotine). Instead, since it is the nicotine and its addictive nature that is
of the greatest economic advantage to cigarette sales, it is allowed to pass through the
cigarette‘s filter even though it inevitably leads to the death of its own consumers.30 Think
of how long smoking was an accepted practice in America before questions began to arise
about the chemicals and additives smokers and second-hand smokers were inhaling.
Only after questions such as ―what wasn‘t the filter keeping out?‖ began to be asked did
the consequences of smoking become apparent. If the culture industry is the social filter,
then what is it that we breathe in? Perhaps we need to question this, too.
Adorno and Horkheimer argue that through the purchasing and consuming of
commodities, the individual loses his or her sense of individuality simply by trying to
achieve it. Identities, individuality, and a ―sense of self‖ are all false ideals that the
masses consume and believe they are better off for. This façade is ―enlightenment as
mass deception‖; it is a false dichotomy set up by the culture industries whereby we are
led to believe that there is no difference between the general and the particular, the movie
29 Ibid., 126.
30 ―Each year, more than 400,000 Americans die from cigarette smoking. In fact, one in every five deaths in the United States is
smoking related. Every year, smoking kills more than 276,000 men and 142,000 women.‖ United States Department of Health and
Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promoti on,
Office on Smoking and Health, ―Fact Sheet: Cigarette Smoking-Related Mortality,‖ news release, September 2006.
actress and the office secretary, the lottery winner and everyone else who buys a ticket.
The deception of enlightenment comes by privileging choice that is not there; as has
already been stated, ―the diner must be satisfied with the menu.‖31 Adorno and
Horkheimer call one sense of this false enlightenment ―amusement,‖ while another sense
is the co-option of ―tragedy.‖32 The lines between happiness and sadness, the general and
the particular, are erased. Tragedy is co-opted and becomes a tool for producing
amusement. Likewise, the culture industries sell the ideal that anyone can become a star,
and yet not everyone really can. As Adorno and Horkheimer argue, ―the peculiarity of
the self is a monopoly commodity determined by society; it is falsely represented as
natural.‖33 This is what Adorno and Horkheimer mean by the term ―pseudo-
individuality,‖ in that everything in culture industries is similar enough to everything else
that consumers can relate to it, but different enough that consumers feel that it has style
and newness. In short, the masses are enslaved through the notion that they are being
saved. This is enlightenment as mass deception.
Examining the Advertising Agency
In 1973, anthropologist Clifford Geertz, in ―The Impact of the Concept of Culture
on the Concept of Man,‖ boldly stated as follows:
We live … in an ―information gap.‖ Between what our body tells us and what we
have to know in order to function, there is a vacuum we must fill ourselves, and we
fill it with information (or misinformation) provided by our culture. 34
31 Adorno and Horkheimer, ―The Culture Industry‖ 139.
32 Ibid., 144,153-154.
33 Ibid., 154.
34 Clifford Geertz, ―The Impact of the Concept of Culture on the Concept of Man,‖ in The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays
by Clifford Geertz (New York: Basic Books, 1973) 50.
Similarly, sociologist Raymond Williams wrote that the information provided by ―our
culture‖ (to borrow a term from Geertz) was ―Advertising: the Magic System.‖ For
Williams, advertising was not simply a means of selling but also ―a true part of the
culture of a confused society.‖35 Today, it is difficult to envision an American society that
is free from the bombardment of advertisements that occupy almost all avenues of
American public space. However, this was not always the case. Advertising, as we
understand it today, came about due to the industrialization of the American economy in
the middle of the 19th century and the emergence of a mass consumer society, which also
coincided with rapid advancements in transportation, information, and communication
technologies in the United States. Advertising as a medium is different and more
important than any other medium that we deal with for two very important reasons: first,
the creation, emergence, and maintenance of all of the dominant media forms in the 19 th
and 20th centuries (be they print, film, radio, television, or other) were all dependent on
the advertising industry not only for financing but also for content, research and
development, technology, marketing, and infrastructure ideas; and second, advertising is
the medium through which we view all other media. Our interactions with media are
themselves mediated by the images, impact, and influence of advertising and marketing
agencies and their desire to reap as many consumer dollars as possible.36 An analysis of
advertising is important to understanding how our society works and what it is that our
culture privileges and disregards. ―Culture has become openly, and defiantly, an industry
35 Raymond Williams, ―Advertising: The Magic System,‖ in Problems in Materialism and Culture: Selected Essays (London: Verso,
36 Even public broadcast television, underground zines, and other sub-cultural or countercultural texts that specifically attempt to
circumvent advertising are still in dialogue (albeit a rebellious or contested dialogue) with the mainstream media and culture of
obeying the same rules of production as any other producer of commodities. Cultural
production is an integrated component of the capitalist economy as a whole.‖37 The
success of advertising is tied to the highlighting of distinction and difference through the
exploitation of deeply rooted needs and desires that focus on ―the good life.‖ The culture
industries and media conglomerates of the new millennium had begun the quest to re-
unify the market place to a pre-railroad state where all consumers, although members of
smaller targeted niche markets, are part of one dominant market ideology. This ideology
would be that of the consumer with an adult wallet and youthful sensibilities, also known
as the perpetual adolescent.
This thesis looks specifically at the interior of one of the largest advertising
agencies of the 20th century, the J. Walter Thompson Company, in the aftermath of the
Second World War, in order to map the movement of discourses from adolescent and
social psychology into the actual practices of advertising agencies. An examination of its
practices in consumer research with behaviourist John B. Watson, the Consumer Panel,
the Personality Profile Project, and a series of advertisements produced for the Seven-Up
Company between 1942 and 1968 shows how the J. Walter Thompson Company in the
post-war period aimed to further expand the youth market into the more profitable age
category of 25-to-44 year olds by selling ―youthfulness‖ to adults. Consumers were
promised the romanticized sensibilities of youth but were only given the destabilized
identity of adolescence. Explicitly, the J. Walter Thompson Company sold images of
―youth‖ to adults who longed to be young again. In doing so, the agency implicitly ―took
the lid off‖ of a time that adults were supposed to have already conquered – adolescence –
37 J.M. Bernstein, ―Introduction,‖ in The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass Culture, Theodor W. Adorno (London:
by drawing them back to a destabilized identity that required the affection and acceptance
of their peer group for validation, which could be only be attained through the continual
purchasing of consumer goods.
In the post-war period, mass-society critiques such as David Riesman, Nathan
Glazer and Raul Denney‘s The Lonely Crowd (examined in Chapter 5), C. Wright Mills‘
White Collar (examined in Chapters 2 and 3), and Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy‘s
Monopoly Capital (examined in Chapter 2), experienced popularity in both academic and
public circles.38 At the same time, there was also an increase in publications in social
psychology that built on earlier work in adolescent psychology to further define social
behaviour in the peer group based on a person‘s position in the life cycle and an increased
influence of mass media. Many of the mass-society critiques and social-psychological
studies built on the work of Edward Bernays and Paul Lazarsfeld, who were both
interested in how the individual is persuaded in political affiliations. Much like
discourses from adolescent psychology, many of the ideas from Bernays and Lazarsfeld
also found their way into advertising discourses in the post-war period. Both Bernays and
Lazarsfeld explored how to manufacture consent through influencing important members
of the community, who in turn would influence their surrounding peer groups.
In 1948, Paul Lazarsfeld, Bernard Berelson, and Hazel Gaudet published The
People's Choice, based on their study of the how the media influenced decision-making
during the 1940 U.S. presidential election campaign. Lazarsfeld, Berelson, and Gaudet
were shocked when their research revealed that people more often stated that influence
38 David Riesman, Nathan Glazer, and Raul Denney, The Lonely Crowd: A Study of the Changing American Character (New Haven:
Yale University Press, 1950); C. Wright Mills, White Collar: The American Middle Classes (New York: Oxford University Press,
1956); Paul A. Baran and Paul M. Sweezy, Monopoly Capital: An Essay on the American Economic and Social Order (New York:
Monthly Review Press, 1966).
came from informal, personal contacts rather than from direct interaction with print or
radio media, as had been previously assumed. 39 Lazarsfeld and Elihu Katz built on this
research in their 1955 work Personal Influence, in which they showed that
communication and influence didn‘t work like a hypodermic needle, where information
flowed in a top-down fashion from producers to consumers, but instead in what they
called the ―two-step flow model.‖40 In the ―two-step flow model,‖ information moved
first from large corporations to group leaders and then from group leaders to the common
person.41 Advertisers in the post-war period, in trying to access the youth market,
borrowed from both Bernays‘ and Lazarsfeld‘s research in order to sway opinion leaders
and trend setters in the peer group, which was where studies in adolescent and social
psychology at the time had suggested that the teenage identity was formed.42
Edward Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud, argued in his 1928 piece
Propaganda that it was possible to manipulate public opinion using techniques from
psychoanalysis to access suppressed desires in people‘s subconscious.43
The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions
of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who
manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government
which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds
molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never
heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is
39 Paul F. Lazarsfeld, Bernard Berelson, and Hazel Gaudet, The People's Choice: How the Voter Makes up his Mind in a Presidential
Campaign, 3rd edition. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1968).
40 Elihu Katz and Paul F. Lazarsfeld, Personal Influence: The Part Played by People in the Flow of Mass Communications (Glencoe,
Illinois: Free Press, 1955).
42 J.E. Richardson, J.F. Forrester, J.K. Shukla, and P.J. Higginbotham, eds., Studies in the Social Psychology of Adolescence (London:
Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, 1957).
43 Edward Bernays, Propaganda, revised edition. (New York: H. Liveright, 1928; New York: Ig Publishing, 2004). Citations are to
the Ig edition.
organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they
are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. 44
In Chapter 4 of this thesis, which examines the Personality Profile Project, we will see
that this is the same underlying thought process of Arthur Koponen at the J. Walter
Thompson Company, who designed the project.
In the post-war period, psychoanalysis was also used in constructing
advertisements that attempted to elicit sexual desires to sell non-sexual objects. For
example, psychoanalyst Ernest Dichter from the 1950s through the 1970s believed that
every food had a gender, and he was often hired by advertising agencies to help construct
advertisements for food products that pictured food as gendered and sexualized objects to
be consumed in a sensual fashion, which placed an emphasis on underlying
psychoanalytic desires of the libido. 45 Dichter, in exploring foods he considered to be
gendered feminine, stated:
Perhaps the most typically feminine food is cake…The wedding cake [is]…the
symbol of the feminine organ. The act of cutting the first slice by the bride and
bridegroom together clearly stands as a symbol of defloration…Women's demand
for moistness in a cake reinforced its feminine symbolism…[Cake mixes] tasting
like sawdust may represent a projection onto the cake of the woman‘s feelings
about herself. She wants to be moist and fresh, dewy-eyed and moist-lipped, not a
dried up, barren old crone.46
Much of Dichter‘s work was based on Freud‘s discussion of the oedipal conflict, the
pleasure principal, libido, and adolescent sexuality (discussed in Chapter 1). In his later
work, which focused more closely on food he believed to be gendered masculine, like
hotdogs and lunch meats, he suggested that:
44 Bernays, Propaganda, 37.
45 Katherine Parkin, ―The Sex of Food and Ernest Dichter: The Illusion of Inevitability,‖ Advertising & Society Review Volume 5,
Issue 2 (2004):http://muse.jhu.edu.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/journals/asr/v005/5.2parkin.html
46 Ernest Dichter, ―Creative Research Memo on the Sex of Rice‖ 1955, quoted in Parkin, ―The Sex of Food and Ernest Dichter.‖
[m]en do not appear to be as ―embarrassed‖ in eating wieners as women appear to
be … [that women were] spellbound and definitely attracted by the meats [and
that] little boys, in particular, exhibit a stark preference for wieners.
Psychologically, this suggests an expression of their desire to emulate the male
As Katherine Parkin points out in her 2004 article ―The Sex of Food and Ernest Dichter:
The Illusion of Inevitability,‖ Dichter even suggested to the advertising agency Bonsib
that creating an advertising campaign similar to the 1960 Oscar Meyer Wiener Campaign
– who‘s jingle, ―I wish I were an Oscar Meyer wiener, That is what I'd truly love to be,
For if I were an Oscar Meyer wiener, Everyone would be in love with me‖ – best
expressed how to tap into the subconscious sexual desires necessary for selling lunch
The widespread use of Dichter‘s work and motivational research techniques
highlights problematic issues of the representation of gender in advertisements at this
time.49 Even though representations of gender and the use of sex in the selling of
commodities and lifestyles is a significant topic of inquiry, it is a topic that is not fully
explored in this thesis. 50 Since my main interest is representations of youth in advertising,
and since youth is the axis of difference that underpins the marketing discourse of
perpetual adolescence, it is here that I place the focus of the thesis. The discussion of
adolescence in this thesis is primarily a discussion of a fairly exact representation of
youth, albeit a male, white, heterosexual, middle-class persona: that is the image of both
the construct of the universal child and the construct around which advertisers created the
47 Ernest Dichter, ―A Motivational Research Study of Luncheon Meats and Wieners‖ 1968 quoted in Parkin, ―The Sex of Food and
49 Parkin, ―The Sex of Food and Ernest Dichter.‖
50 I have attempted to deal with the analysis of gender and the marketing discourse of perpetual adolescence in Sex & The City:
Perpetual Adolescence Gendered Feminine and it is an area where additional research will hopefully emerge as more information
about perpetual adolescence comes to light.
marketing discourse of perpetual adolescence. However, gender does play an important
role in the construction and reconstruction of youth in America throughout the 20th
century. Therefore, in analyzing advertisements from Ford and 7 Up in Chapters 4 and 6,
it is necessary to expand on the representation of gender, but only in how it was used to
further create a distinct picture of who was the ―universal child.‖
Chapter 1 of my thesis looks to earlier discourses surrounding children and
childhood to provide the backdrop against which advertisers derived their information
about youth when creating the youth market. The chapter begins by discussing the
history of the competing discourses about childhood found in the romantic and puritan
notions about children and ultimately suggests that although childhood is a social
construction, through the construction of a ―universal child‖ it has had real effects on the
actual lives of children and adults. The chapter highlights how adolescent psychologists
viewed adolescence as a time of turbulence, a time of competing identities, a time of
extreme peer influence, and a time of mastering sexual urges. I examine how these ideas
became institutionalized through the discipline of psychology and then came to be the key
identifiers by which Americans judged who was an adult and who was a child in the
middle of the 20th century. Advertisers built on the findings of adolescent psychologists
when attempting to establish consumer loyalty to branded products. The core of the
chapter is devoted to examining the ideas of Sigmund Freud and John B. Watson, who,
according to philosopher of science Gustav Bergmann, were the two most popular and
influential thinkers in psychology in the first half of the 20th century due in part to their
influence on future psychological thought and the popularity that their works enjoyed in
non-academic circles. 51 Both Freud and Watson dealt theoretically and empirically with
children, child rearing, and childhood as central components to their psychoanalytical and
behaviourist approaches to psychology.
Chapter 2 begins by providing a historical overview of the emergence of the
advertising agency and how the J. Walter Thompson Company became the world‘s
largest advertising agency by the middle of the 20th century. Furthermore, the second
chapter looks into the internal records of the J. Walter Thompson Company to highlight
how the advertising agency itself defined ―advertising‖ and explained some of its
practices. Ultimately in this chapter, I seek to provide the backdrop for the construction
of childhood as a consumer category by linking the rise of the advertising agency to
important social changes in information and communication technologies and the rise of
American big business and a mass consumer society.
Chapter 3 examines the history of the J. Walter Thompson Company‘s connection
with psychology and market research. The chapter outlines the role of John. B. Watson
and his career at the agency, where he served as a salesperson and researcher before
becoming vice-president of the company in 1924. The chapter maps the rise of market
research inside the agency, an area where the company was at the forefront of the industry
thanks in large part to its work with the Consumer Panel. Beginning in 1944, the J.
Walter Thompson Company began the widespread implementation of the Consumer
Panel as its main source of advertising research and development. The panel was
designed to be a cross section of the middle-class family and was made up of ―2,200 non-
51 Bergmann claims, ―[s]econd only to Freud, though at a rather great distance, John B. Watson is, in my judgment, the most
important figure in the history of psychological thought during the first half of the century.‖ Gustav Bergmann, ―The Contribution of
John B. Watson,‖ Psychological Review, 63:4 (1956), 265-276.
farm white families living in the United States‖ who recorded their purchases, brands,
quantities, prices paid, and reasons for purchase each month.52 Over the next decade, the
Consumer Panel would continue to become more sophisticated in its questioning of
consumer purchases, so that by May1958, when the J. Walter Thompson Company‘s
Research Department published internally its 115-page report called the ―Personality
Profile Project,‖ the Consumer Panel was being used to detect not only the age, income,
and city size of the purchasers of specific brand products, but also the psychological
make-up or personality characteristics that were similar among purchasers. 53
Chapter 4 provides a close reading of the Personality Profile Project, examining
its questionnaires, procedures, methods, and results. As the report states, ―If we can learn
the psychological needs and responses of our best prospects and relate to their responses
to purchasing behaviour, media exposure, and other classification, we are in a better
position to influence them through advertising.‖54 Although the Personality Profile
Project failed in its stated objectives, it had a profound effect on the future practices of the
J. Walter Thompson Company and on subsequent marketing research by suggesting that
markets could be established and maintained by tapping into and measuring the emotional
needs and desires of consumers. 55 Chapter 4 concludes by suggesting that the Personality
Profile Project appears to be the starting point for the future market research of
52 J. Walter Thompson Company, ―Consumer Panel Pamphlet,‖ Information Center Records, Box 4, J. Walter Thompson Company.
Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library, Duke University (here after cited as JWT Papers).
53 J. Walter Thompson Research Department, ―Personality Profile Project‖ (J. Walter Thompson, May 1958). Information Center
Records, JWT Papers (no page numbers).
54 Ibid., (no page numbers).
55 J. Walter Thompson Research Department, ―Personality Profile Project‖ (J. Walter Thompson, May 1958) Information Center
Records, JWT Papers (no page numbers).
psychographics and had a direct effect on advertising practices over the following
decades by re-opening the period of adolescence in adults.
Chapter 5 centers on a discussion of the baby boomers and the youth market to
begin to map out how the changes in discourses about children discussed in Chapter 1, the
changes in market research practices discussed in Chapter 3, and the results of the
Personality Profile Project discussed in Chapter 4 actually played out inside the
marketplace. Examining the highly scrutinized ―youth market‖ of the 1960s, the chapter
draws on a variety of sources from the period: newspaper and magazine articles, trade
publications, academic journals, conference speeches, the strategic plans of advertising
agencies and corporations, and internal publications at the J. Walter Thompson Company,
such as the 1965 report ―The Youth Market‖ and 1968‘s ―Review of the Youth Market
for Home Electronics.‖ Ultimately, I discover that advertisers and marketers had
subdivided the youth market into three distinct categories: young teens, older teens, and
young adults, and that these distinctions appeared to be largely based on the assumptions
of adolescent psychology and social psychology discussed in Chapters 1 and 4. Market
research had revealed by the middle of the 1960s that the youth market, although highly
lucrative, did not represent the consumer spending potential of those in the age brackets
of 25 to 34 and 35 to 44, and that these older age brackets of consumers were also
interested in youthful advertisements. Research inside the agency then turned to
appealing to the market of consumers in the 25-to-44 age brackets through the selling of
youthful sensibilities to a non-youth (but youthful-desiring) group of consumers.
Chapter 6 examines the selling of youth to both the youth market and those in the 25-
to-44 age brackets through a case study of the actual advertisements produced by the J.
Walter Thompson Company and the strategic planning behind the development of these
advertising campaigns. This case study looks at the Seven-Up Company from the 1940s
through to the late 1960s, when it was one of the largest corporate accounts at the J.
Walter Thompson Company and when soft drinks was one of the fastest growing
industries in the post-war economy. The Seven-Up Company is an interesting case study
because, as a soft drink company (an area of consumer spending that was traditionally
marketed towards young people), 7 Up was continually marketed by the J. Walter
Thompson Company as more than simply a youth product. Advertisements for 7 Up at
this time focused on a product that was to be consumed by all ages and often portrayed
children as adults and adults in ―youthful‖ scenarios.
The conclusion of the thesis returns to the discussion that ends Chapter 4, where
it is speculated that the Personality Profile Project was a starting point for research in
psychographics and it is further suggested that the practices at the J. Walter Thompson
Company in the post-war period up until the end of the 1960s, through its practices in
marketing research and actual advertising campaigns, aimed to further exploit the youth
market by re-opening the door to adolescence to adults who were supposed to have
already conquered this period and moved on in their development. The J. Walter
Thompson Company aimed to re-open adolescence by attempting to tap into
psychological drives and desires for the romantic discourse of childhood and all of its
notions of innocence, purity, and care-freeness by privileging these images of youth in
advertisements that were targeted towards adults. In doing so, the J. Walter Thompson
Company lured consumers into what I have termed the ―commodity youth-trap,‖ in that it
was explicitly selling a romantic discourse of childhood while implicitly drawing
consumers back into a state of adolescence, where the insecurities of identity formation
and peer group acceptance are magnified and the socially appropriate way to resolve
these issues is through the continual consumption of consumer goods that represent the
lifestyle desired by the purchaser.
The connection between the youth market and advertising did not emerge in the
1960s, even though that is when the discussion surrounding the youth market reached a
pinnacle, as it was so closely tied to the new burgeoning field of market research and
tactics of market segmentation. With the institutionalization of adolescence as a medical
discipline and academic subject in the early 20th century, a criterion of scientifically
tested and proven attributes categorized what it meant to be young. 56 Adolescence was
deemed by psychologists such as G. Stanley Hall and Sigmund Freud to be a time of
turbulence, where competing selves needed to be re-organized, where a young person
came of age, and where competing sexual urges needed to be controlled in order to
function properly in society. With this, adolescence became defined as a period of
destabilization and adolescents became categorized as individuals in need of guidance.
Adolescence came to be seen as a problem to be solved either by governments, as
exemplified during the 1940s, when American President Franklin D. Roosevelt stated that
America had a youth problem, or by parents, as seen in the baby training craze of ―how
to‖ books, like John B. Watson‘s 1928 Psychological Care of Infant and Child or Dr.
Spock‘s 1946 parenting book Baby and Child Care, which by 1998 had sold over 50
million copies.57 Training then was not only for youth, but also for adults.
Entering the mid 1960s, when the youth consumer became the focus of advertisers
interested in the multi-billion-dollar category of consumer spending, the notions of who
56 G. Stanley Hall, Adolescence: Its Psychology and its Relations to Physiology, Anthropology, Sociology, Sex, Crime, Religion and
Education (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1904).
57 CNN, ―Famed Paediatrician Dr. Spock Dies at age 94,‖ CNN.com, March 16, 1998.
teenagers were and what their social function was had already been determined in
discourses of adolescent psychology, social psychology, and psychoanalysis. However,
something unique was occurring, as advertisers continued to attempt to find out what
makes consumer tick. The youth market was being extended to reach all groups, young
and old. At the same time as adolescence was being viewed as a negative, destabilized,
and turbulent time, images of adolescence in the media portrayed the exact opposite;
youth was being glorified. Products from 7 Up to the Ford Mustang fought to tie their
product to the youth generation. However, the images of youth were also aimed at the
adult purchaser as the adults in the advertisements were being displayed with all the
positives associated with being young. Meanwhile, hidden from these advertisements
was all of the Sturm und Drang so deeply entrenched in the psychological discourse of
what it meant to be adolescent.
Discourses of Adolescence: How Social Norms and Expectations instruct Children
(and Adults) to be Young
The history of the modern advertising agency and its central role in the creation of
the modern consumer culture parallels the history of the creation of ―the universal child.‖
The universal child refers to the institutionalization of childhood, so that childhood can be
seen a distinct category in the lives of all people, in which all people have similar
experiences. As Harry Hendrick points out in his essay ―Constructions and
Reconstructions of British Childhood: An Interpretative Survey, 1880 to the Present‖
In 1800 the meaning of childhood was ambiguous and not universally in demand.
By 1914, the uncertainty had been resolved and the identity determined, at least to
the satisfaction of the middle class and respectable middle class. A recognizable
―modern‖ notion was in place: childhood was legally, legislatively, socially,
medically, psychologically, educationally, and politically institutionalized. 1
During the 19th century the ideology of the universal child became crystallized in Western
culture, so that by 1914 a definitive portrait of the innocent, naïve, and playful child in
need of protection had become the dominant representation of what it meant to be young.
This is important to our discussion, since it is the images of the universal child that the
culture industries would use to first segment the marketplace and later fragment the
segmented markets in an attempt to sell ―youth‖ itself as a commodity. The construct of
the universal child in an American context is what Nicholas Sammond in Babes in
Tomorrowland calls ―the generic American child,‖ one that was ―white (largely male),
Protestant, and middle-class.‖2 This generic American child surfaced in the 20th century
1 Harry Hendrick ―Constructions and Reconstructions of British Childhood: An Interpretative Survey, 1880 to the Present‖ in
Constructing and Reconstructing Childhood, eds. Allison James and Alan Prout (London: Falmer Press, 1990) 35-39.
2 Nicholas Sammond, Babes in Tomorrowland: Walt Disney and the Making of the American Child, 1930-1960 (Durham: Duke
University Press, 2005) 2.
through the emerging social scientific and psychological discourses about adolescence, in
addition to the rise of mass consumerism and continual advancements in information and
communication technologies. 3
This chapter examines the historical discourses that have been used to talk about
children. Three of the current discourses about children – the blank slate, romantic, and
puritan – can be traced back almost 400 years in Western culture. A closer look at the
romantic, puritan, and blank slate discourses about childhood reveals a significant amount
of information about the power relations between children and adults, and the social
role(s) of children at any given point in modern western history. The social construction
of childhood found in both the romantic and puritan discourses about children have
influenced the current construction of ―childhood‖ as a category of distinction. They
position children as different from adults and often represent children as adults in training
or as innocent, naïve youngsters in need of protection. This chapter looks at some of the
most prominent theorists in the field of adolescent psychology in the early 20 th century,
such as G. Stanley Hall, Sigmund Freud, and John B. Watson. Childhood as a social
construction and adolescence as a medical discourse are the starting points for the
discussion about how the marketing discourse of perpetual adolescence entered into the
advertising agency and came to be dominant practice of representation in advertisements
in the new millennium.
The Discourse of the Child as a Blank Slate
John Locke, in his chapter ―Of Ideas in General,‖ written in 1690, posited the
notion that we are all born tabula rasa, as a blank slate, and learn through our sensory
perception of and experiences in our surrounding environment. Building on the idea of
tabula rasa in his 1692 piece ―Some Thoughts Concerning Education,‖ Locke wrote that
children were a blank slate upon which a society instructs, informs, and educates young
people to meet the expectations and desires of that particular society.4 Locke‘s advice for
educating children was simple: ―I advise their parents and governors always to carry this
in their minds, that children are to be treated as rational creatures.‖5 Although Locke did
fundamentally believe that children were rational beings and should be treated in similar
fashion to adults in terms of education and discipline, his argument continued to outline
how the focus of education should be to model the appropriate behaviour for children so
as to mold them into the types of healthy functioning citizens based on the desires of the
adult. ―The way I have mention‘d, if I mistake not, is the only one to obtain this. We
must look upon our children, when grown up, to be like ourselves, with the same
passions, the same desires.‖6
What makes Locke‘s ideas problematic is his linking of the notion of the blank
slate and the child to innate childhood innocence. For instance, when discussing why an
adult should not lie to a child, Locke wrote, ―[w]e are not to entrench upon truth in any
conversation, but least of all with children; since if we play false with them, we not only
deceive their expectation, and hinder their knowledge, but corrupt their innocence, and
teach them the worst of vices.‖7 This notion of childhood innocence is problematic
because is presupposes that adults know what is best for children and that therefore it is in
the best interest of the child to have the expectations of their behaviour dictated to them.
4 John Locke, ―Some Thoughts Concerning Education‖ (1692, Internet Modern History Sourcebook),
5 Ibid., part 3, section 54.
6 Ibid., part 3, section 41.
7 Ibid., part 4, section 120.
The notion of innocence – and its potential loss and corruption by adults – would lay at
the heart of the Romantic Movement, where artists such as Rousseau would construct a
romanticized notion of childhood that remains central to our understanding of children
The Romantic Discourse of Childhood
Building on Locke‘s theories, the two predominant discourses of childhood
emerged: the romantic and the puritan. The romantic discourse is most closely tied to
Rousseau and his work Emile, where he speculated that the best way to educate a male
child, like Emile, was to remove the child from social pressures and allow them to be free
from guidance and discipline in the first several years of their lives. The individual,
according to Rousseau, would learn best from an opportunity to experience nature for
themselves without regimented and forced expectations. ―The help that one gives them
should be limited to what is real utility, without granting anything to whim or to desire
without reason; for whim will not torment them as long as it has not been aroused, since it
is no part of nature.‖8 Rousseau‘s ideas have been tied to terms such as ―innocent,‖
―pure,‖ and ―naïve‖ when discussing children and appear to be based on his writing in
Book 2 of Emile, when he writes
[l]ove childhood, promote its pleasures, its lovable instincts. Who among you has
not sometimes missed that age when laughter was always on our lips, and when
the soul was always at peace? Why take away from these innocent little people
the joys of a time that will escape them so quickly and gifts that could never cause
any harm? Why fill with bitterness the fleeting days of early childhood, days
which will no more return for them than for you?9
8 Jean Jacques Rousseau, Emile (1762, Institute for Learning Technologies) book 1 
9 Ibid., book 2.
Rousseau‘s ideas were further emphasized by others in the Romantic movement, in
poems like W. Wordsworth‘s ―Ode‖ and W. Blake‘s ―Songs of Innocence and Songs of
Experience,‖ which suggested that childhood was a more pure time where the individual
was uncorrupted by the evils of an industrialized society. The Romantics viewed the
child as closer to nature and closer to god, and childhood as a greater time in one‘s life.
There are several dangers inherent in this type of discourse, most notably the nostalgic
ideals that are attached to youth, and the essentializing of children, which then suggests
that a positive childhood (not children) is a time that is universal to all. By suggesting
that everyone experiences childhood in the same fashion, the nostalgic ideals of
childhood that are linked to the construct of the universal child hide the unequal power
relations between and adult and child at the same time as they create an artificial and
therapeutic felling around the happiness experienced in childhood. Today, the romantic
discourse is seen in the focus on youth and youthful sensibilities by the culture industry
and by advertisers seeking to connect adult consumers with a happiness that is
nostalgically associated with a universal childhood.
The Puritan Discourse of Childhood
Opposing the romantic discourse of childhood, the puritan discourse was largely a
construction of an 18th century moral panic about children, although it was tied to the
evangelical movements of the puritans in the 16th to 17th century in both England and the
United States. According to the puritan discourse, children are born inherently evil
because of the Christian notion of original sin; therefore, the child needs to be punished
for its sins. The child needs guidance and protection not only from itself, but also from
evils and perils of society, to ensure that its soul can be saved. Children‘s literature at the
time reflected this moral panic: 18th century writers such as Maria Edgeworth in works
like ―The Orangeman,‖ or Hannah More in ―Betty Brown,‖ warned children (usually in
fairly graphic fashion) about the dangers of acting in a socially unacceptable fashion
through didactic stories, which stressed the religious values and Protestant work ethic of
the surrounding society. 10 The endings of stories like ―Betty Brown‖ provide an example
to the reader of how the child in the story learns through their error and subsequent
punishment that the path to success and happiness can only come through a continual
focus on hard work and increased focus on morality.
Likewise, 18th century versions of stories by Charles Perrault or the Grimm
Brothers often followed puritan discourse, centering on children who did not follow the
rules and were then punished or found themselves in horrible danger and in need of being
saved. However, Jack Zipes, in the first chapter of his 1999 When Dreams Came True,
argues that the current understanding of fairy tales can best be seen by examining the
history of the institutionalization of fairy tales. According to Zipes, this
institutionalization of fairy tales began in France in the 18 th century and was complete by
the end of the 19th century; in the process, editors removed many of the original
characteristics of the fairy tales. Fairy tales, which used to be a subversive space for
adults and children to challenge existing social norms, were replaced by ―the fairy tale‖
with an implicit ideology of conforming children to existing bourgeois social norms that
replicated existing middle class expectations. 11 Zipes concludes by suggesting that
10 Maria Edgeworth, The Little Dog Trusty, the Orange Man, and the Cherry Orchard: Being the Tenth Part of Early Lessons (1801,
republished by University of California 1990) 160-165; Hannah More ―Betty Brown, The St. Gile‘s Orange Girl: With some account
of Mrs. Sponge, The Money Lender‖ in The Complete Works of Hannah More (JC Derby, 1854) 167-180.
11 Jack Zipes, When Dreams Came True: Classical Fairy Tales and their Tradition (London: Routledge, 1999).
although now thoroughly commercialized and institutionalized, fairy tales can still be a
site of representation, supervision, and repression. 12
Terminology commonly associated with the puritan discourse portrays children as
inherently evil, angry, violent, and dangerous; it therefore positions children as being in
need of structure and guidance. The danger of the puritan discourse is that it suggests that
childhood has universal negative qualities to be found in all children at all times and
places, although the discourse itself draws from a specific historical Christian doctrine.
Furthermore, it suggests that the child is in need of an ideological construction of actions
and behaviour and should not be given any access to power or decision making of his or
her own. Today, the puritan discourse can be seen in the focus on the protection of the
child and his or her development and it can be found in adolescent psychology that
suggests that there are key stages of a child‘s (physical, emotional, and mental) evolution
common to all, which are associated with a successful childhood and the creation of a
healthy adult who can be productive in society. 13
It is important to note that neither the romantic nor puritan discourses reflect the
actual lived experiences of children; instead, these are reflections of the anxieties, fears,
desires, and hopes of the adults of that society about what children and childhood is
supposed to be. There is no doubt that children exist, at all moments in history and
throughout the world. However, the same cannot be said for childhood, since the
expectations about children‘s social roles depends on the adults of the society in the time
and place where the children grow up. This is a point that was raised by Jacqueline Rose
in her 1984 book The Case of Peter Pan: On the Impossibility of Children’s Fiction. She
13 Norman A. Sprinthall and W. Andrew Collins, eds., Adolescent Psychology: A Developmental View, 3rd edition. (New York:
McGraw-Hill Inc., 1995) 4.
argues that children‘s fiction is primarily written by adults, published by adults, profited
from by adults, and read to children by adults, and that therefore the nostalgic
representation of children‘s innocence is a greater representation of the desires, fears,
hopes, and dreams of adults than it is of children. 14
A further distinction needs to be made, in that there is a clear difference between
the concept of ―the child‖ and the conception of childhood. That is to say, childhood as
an imaginary place where people are innocent, free, un-socialized, learning, growing,
developing, questioning, running free in the fields has never existed. This idea was
shaped by literature such as the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, but was cemented
into the brains of the American public by the early advertising industry in the first half of
the 20th century, which used a delicate balance of fear and nostalgia, centered on how
children ought to grow up, in order to sell commodities. Stephen Kline, in his 1993 book
Out of The Garden: Toys and Children’s Culture in the Age of Marketing, suggests that
marketers tapped into parental fears about the health, safety, and education of their
children to sell consumer goods for children to parents early in the 20th century, before
changing strategies and bypassing the adult altogether by marketing directly to the child
both for child and adult consumer goods. According to Kline, children were the heart of
consumerism and its growth, and marketers built on emerging ideas and theories in the
field of psychology to help them sell consumer goods to children. 15
Childhood, much like race and gender, is a social construction; its ideological
constructions of identity have real consequences in society. Adolescence is a category of
discrimination like race, or gender, in that a person‘s age and life positioning immediately
14 Jacqueline Rose, The Case of Peter Pan: On the Impossibility of Children’s Fiction (London: MacMillan, 1984).
15 Stephen Kline, Out of the Garden: Toys and Children’s Culture in the Age of Marketing (London: Verso, 1993).
reveal a whole category of subjective beliefs or stereotypes along with her in the same
way that a person‘s gender immediately implies a whole set of power relations. And
although childhood is different from race because it is a temporary space, the extension of
this temporal space to a lifelong process is precisely the objective of the culture industries
in the marketing discourse of perpetual adolescence. Therefore, adolescence and
childhood are socially constructed categories of distinction where relationships of power,
domination, and inequality are continually contested. As Henry Jenkins suggests, ―[t]his
marginalization affects not only how we understand the child, its social agency, its
cultural contexts, and its relations to powerful institutions, but also how we understand
adult politics, adult culture, and adult society, which often circle around the specter of the
innocent child.‖16 If this is true, the larger question is why? Why expand childhood?
Why delay adulthood? What are the benefits to a society for doing so? The sizeable
grasp of economics and capitalism in Western societies plays a significant role in
answering this question. By connecting the scientific and medical discourses of
adolescent psychology to the advertising agency, we see that the ―destabilization‖ of
adolescence is a powerful marketing tool that allows for the selling of consumer goods
and lifestyles, and that it is in the best interests of advertisers and the culture industries to
keep the stress, duress, and anxieties of adolescence alive in all people, because this is
what helps to trigger the desires to purchase consumer goods.
Adolescent Psychology: Institutionalizing Discourses about Children
16 Henry Jenkins ―Introduction: Childhood Innocence and Other Modern Myths‖ in The Children’s Culture Reader, ed. Henry Jenkins
(New York: New York University, 1998) 1-37.
Although children and their education have been central to philosophical debates
for centuries, the scientific examination of the mind of children and a scientific
delineation of the stages of child development (much as a taxonomist names species on
the food chain) appeared with G. Stanley Hall and his work in the late 19 th century and
the publication of his 1904 volume Adolescence: Its Psychology and its Relation to
Physiology, Anthropology, Sociology, Sex, Crime, Religion and Education.17 Hall was
not the first person to use the word adolescence, which had it roots in the 15th century,
but he was the first person to use adolescence as a term to describe a separate stage in an
individual‘s development and evolution from child to adult.18 The theory that people
progress through stages of individual development in the same fashion as humanity
progresses through stages of Darwinian evolution was first posited by Hall, and best
described in his ―theory of recapitulation,‖ in this seminal piece.19 Taking Darwin‘s ideas
(and the gross misappropriation of ideas that led to the notion of ―social Darwinism‖),
Hall suggested that there were successive stages through which the individual must
progress by completing a series of interconnected developmental tasks (physical,
intellectual, and emotional).
However, ideas about progressive stages of human development are older than
both Hall and Darwin. For example, throughout the Republic, Plato depicts Socrates in
dialogue about the proper ways in which to educate children so that they may be properly
functioning citizens. In ―Book VI: The Philosophy of Government,‖ Socrates explains to
17 G. Stanley Hall, Adolescence: Its Psychology and its Relations to Physiology, Anthropology, Sociology, Sex, Crime, Religion and
Education (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1904).
18 Rolph Muus, Theories of Adolescence, 6th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996) 1.
19 Raymond E. Francher, Pioneers of Psychology, 2nd edition. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1990) 262.
―[i]n childhood and youth their study, and what philosophy they learn, should be
suited to their tender years: during this period while they are growing up towards
manhood, the chief and special care should be given to their bodies that they may
have them to use in the service of philosophy; as life advances and the intellect
begins to mature, let them increase the gymnastics of the soul; but when the
strength of our citizens fails and is past civil and military duties, then let them
range at will and engage in no serious labour, as we intend them to live happily
here, and to crown this life with a similar happiness in another.‖20
Socrates‘ notion for educating the child suggests that the child progresses through stages
of cognitive development, which explains why at one point in their development it is not
profitable to teach philosophy, while at a later time it would be.
Part of Hall‘s legacy is that he was able to take his ideas on adolescence and
developmental psychology and test them scientifically in what helped to establish
adolescent psychology as an institutionalized academic and medical discipline. Hall took
to testing his ideas with clinical research while working as a professor of psychology and
pedagogics at Johns Hopkins University. He used a series of questionnaires primarily to
discover what it was that children thought about a variety of subjects, such as education,
religion, and play. Although Hall‘s methods of testing and the authenticity of his results
have come into question by scholars in the century since his research, his theory of
recapitulation and his developmental approach to studying children pushed the questions
―what do children think?‖ and ―how do children think?‖ into the mainstream discourse of
medicine and academia. Hall‘s importance to the history of psychology can be seen in his
many accomplishments that helped the field gain its credence as a medical and scientific
discipline: the first American laboratory for psychological research, the establishment of
the American Journal of Psychology and in 1892, and his appointment as the first
20 Plato, Republic (Columbia University Institute for Learning Technologies, 1995) book VI,
president of the American Psychological Association.21 Although he produced more that
400 books and articles in his lifetime, Hall is best known for his Adolescence (1904) and
Aspects of Child Life and Education (1921). Ironically, the history of psychology credits
Hall with having a career focus on child-centered research, which for Hall revolved
around using child subjects to confirm adult preconceptions about children and childhood,
rather than observing children for the purpose of better understanding intricacies of
children‘s own culture.22
From a theoretical standpoint, Hall‘s greatest contribution was the introduction of
the phrase ―Storm and Stress‖ with reference to adolescence, taken from the German
Sturm und Drang movement, which would become central to Sigmund Freud‘s work on
the adolescent and the foundation of adolescent psychology for the next century. 23
According to Hall, adolescence was a time where young people underwent great stress
and confusion as they attempted to become socialized in a way that was acceptable to
society. Hall stressed three areas where this Sturm und Drang could be best witnessed:
conflict with parents, mood disruptions, and risky behaviour.24 These three areas of
adolescent behaviour are still considered focal points of adolescent psychology today,
even by those who dispute the Sturm und Drang theory because it suggests that all
adolescents partake in this behaviour with out any accommodation for the fact that
adolescence (and childhood) is different depending on historical time and geographical
location. For example, anthropologist Margaret Mead‘s 1928 study Coming of Age in
21 Francher, Pioneers of Psychology, 259-263.
23 Refers to the ―German literary movement of the late 18th century that exalted nature, feeling, and human individualism and sought
to overthrow the Enlightenment cult of Rationalism.‖ Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, s.v. ―Sturm und Drang,‖
http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9070053 (accessed July 17, 2007).
24 Gustav Bergmann, ―The Contribution of John B. Watson,‖ Psychological Review, 63:4 (1956), 265-276.
Samoa questioned the claims that the experiences of adolescents were universal. 25 Her
research explored the lives of young girls in Samoa and discovered that they were able to
transition from childhood to adult without the tension, stress, and duress that was stated as
characteristic to growing up in Western society by, most notably, Hall and Freud.
Although there have been questions as to the authenticity of Mead‘s research findings, the
point she raised is still important: that adolescence is a social construction of Western
societies. This is important to our discussion, since it is the images of the universal child
that the culture industries would use to first segment the marketplace and later fragment
the segmented markets in an attempt to sell ―youth‖ itself as a commodity.
Youthfulness is a marketing strategy employed for the selling of commodities.
Therefore, tied into each symbol or representation of youth is an economic equation,
thought out in advance, preplanned, and prepackaged for consumption, which hides all
the unequal power relations of capitalism and all the commercial production of childhood.
This is, in fact, the point that Charles Sarland makes in his essay ―The Impossibility of
Innocence: Ideology, Politics, and Children‘s Literature,‖ arguing that all texts are
ideological, and that, from the Marxist perspective, ideology can never be separated from
its economic base or power relations. Sarland argues that because children‘s literature is
primarily written, published, and produced by adults for children, it cannot be viewed as
innocent or without ideological bias. 26 In the same vein as Sarland‘s argument,
advertisements of youth and youthful sensibilities are ideological texts that should never
be separated from their economic base or power relations. Behind the advertisements lay
25 Margaret Mead, Coming of Age in Samoa: A Psychological Study of Primitive Youth for Western Civilization, revised edition. (New
York: Morrow, 1928; New York: New American Library, 1959).
26 Charles Sarland, ―The Impossibility of Innocence: Ideology, Politics, and Children‘s Literature‖ in Understanding Children’s
Literature: Key Essays from the International Companion Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature, ed. Peter Hunt (London: Routledge,
the highly specialized and sophisticated business structure of the advertising agency
(discussed at greater length in Chapter 2), which throughout the 20th century continually
borrowed the most effective practices from big business and the most up-to-date
understandings of how a person works from disciplines of psychology in the agency‘s
never-ending quest to further attract consumer dollars and elicit consumer spending for its
customers products. This was how perpetual adolescence as a marketing discourse
gained acceptance in society.
Building on the ideas of G. Stanley Hall, Sigmund Freud and John B. Watson
helped to grow the popularity and credibility of adolescent psychology as a discipline.
Although G. Stanley Hall was the pioneer of adolescent psychology, he was not the most
prominent thinker in the field during the first half of the 20 th century. Rather, it was the
ideas of Sigmund Freud and John B. Watson that were most influential in the study of
children and their development. In part, Freud and Watson were of greater influence
because they were popularizers of science, in that their ideas and writings moved the
newly institutionalized science of adolescent psychology out of the ivory tower and into
the regular vocabulary and everyday practice of Americans in the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s. 27
Part of what led to their popularity was the controversy that their ideas about children
raised in the public consciousness.28 One of Freud‘s most revolutionary ideas was to
27 The term ―populariser‖ first began to be used in the history of science and philosophy when discussing how Charles Darwin‘s
Origin of Species came to be read by both men of science and as popular fiction in part because of how Darwin used literary
techniques in his writing that were uncommon in scientific texts at the time. See Gillian Beer, Darwin's Plots: Evolutionary Narrative
in Darwin, George Eliot, and Nineteenth-Century Fiction (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979). The term has since been extended
to include works of fiction that increased the popularity of science in the Victorian period and to include other scientific works that
became part of popular culture. See Bernard Lightman, ed., Victorian Science in Context (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
28 ―Watson ended the 1920s…as one of the nation‘s most influential and controversial experts on child care.‖ David Cohen, J.B.
Watson the Founder of Behaviourism: A Biography (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979), 221.
suggest that children, even before the onset of puberty, were sexual beings. 29 Watson,
who was writing partly in response to Freud‘s discussion of the child‘s sexual longings
for his or her own parents, and partly in response to his own troubled upbringing,
suggested that the behaviourist in raising a family should not let the child become too
attached to the parent and that in American society, the over-affection that parents shower
on their children is really a practice that only benefits the parents and their own need for
self gratification.30 Both of these ideas stirred up great controversy and helped make the
writings of Freud and Watson not simply academic pieces, but also popularized works of
Sigmund Freud: Psychoanalysis and Adolescence
Sigmund Freud introduced psychoanalytic theory to the study of children and their
development in the early 20th century. Much of Freud‘s work focused on accessing the
unconscious of the individual and on the ways in which the desires and drives of the
unconscious made themselves manifest in the individual‘s thinking. 31 In examining the
development of human beings, Freud posited a theory of psychosexual stages, which
suggested that an individual progressed through a series of stages towards healthy
psychological development.32 The most influential stages of Freud‘s theory coincided
with the individual‘s childhood; the healthy completion of each psychosexual stage came
through a mastery of the struggle that an individual experienced between the pleasure
principle and the reality principle and was witnessed in the relationship between their id,
29 Sigmund Freud, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, in The Essentials of Psycho-Analysis, trans. James Strachey (London: The
Hogarth Press and The Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1986) 277-375.
30 John B. Watson, Psychological Care of Infant and Child (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1928).
31 Noel Sheehy, Fifty Key Thinkers in Psychology (London: Routledge, 2004) 83.
32 Ibid., 87-88.
ego, and superego. Freud outlines this struggle in Civilization and Its Discontents, when
[w]hat do they demand of life and wish to achieve in it?…They strive to
happiness; they want to become happy and to remain so. This endeavor has two
sides, a positive and a negative aim. It aims on the one hand, at an absence of
pain and unpleasure, and on the other, at the experiencing of strong feelings of
pleasure…What decides the purpose of life is simply the programme of the
For Freud, this happiness can only really be attained through the alleviation of pain and
suffering and through the satisfaction of basic needs. Part of the issue here is that
pleasure can only be achieved through a contrast with pain. The enjoyment experienced
in finding pleasure, no matter how intense, is only temporary and therefore is an ongoing
Freud believed that everyone experienced neurosis (to some degree) as a result of
the struggle between the pleasure principle and the reality principle; that is, between their
own inner desires or drives and their ability to express these desires in a socially
acceptable fashion. ―Neurosis is the result of a conflict between the ego and the id,
whereas psychosis is the analogous outcome of a similar disturbance in the relations
between the ego and the external world.‖35 Those people who Freud called psychotics
were those people who, in their childhood, were unable to deal with this struggle in a
healthy fashion and repressed this inner struggle deep into their own unconscious. ―The
aetiology [sic] common to the onset of a psychoneurosis and of psychosis always remains
the same. It consists in a frustration, a non-fulfillment, of one of those childhood wishes
33 Sigmund Freud, Civilisation and Its Discontents, trans. and ed. James Strachey (New York: W.W. Norton, 1989) 25.
34 Ibid., 26.
35 Sigmund Freud, ―Neurosis and Psychosis‖ in The Essentials of Psycho-Analysis, trans. James Strachey (London: The Hogarth Press
and The Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1986) 563.
which are forever undefeated.‖36 Freud believed that through the process of
psychoanalysis, the repressed inner drives of the unconscious could be accessed and the
maladjusted individual could come to recognize that their adult life problems were really
the antecedent of their childhood struggles.
In Freud‘s view, the mind of the infant was focused entirely on its ―id,‖ which was
based on the most primitive drives; among them, the desires to eat, to engage in physical
contact, and to survive.37 His theories state that all human beings are fundamentally needy
creatures, in that we are born helpless infants who require the assistance of other people
for the achievement of the basic needs of food and protection for our happiness and
survival. 38 In our infancy, this dependency on other people is manifest through our
relationship with our parents, but later in life this dependency shifts to acquisition of a
healthy opposite-sex relationship. For Freud, healthy relationships later in life are
predicated on individuals making a healthy transition away from their dependency on
their own parents. In the earliest years of the infant‘s life, Freud believed that the infant
develops his or her ―ego‖ or self. 39 In psychoanalytic theory, the role of the ―ego‖ is to
allow for ―id‖ to find socially safe and appropriate ways for the primitive desires of the
―id‖ to be expressed. ―[T]he ego seeks to bring the influence of the external world to bear
upon the id and its tendencies, and endeavors to substitute the reality principle for the
pleasure principle which reigns unrestrictedly in the id…The ego represents what may be
called reason and common sense, in contrast to the id, which contains all the passions.‖ 40
36 Ibid., 565.
37 Freud, Three Essays, 320-322.
38 This is the underlying theme in the first Chapter of Civilisation and Its Discontents.
39 Sigmund Freud, The Ego and the Id, in The Essentials of Psycho-Analysis, trans. James Strachey (London: The Hogarth Press and
The Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1986) 443.
40 Freud, The Ego and the Id, 450.
The effects of the child‘s interactions with their parents, in which they learn to
balance their own desires or ―id‖ with societal norms, leads the child in their late
preschool years to develop a ―super ego‖ or conscience.41 The conscience acts as a
parental stand-in, so that even when the parents are not present, the expectations as to
what is and what is not acceptable remain with the child through the development of a
social conscience (the term here refers to a conscience of what is considered right or
wrong by social norms and not necessarily by ethical standards). As a result, the child
feels guilt or shame when they act in way that goes against the teachings of their parent.42
Freud suggested that the ―super ego‖ appears in individuals as the outcome of the healthy
resolution of the Oedipal complex. 43 It is only after the individual has come to terms with
the relationship with his parents that Freud believed that the individual would begin to
break away from his excessive attachment and replace the role of his external parents
with an internal super ego. The ―super ego‖ then played the role of mediator in what, for
Freud, was the never-ending struggle between the ―id‖ (the desire and drives to achieve
the most primitive pleasures) and the ―ego‖ (the outward expression of these inward
drives).44 ―Whereas the ego is essentially the representative of the external world, of
reality, the super-ego stands in contrast to it as a representative of the internal world, of
the id.‖45 Because the ―id‖ and ―ego‖ were always in a state of tension, finding acceptable
ways to release this tension was the single greatest motivator dictating human behaviour.
Accordingly, then, the stages of Freud‘s psychosexual development are named after the
41 Ibid., 452-458.
42 Ibid., 459-460.
43 ―The ego ideal [the super ego] is therefore the heir of the Oedipus complex.‖ Ibid., 459.
44 Ibid., 452-458.
45 Ibid., 459.
organs that the individual uses to discharge this tension: oral, anal, phallic, latency, and
In the oral stage (from birth to age one year), the child is fixated on the pleasures
of sucking and biting, coinciding with the period in which the child is breastfed almost
exclusively. 47 In the anal phase (age one to three years), the child is fixated on the
pleasures it receives from bowel movements, coinciding with the period in which the
child is toilet trained. 48 In the phallic stage (age three to six years), the child is fixated on
whether or not they have a penis. Here Freud believed that the child also becomes fixated
on the parent of the opposite sex and a distrust and hatred for the parent of the same sex
in what he deemed the Oedipus Complex (for boys; later, he developed the Elektra
Complex for girls). 49 After the phallic stage, the child then experiences a period of latency
(age seven to eleven) where their sexual urges are not a factor and in many ways
disappear.50 Lastly, in the genital stage (age 11 to 18), the child enters into an adult-like
stage of sexual interests and urges where the urge to fulfill these desires dominates all
other realms of their psyche. 51 At the root of all drives and desires lies the pleasure
principle, in that all human activity is directed toward finding pleasure. For Freud this
was always underlined by the libido and sexual desires. 52 Even the action of eating, which
in its earliest form required the infant to suckle from its mother‘s breast, was for Freud, at
the unconscious level, a sexual act. The struggle between the desires of the ―id‖ and the
46 Sheehy, Fifty Key Thinkers, 87.
47 Freud, Three Essays, 320,337.
48 Ibid., 325,337.
49 Ibid., 327,334.
50 Ibid., 317-320.
51 Ibid., 345-352.
52 Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, in The Essentials of Psycho-Analysis, trans. James Strachey (London: The Hogarth
Press and The Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1986) 218-268.
ability to satisfy those desires in socially acceptable ways was one of Freud‘s key
contributions to adolescent psychology. Another key contribution was the idea that a
failure to properly experience the fulfillment of release in one of the psychosexual stages
could result in an individual being stuck in that particular stage forever (by becoming
fixated on that particular stage).53 Central to ideas of adolescent psychology is the fact
that in order for an individual to successfully complete adolescence and achieve a happy
and healthy adulthood, they must first come to an agreement and understanding with each
of the changes in their self: physically, emotionally, sexually, socially, and cognitively.
In much the same way that psychoanalysis attempts to access the inner drives and
desires of the individual‘s unconscious to help alleviate the symptoms of neurosis;
advertisers such as Arthur Koponen at the J. Walter Thompson Company were also
interested in accessing the inner drives and desires of the individual as a tool to increase
consumer sales. When Koponen introduced the Personality Profile Project (the subject of
Chapter 4), one of the goals of the project was attempt to gain access to the consumer‘s
unconscious. In doing so, advertisers at the J. Walter Thompson Company hoped to
better understand what the personality types of consumers are and what inner desires
drive the consumer to make particular types of purchases. Advertisers like Koponen
hoped that the information gained from the Personality Profile Project would enable them
to create advertisements where the images associated with the products being sold would
implicitly tap into sexual urges and the most basic desires of the pleasure principle,
namely the need for pleasure and comfort. After all, the company for which Koponen
worked also hired one of the preeminent child psychologists of the 20 th century, John B.
Watson, to help establish a scientific understanding of consumer behaviour.
53 Sheehy, Fifty Key Thinkers, 87.
John Broadus Watson: Behaviourism and Adolescence
Much like G. Stanley Hall, John B. Watson had a prestigious career within the
psychology field, serving as the editor of the Psychological Review and serving as
president of the American Psychological Association. Watson played a vital role in the
construction of childhood in the 20th century and the creation of a marketing discourse of
perpetual adolescence in three different, yet equally important ways: as the founder of a
new form of psychology called behaviourism; in his publishing on parenting (much like
the Dr. Spock books of the 1940s, which gave a how-to approach to parents); and in his
work as a director of research and, later, vice-president of the J. Walter Thompson
Company advertising agency.
The first strain of Watsonian ideas that is of importance was his introduction of
behaviourism as a scientific strain of psychology. As a psychologist, Watson‘s 1913
publication ―Psychology as the Behaviourist Views It‖ spawned a new philosophical
approach to psychology called ―behaviourism.‖ Much like the research of Ivan Petrovich
Pavlov in 1904 (who discovered that if he rang a bell before feeding a dog, eventually just
ringing the bell would cause the dog to salivate), behaviourism sought through
experimentation to predict and control behaviour.54 Behaviourism got its roots in animal
experimentation and believed that the results from such experiments could also be used to
predict and control human behaviour. For Watson and behaviourism, the key to learning
was not internal, as much of the psychology to date had suggested, but rather external; the
only objective way to study people and animals was to analyze their behaviour and
54 Francher, Pioneers of Psychology, 280-288.
reactions in particular situations.55 In his own laboratory experimentation with rats,
Watson laid the groundwork for further research on the relationship between sensory
input and learning and behaviour. In his 1903 dissertation from the University of
Chicago, Animal Education: An Experimental Study on the Psychical Development of the
White Rat, Correlated with the Growth of its Nervous System, Watson observed how rats
would solve problems, such as finding food in a maze or finding their way out of a maze,
and concluded that what allowed the rats to solve the maze was not a biological feature
but rather an adaptation to existing external conditions.
Watson wanted to apply the same type of testing to human subjects. With the help
of graduate student Rosalie Rayner, his most famous study was the 1920 ―Little Albert
Experiment,‖ in which he theorized that children have three basic emotional reactions:
fear, rage, and love. 56 He wanted to prove that these three reactions could be artificially
conditioned in children. Watson used a little boy named Albert to test his theory. He
repeatedly presented Albert a rat in conjunction with a sudden, loud noise to classically
condition fear of the rat. Initially the child would approach the rat without any fear,
however every time the child neared the rat, Watson rang a loud bell. The sound of the
loud bell sacred the child and eventually, the child cried in simply seeing the rat and he
avoided the rat even when no noise was made. The point of behaviourism for Watson
was simple: human behaviour was not biological, but rather socially conditioned, and the
behaviourist could influence human behaviour by conditioning the individual to particular
responses in particular scenarios.
55 Ibid., 293-294.
56 Ibid., 294-298.
Watson was let go at Johns Hopkins University in 1920 in part because of his
highly publicized divorce with Mary Ickes, which was the result of his affair with a
graduate student and collaborator, Rosalie Rayner, whom Watson later married. ―The
media attention surrounding the affair was considered to have tarnished the reputation of
Johns Hopkins, and by 1920 Watson was out of a job.‖ 57 Even after his scandal ridden
expulsion from the academic world, Watson remained an important figure in psychology
in the 1920s. At the same time as Watson worked for the J. Walter Thompson Company
in the private sector, he continued to conduct research on the lives of children and to write
about childrearing practices. During the 1920s Watson‘s contribution can best be
described as applying the principles of behaviourism to both childrearing practices and to
the practice of advertising.
Watson‘s work on children and childhood can be subdivided in to two periods:
prior to 1923, when he conducted laboratory-type research on children with his assistant
Mary Cover Jones; and after 1923, when he stopped conducting direct observation of
other people‘s children and instead wrote more theoretical pieces, such as Psychological
Care of Infant and Child, while practicing behaviourism as a parenting strategy on his
own children. 58 Working with Cover Jones, Watson conducted a primary study on youth
in New York at the Manhattan Day Nursery funded by a grant from the Laura Spellman
Rockefeller Foundation. 59 Watson‘s research with Cover Jones focused on two themes:
examining whether the ―Little Albert Experiment‖ could be validated in explaining how
children acquired and were cured of their fears; and observing how children play. 60
57 Sheehy, Fifty Key Thinkers, 244.
58 This division is made explicit by David Cohen in his biography of John B. Watson. Cohen, J.B. Watson, 203.
59 Ibid., 200-208.
60 Ibid., 201.
Watson‘s research confirmed the findings of the ―Little Albert Experiment,‖ which
suggested that fear was a conditioned response and that children could be re-conditioned
to be cured of their fears and anxieties. 61
With regards to childrearing practices, Watson wrote extensively in many popular
magazines and gave many public lectures on the topic, but he is best remembered for his
1928 book Psychological Care of Infant and Child, which was a collection of six essays
and which became the dominant childrearing instructional guide for nurses and parents
until Dr. Spock‘s 1946 Baby and Child Care challenged the behaviourist parenting style
of regiment, schedule, and detachment.62 Watson believed that it was vital for parents not
to become too emotionally attached to their children as such a strong emotional
attachment would lead to an over-dependence of the child on the parent. Watson also
believed that infants should be regimented on a strict schedule that dictated when they
were to eat and sleep, without any wavering due to the child crying. Building on his
findings inside the laboratory with both human and animal subjects, Watson believed that
what created the individual were his or her responses and adaptations to the surrounding
social environment; and as he had shown in his experiments with both rats and children,
such social responses could be conditioned. The child would learn when it was time to
eat and sleep and would accept it. But even over and above his ideas on parenting,
Watson felt that the outcome of an adult‘s life could be conditioned during childhood. He
is best remembered for his famous statement, in 1930, that one could ―[g]ive me a dozen
healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I‘ll
guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I
61 Ibid., 200-208.
62 Watson‘s book immediately became a best seller and sold over 100,000 copies in the first few months. Cohen, J.B. Watson, 217.
might select – doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggar-man and thief,
regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his
ancestors. I am going beyond my facts and I admit it, but so have the advocates of the
contrary, and they have been doing it for many thousands of years.‖63
There is some confusion as to when John B. Watson actually began working at the
J. Walter Thompson Company. In his biography of Watson, David Cohen suggests that it
was on 15 March, 1921, that Watson was introduced publicly as a member of the J.
Walter Thompson Company by then-president Stanley Resor.64 However, internal
documents at the agency, such as a 17 June, 1958, letter between then-vice-president
Howard Henderson and Donald Longman suggested that Watson first began working for
the J. Walter Thompson Company in 1920. 65 To further complicate the history, the John
W. Hartman Center for Sales, Marketing, and Advertising History at Duke University,
which houses the archival collection of the J. Walter Thompson papers, states in its J.
Walter Thompson Company (JWT) History: ―to foster a scientific approach to advertising,
the Company established a Research Department in 1915 and hired eminent academics
such as John B. Watson, the founder of behavioural psychology.‖ 66 Regardless of the
date at which he began at the agency, by 1924 Watson‘s influence had so greatly
permeated all aspects of the agency that not only had he come to be the vice-president of
the agency and command a salary of $25,000 a year (more than four times his salary at
Johns Hopkins University), but behaviourism had come to underlie all the ideology and
63 John B. Watson quoted in Joanne Cavanaugh Simpson, ―It's all in the Upbringing,‖ Johns Hopkins Magazine, April 2000,
64 Cohen, J.B. Watson, 173.
65 Howard Henderson to Dr. Donald Longman, 17 June 1958, Howard Henderson Papers, Box 8, J. Walter Thompson Company. Rare
Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library, Duke University (here after cited as JWT Papers).
66 John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History, Duke University, ―J. Walter Thompson Company (JWT)
History,‖ June 2006, http://library.duke.edu/specialcollections/hartman/guides/jwt-history.html
practices of the agency. 67 As David Cohen notes, in 1928 the New Yorker called Watson
―the chief show piece of J. Walter Thompson and the advertising business as a whole.‖68
At first, Watson‘s interest was in applying his ideas of behaviourism to
advertising campaigns to see if consumer behaviour could be predicted and conditioned
as a response to the surrounding social environments, much like the rats in his laboratory
mazes. In the psychology of behaviourism, humans experience three key emotions that
trigger and direct all of their responses and actions in the world: the emotions of fear,
rage, and love. ―Our earliest observations showed that from birth, three fundamental
inherited emotional patterns could be observed. … Fear, rage, and love are original and
fundamental.‖69 As a behaviourist, Watson believed that who we are is a direct result of
what we do, and that what we do is always a result of our surrounding environment. ―The
environment in the widest sense forces the formation of our habits.‖ 70 Some of the earliest
consumer research conducted by Watson at the J. Walter Thompson Company analyzed
the reactions of consumers to particular advertisements. Setting up the Consumer Panels
(and he was one of the first people in advertising research to do so), Watson would show
a series of advertisements to consumers and ask them for their personal responses to the
advertisements in a fashion similar to the practice of ink blot testing made popular in
psychology by Hermann Rorschach in 1921. Watson concluded that repetition, frequency,
and intensity heavily influenced the acceptance of an advertisement by consumers, and
that creating a strong connection with the consumer was largely based on the ability for
the consumer to associate themselves with, and connect to, the lifestyle or people
67 Francher, Pioneers of Psychology, 299.
68 Quoted in Cohen, J.B. Watson, 168.
69 John B. Watson and Rosalie Raynor, ―Studies in Infant Psychology,‖ The Scientific Monthly, Volume 13, no. 6 (1921): 506.
70 John B. Watson, ―Image and Affection in Behaviour,‖ The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology, and Scientific Methods, Volume 10,
no 16 (1913): 40.
portrayed in the advertisements.71 To put it more simply, the more you saw the
advertisement the more you wanted the product, and the desire to own the product was
intensified by the ability of the advertisement to instil the emotions of fear, love, or rage
in the consumer.
In addition to the Consumer Panels, Watson also researched consumer behaviour
by observing the consumer in the laboratory of their ―natural environment.‖
By Laboratory, I do not mean the lab of the colleges. Your lab may be in crowded
city quarters, pulling doorbells, wandering over the country talking to consumers,
finding out what they do, what papers and magazines they read. It may be
standing in the street corners watching what people wear and how they wear it or
in the great stores, markets, or restaurants. No matter what it is, like the good
naturalist you are, you must never loose sight of your experimental animal – the
In one of Watson‘s first research projects at J. Walter Thompson, he took a job as a
salesperson at the New York department store Macys to observe how consumers made
purchases. 73 Watson concluded that consumers often bought on impulse and that the
items closest to the cash register sold quicker than those spaced throughout the store. He
speculated that purchasing, then, was an emotional response that could be stimulated and
conditioned by advertisers.
Watson began to conduct further consumer tests, similar to his laboratory
experiments at Johns Hopkins University, in an effort to see what made consumers decide
to make purchases. Watson was interested in the idea of ―brand loyalty,‖ and in a
laboratory test of cigarette smokers, he blindfolded them before giving them cigarettes to
smoke to see how many could properly identify their preferred brand of cigarette. 74 This
71 Cohen, J.B. Watson, 180.
72 Watson, speaking to JWT associates, quoted in Cohen, J.B. Watson, 187.
73 Ibid., 176.
74 Ibid., 177-179.
is exactly what he had done in his 1903 doctoral thesis at the University of Chicago with
lab rats when he continually altered their physical senses (by blindfolding them or
dissecting body parts) to observe to what extent biology predetermined human actions
and responses. Just as with his experiments on animals, where Watson concluded that it
was reactions to social environments that ultimately conditioned how animals act, he
came to similar conclusions with his human subjects. Watson found that only 10% of the
smokers tested could correctly identify their own brand of cigarette; he concluded that
what people were buying when they purchased cigarettes (and other products) was not
necessarily the utility of the product itself, but instead an atmosphere, an idea about what
the product could offer.75 Watson believed that emotions that were triggered by the
advertisement, and the consumer‘s connection to it, would ultimately stimulate sales and
directly influence consumer behaviour, and he concluded that advertisers played an
important role in creating an atmosphere or series of ideas that the consumer could relate
Part of the problem of assessing Watson‘s role at the agency and his contribution
to advertising is that, as Cohen claims, Watson‘s work in advertising was largely frowned
upon by psychologists at the universities, who viewed Watson as a sell-out. ―His success
in advertising also made Watson feel oddly inferior as academic psychology was
concerned … because he published some of it [referring to his publications on the
psychology of children in the 1920s when he was not working at an academic institution]
and met with a hostile reception [from academics]. … Watson did not want to risk
75 Ibid., 179.
76 Howard Henderson to Dr. Donald Longman, 17 June 1958, Howard Henderson Papers, Box 8, J WT Papers.
publishing his views on advertising and psychology.‖ 77 Furthermore, later in his life this
same inferiority complex led to Watson burning a large number of his unpublished papers
and notes. Adding to the problem of a lack of documentation of Watson‘s work is the fact
that the most comprehensive work on Watson‘s life and contribution to advertising can be
found in David Cohen‘s biography J.B. Watson: the Father of Behaviourism. However,
the biography is written in an extremely critical and colloquial voice and is completely
devoid of any type of academic citation, which makes it very difficult to discern where
the author‘s information comes from. Furthermore, the John W. Hartman Center for
Sales, Marketing, and Advertising History at Duke University, which houses the archival
collection of the J. Walter Thompson papers, does not have a folio that houses a
collection of Watson‘s research, writings, or notes. So although it is only through
interpreting the speeches and publications of the company during the 1920s with a keen
eye for behaviourism that Watson‘s influence can be inferred from the documents, it
seems inarguable that the company‘s success and rise to the top of the industry in the
1930s, 40s, and 50s was a result of the research and practices of John B. Watson inside
the agency. As Howard Henderson, then vice-president of the agency, wrote in a 1957
memorandum to all J. Walter Thompson employees,
Knowledge of how human beings think, feel and act is our primary stock in trade
– always has been. Today we use new labels for it such as ―motivation research,‖
but human nature itself seems to be basically the same. The real problem lies in
our understanding of it.78
Henderson‘s statement is eerily similar to the opening statements made almost 40 years
earlier by Watson in his 1913 manifesto ―Psychology as the Behaviourist Views It.‖
77 Cohen, J.B. Watson, 193.
78 Howard Henderson to All J. Water Thompson Offices, 16 April 1957, memoranda, Howard Henderson Papers, Box 8, JWT Papers.
―Psychology as the behaviourist views it is a purely objective experimental branch of
natural science. Its theoretical goal is the prediction and control of behaviour.‖ 79
Conclusion: The Creation of the “Adolescent”
There are series of ideas surrounding the development of children that are the
basis of study for the field of adolescent psychology and to which the field of psychology
is in general agreement. Usually the discussion of adolescent development revolves
around (or can be grouped into) the development of adolescents in five main areas:
physical, cognitive, emotional, social, and behavioural development.80 And in much the
same way that the image of the universal child or generic American child has become a
stand-in for all children, so too have the ideas expressed in adolescent psychology
surrounding the development of young people in the first half of the 20th century
remained popular is psychology to the present day and become a stand-in for what is
considered the normal transpiring of all adolescents.
Adolescence is, among other things, an organized set of expectations closely tied
to the structure of adult society. It stands out from the other stages of human
development as a period of preparation rather than fulfilment. … But Adolescence
is a phase of imminence that is not quite imminent enough, of emergent adult
biology that is not yet completely coordinated with adult roles, of hopes that are
not yet seasoned by contact with adult reality, and of peer culture and society that
mimic those of adults but are without adult ambitions or responsibilities.
Adolescents are in a state of preparing themselves for adulthood by
experimenting, studying, resisting, or playing. 81
Our current understanding of the term adolescence has emerged out of the field of
psychology and its understanding that adolescence is a stage in natural human
79 John B. Watson ―Psychology as the Behaviourist Views It,‖ Psychological Review, 20, (1913): 158-177.
80 Norman A. Sprinthall and W. Andrew Collins, eds., Adolescent Psychology: A Developmental View, 3rd edition. (New York:
McGraw-Hill Inc., 1995), 28.
81 John Modell and Madeline Goodman, 1990, quoted in Sprinthall and Collins, Adolescent Psychology, 4.
development. According to psychological discourses about children, adolescence is an
―in-between‖ period that separates childhood from adulthood. In viewing adolescence as
a separate period, its participants (adolescents) are seen as having a series of actions,
feelings, and self-understandings different from those who have yet to enter this stage and
those who have successfully completed it. Psychologists claim that adolescence is as a
period of change, where the individual experiences changes physically, mentally,
ideologically, emotionally, and sexually. Partly, this change is necessary both to enter into
this stage, usually around the age of 12 (with the onset of puberty), and for the completion
of this period (to which psychologists cannot agree on an age, but which is usually seen to
be sometime in the late teens or early 20s) through the mastering of those changes.
Following in this train of thought, adolescence is not an option; it is a stage that everyone
must pass through, and is as natural as birth and death. However, each culture creates the
restrictions and expectations for adolescence based on the anxieties, aspirations, and
desires of its adult population. It is against these restrictions and expectations that youth
are forced to endure the training period of destabilization that psychologists have termed
―adolescence‖ where they become the focus and subject of the projection of these adult
anxieties and desires. Therefore, childhood as a social construction and
childhood/adolescence as a medical discourse is the starting point for the discussion about
how the marketing discourse of perpetual adolescence entered into the advertising agency
and came to be the dominant practice of representation in advertisements in the new
J. Walter Thompson and the Modern Advertising Agency
In 1868, a 21-year-old United States Marine Corps veteran named James Walter
Thompson, from Pittsfield, Massachusetts, was hired by a small agency, Carlton & Smith,
to sell advertising space in religious magazines. In little time, Thompson became a very
successful sales person, so much so that in less than a decade he had amassed a good deal
of money and in 1878 he purchased the company Carlton & Smith. 1 Thompson
immediately renamed the company the J. Walter Thompson Company, a namesake it kept
until 2005, when media conglomerate WPP Group, which now owns the company,
changed its named to JWT in an attempt to re-make the company‘s brand. Thompson‘s
purchase of Carlton & Smith marks a watershed moment in advertising history as the
beginning of the modern advertising agency.
Over the course of the 20th century, the J. Walter Thompson Company grew to be
not only the largest advertising agency in the United States (in personnel, number of
offices nationwide, and total amount of client dollars billed), but also the largest
advertising agency in the world. Between the period of 1945 and 1960, the agency
climbed to the top of the advertising industry in the United States and worldwide even as
many of its competitors also experienced record growth due to an expanding American
wartime economy and a burgeoning post-war middle class.2 A significant part of the
1 John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History, Duke University, ―J. Walter Thompson Company (JWT)
History,‖ June 2006, http://library.duke.edu/specialcollections/hartman/guides/jwt-history.html
2 Beginning in 1933, The. J. Walter Thompson Company took over first place in the industry in total billings and between 1945 and
1960 total billings at JWT grew from just under 75 million dollars to over 325 million dollars annually. In comparison, McCann-
Erikson, the next largest agency in 1960 had grown from 25 million dollars annually to close to 300 million dollars in annual billings
and Young & Republicam and BBDO both of whom reported billings of close to 50 million dollars annually in 1945, had grown to
close to 200 million dollars annually by 1960. ―26 Years of Leadership‖ in ―New Accounts‖ Howard Henderson Papers, Box 9, J.
agency‘s success was linked to its internal managerial structure, which borrowed from the
practices of emerging American big business in the second half of the 19th century and
was spurred on by technological developments like the railroad and telegraph, which
allowed for national brands and corporations to establish themselves in key economic
This chapter traces the J. Walter Thompson Company‘s rise to prominence in the
advertising industry against the backdrop of the growth of the American advertising
industry, American big business, and the emergence of a mass consumer society.
Originally, the advertising agency did not provide advertising copy for its customers. The
only job of advertisers in the first half of the 19 th century was to sell advertising space
from media such as newspapers and magazines to businesses that produced their own
ads.3 However, by the second half of the 19th century, technological development in
America (such as the railroad and telegraph) had created a fundamental shift in the mode
of production, a revolution that made the mass production of consumer goods possible.
Mass-produced goods needed consumers, and in the last half of the 19th century,
advertisers worked to create markets to deal with the significant increase in mass
produced goods by turning geographically separated cities into one unified market place,
and by creating artificial needs for potential consumers. 4 This is the merger of advertising
with newly emerging American big business and the starting point of an American mass
Walter Thompson Company. Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library, Duke University. (hereafter cited as JWT
3 Daniel Pope, The Making of Modern Advertising (New York: Basic Books, 1983).
4 Alfred D. Chandler, The Visible Hand: the Managerial Revolution in American Business (Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press, 1977),
The Business History of Advertising
In the first half of the 19th century, the American marketplace consisted of a series
of geographically fragmented markets. Alfred D. Chandler describes this period as a time
of local markets, the general store, and a small selection of goods available; there were no
branded, packaged goods.5 Generally speaking, there were higher prices because of a
lower volume of sales and geographically restricted markets. The first shift in the role of
the advertiser came in the late 1860s with the first advertising agencies, which instead of
solely selling advertising space to businesses, sold information instead, advising
businesses on ad placement and image selection. The ability to move goods across diverse
and sparse geographic locations was aided by the construction of railroads in the United
States beginning in the 1850s and also influenced the need for a change in the role of
advertisers from speculators (who bought and sold advertising space) to consultants (who
established brand images and slogans to increase consumer demand).6 As the advertiser
moved from speculator to consultant, it also increased its prestige and importance by
providing copy writers and imagers for the paying businesses. However, even though the
role of advertising was growing, it would be the end of the 19 th century before the extent
of advertising‘s importance would crystallize in American society. For example, it was
only in the 1890s that advertisements begin to account for more than half of the revenue
of newspapers, which before the rise of mass-circulated magazines at the end of the
century were the most popular medium of the 19th century.7
The discussion of the ―rise of American big business‖ refers to growth in the
American economy and the shift from no large-scale businesses in the mid-19th-century
5 Chandler, The Visible Hand,:89, 209.
7 Richard M. Ohmann, Selling Culture: Magazines, Markets, and Class at the Turn of the Century (New York: Verso, 1996) 13.
United States (except perhaps Western Union) to an economy that was dominated by
these types of businesses by the Second World War.8 In this context, ―large-scale
business‖ refers to organizations in which salaried managers reported to other managers
in the process of buying raw materials, supervising workers, manufacturing products, and
marketing goods. This is the ―managerial revolution‖ that constituted the fundamental
economic change discussed by Chandler in The Visible Hand: The Managerial
Revolution in American Business. The managerial revolution allowed business to re-
organize and grow and in the process opened up a whole new series of occupations, such
as accountants, wholesalers, speculators and advertisers, and created the first series of
middle managers. Business began to control the entire process from the mining of the raw
materials through new sophisticated means of production and into the point of sale, even
going so far as to extend vertical integration past the point of sale into the minds of the
consumer through the implicit power structure of the ideologies at play in advertising. As
Richard Ohmann writes in Selling Culture: Magazines, Markets, and Class at the Turn of
the Century, ―[w]hat laid the way for our present consumer culture was the integration of
sales and production, [which was already] well underway 95 years ago.‖9 The new
emphasis of large producers on enhancing their own sales through the strategy of vertical
integration immediately made advertising a concern and money for marketing and
research and development were keys to the success of burgeoning big businesses. By the
end of the 19th century, Americans had national brands and mass-produced goods,
available to them through retailers, chain stores, and mail orders. This was the era of
8 Chandler, The Visible Hand, 3-12.
9 Ohmann, Selling Culture, 74.
The J. Walter Thompson Company itself also participated in this process and
expanded from a small local advertising agency that bought and sold ad space to a large
scale business in the middle of the 19th century into a multi-tiered international
corporation that, by the middle of the 20th century, had 52 offices worldwide and
employed close to 6,000 people. 10 An example of the J. Walter Thompson Company‘s
vertical integration and horizontal expansion can be seen in the two flow charts below
that outline the organization of the American branch of the agency and all of its middle
management and compartmentalization. Each domain that is required by the agency to
create and maintain an advertising customer (be it research, art, television, public
relations, or finances) is filled by a department that comes under the supervision of a
manager. Each manager is under the supervision of upper-management, which in turn is
under the supervision of shareholders. Shareholders are represented by a board of
governors and trustees. Furthermore, each local office or international branch of the
agency is made up the same type of compartmentalization on a smaller scale.
10 In 1960, the J. Walter Thompson Company employed 5924 personnel in 15 American offices in 37 offices abroad. ―J. Walter
Thompson Company‖ in ―New Accounts‖ Howard Henderson Papers, Box 9, JWT Papers.
Figure 1.1: ―J. Walter Thompson Corporate Structure‖ 1957, in ―New Accounts‖ Howard
Henderson Papers, Box 9, J. Walter Thompson Company. Rare Book, Manuscript, and
Special Collections Library, Duke University.
Figure 1.2: ―J. Walter Thompson Corporate Structure‖ 1957, in ―New Accounts‖ Howard
Henderson Papers, Box 9, J. Walter Thompson Company. Rare Book, Manuscript, and
Special Collections Library, Duke University.
By the middle of the 20th century, the J. Walter Thompson Company had
attempted to expand both vertically and horizontally in areas like television advertising,
so as to control all points of the process from idea brainstorming through the filming and
post-production of television commercials (discussed in Chapter 3). What is important
here is how there was a change in roles not only for the advertiser, but also for the
producer, the seller, and the purchaser of goods in the last half of the 19th century. The
advertising industry‘s growth was directly related to the growth of big business. As such,
advertisers themselves borrowed the managerial structure made successful in big business
industries by Carnegie Steel, Standard Oil, or the E.I. Du Pont de Nemours Powder
Just as big business turned to universities and colleges for educated people to
occupy the rungs of middle management, so too did the advertising agency. By the 1920s,
the university had become the breeding ground for the ―ad-man.‖ By this point, both
market research and sales psychology were also being taught at the university, and many
of the workers who entered the advertising industry from the First World War onward had
studied the art and the science of advertising itself at university. In addition to former
academic John B. Watson, by the early 1920s, the J. Walter Thompson Company had
multiple former professors from established Ivy League schools, other academics holding
PhDs, and over 120 college graduates on staff. 12 These other academics and college
graduates came from subject areas such as psychology, economics, and history, and they
fully outline the breadth of the research practices of the J. Walter Thompson Company at
11 For more on each of these three corporations, their managerial structure, and their vertical and horizontal expansion see:
Alfred D. Chandler, The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business (Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press, 1977).
12 Stanley Resor‘s speech to the graduates of the Harvard Business School, 15 October 1925, quoted in Howard Henderson to Dr.
Donald Longman, letter, 17 June 1958, Howard Henderson Papers, Box 8, JWT Papers.
this time and the dependence of advertising as a business on the university system as a
recruiting ground for ―ad-men.‖ In addition to the many local universities whose faculty
members in psychology were interested in how advertising works, distinguished
universities such as Harvard and New York University had by the 1920s established
chairs in the fields of advertising. Another interesting point was the establishment of in-
house research libraries at the ad agency. Although there is some debate over the
existence of earlier libraries, the J. Walter Thompson Company had an in-house library as
early as 1918, which housed a great deal of the literature about advertising that had been
published in the last quarter of the 19th century and the first quarter of the 20th century. 13
As the advertising industry grew in size and in influence, the techniques it
employed in the creation of advertisements and the establishing of new markets also
became more focused and sophisticated. Two of the earliest changes in advertisements
that occurred in line with the transition of advertising from small to big business were the
establishment of branding and the increased focus on images over words in
advertisements. From its earliest moments, the J. Walter Thompson Company looked to
differentiate itself from other agencies through a variety of new practices, which, in
addition to creating advertisements for its customers, dealt with the self-promotion of
agency itself. The J. Walter Thompson Company viewed itself as a business and not
simply as speculators who bought and sold ad space. Advertisements like the ―Like One
White Pea in a Pod‖ advertisement (Figure 2 below) were a staple for self advertisement,
beginning in the 1880s and through the 20th century. Such ads could be found inside trade
magazines and in self-promotion packages compiled by the agency. As the advertisement
13 Ed Strable, ―The History of Advertising Libraries and Agency Libraries Advertising Libraries Prior to 1920‖ SLA Advertising &
Marketing Division Bulletins (Fall 1986 – Winter 1988), http://units.sla.org/division/dam/about/libraryhistory.html
suggests, if a company is searching to increase their market share, ad people at the J.
Walter Thompson Company would make them be noticed through brand recognition so
that the product would stand out ―like one white pea in a pod.‖14
Figure 2: ―Like One White Pea in a Pod‖ 1957, in ―New Accounts‖ Howard Henderson
Papers, Box 9, J. Walter Thompson Company. Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special
Collections Library, Duke University.
Figure 2 is reproduced full-size in Appendix 1
At the same time, self-promotion techniques branded products, like ink pots and pin
boxes. Well aware of the value of establishing a strong brand image, the J. Walter
Thompson Company was the first agency to use the term ―branding,‖ in an early-20th-
century self-advertisement discussing how the agency could help its clients in the
marketplace. Advertisers in the early 20th century tried to carve out a market share of this
unified market by tailoring products and advertisements to consumers via gender, class,
race, age, and other categories, such as the marketing of household appliances to
housewives on the basis that it would ―make their lives easier.‖15 To distinguish and
differentiate their products in the marketplace, companies began to aim for brand name
The power of creating a strong brand is significant: ―brands that ranked first in
their product lines in the1920s and were still number one in their product lines at the end
of the [20th] century included Ivory soap, Wrigley‘s chewing gum, Coca-Cola soft drinks,
Kodak cameras and film, Goodyear tires, Gillette razors, Campbell‘s soup, Nabisco
crackers, and Del Monte canned fruit.‖16 The longevity of popularity enjoyed by some
early-20th-century brand names gives further credence to these companies‘ marketing
ideas that brand name packaging of items for individual purchase would drive
commodities from the marketplace, in that, ―once a brand gains a strong foothold, an
unbranded product cannot compete as long as the branded item is maintained at high
quality and reasonable cost.‖17 As brands pushed commodities out of the marketplace, the
15 Roland Marchand, Advertising the American Dream: Making Way for Modernity 1920:1940 (London, England: University of
California Press, 1985), 66-87.
16 Thomas K. McCraw, American Business 1920-2000: How it Worked (Wheeling, Illinois: Harlan Davidson Inc, 2000) 55.
17 Ibid., 54.
brand names themselves (and not the products) became the items that consumers were
As brand name products emerged, brand recognition became the focus of
advertising. The goal of brand name advertising was not to create a direct link between
the product and the consumer, but instead to create an emotional relationship based on
comfort between the customer and the brand. For example, branded advertising moves
the focus of the ad away from the product, so that the customer no longer says ―I like
butter and Smiths‘ Butter looks tasty so I think I‘ll buy Smiths‘ Butter.‖ Instead, the ad
focuses on consumers‘ inner drives, so that they say, ―when I think of my childhood and
dinner at Grandma‘s on Sunday night, I can‘t help but think about Smiths‘ butter. Boy,
does that make me feel safe and comfortable. I couldn‘t imagine butter without thinking
of Smiths!‖ This is why, as sociologist Karen Sternheimer explains, ―most of us would
feel more comfortable brushing our teeth with Crest toothpaste than a generic tube. We
think we know something about Crest based on experience and advertising.‖18 Brand
name awareness reaches its pinnacle when consumers can no longer separate one brand
name from the product itself, such as the case of Kleenex facial tissues or Scotch adhesive
tape. Here, the brand name relation has become so ingrained in consumers‘ psyches, they
refer to the product itself by the brand name of a company. With the rise of branding, the
focus of advertising was no longer on short-term sales but rather long-term customer
loyalty. Thus, the focus of advertising moves away from its focus on the utility of the
object to the inherent ideology of the object: the projected lifestyle, feeling, or emotion
that an advertiser pitches to sell the product. This is precisely what Sut Jhally means when
18 Karen Sternheimer, It's Not the Media: The Truth About Pop Culture's Influence on Children (Boulder Colorado: Westview Press,
he states that ―the system of capitalist production empties out objects of their meaning,
and it is the role of advertising to insert meaning into these hollow shells.‖19 The meaning
erased is the hidden social relations of the mode of production. The new meaning inserted
is a false representation of societal relations based on feelings of intimacy, pleasure, and
leisure that the purchaser is led to believe can be exacted from consumption.
Advertising historians tend to agree that the trigger incident for the growth of
advertising as a big business (and thus the shaping of mass demand for a mass consumers
society) was the mass circulation of magazines, which emerged in the United States at the
end of the 19th century.20 In 1885, there were only a handful of mass-circulated
magazines. By 1900, there were approximately 20 mass magazines. By 1905, the total
circulation of mass magazines was 64 million, more than three times what it was in 1890,
and 15 times what it was at the end of the Civil War.21 The key to this growth, which saw
magazines overtake both newspapers and books as the dominant medium for cultural
exchange in the United States by 1905, was due, in part, to how magazine industry
entrepreneurs developed the formula of elegant simplicity: ―identify a large audience that
is not hereditarily affluent or elite, but that is getting on well enough, and that has cultural
aspiration; give it what it wants; build a huge circulation; sell lots of advertising space at
rates based on that circulation; sell the magazine at a price below the cost of production
19 Sut Jhally, The Codes of Advertising: Fetishism and the Political Economy of Meaning in the Consumer Society (London: Pinter,
20 Alfred D. Chandler, The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business (Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press, 1977);
Sut Jhally, The Codes of Advertising: Fetishism and the Political Economy of Meaning in the Consumer (London: Pinter, 1987);
Roland Marchand, Advertising the American Dream: Making Way for Modernity 1920:1940 (London, England: University of
California Press, 1985); Thomas K. McCraw, American Business 1920-2000: How it Worked (Wheeling, Illinois: Harlan Davidson
Inc, 2000); Richard M. Ohmann, Selling Culture: Magazines, Markets, and Class at the Turn of the Century (New York: Verso, 1996).
21 Ohmann, Selling Culture, 29.
and make your profit from ads.‖22 Big business viewed the rise of mass magazines‘
readership as an endless marketplace and responded by heavily advertising in the
magazines. For instance, in 1885, Harper’s housed about ten pages of ads, which
increased to seventy-five in 1890 and to ninety-two pages in 1905.23
It was only in the last 30 years of the 19th century that ad agencies began to
develop the practice of actually creating the advertisements for businesses and products.
The newly renamed J. Walter Thompson Company attempted to do more than its Carlton
& Smith predecessors in the late 1870s. Instead of simply selling ad copy space, the J.
Walter Thompson Company began to offer what it deemed ―full service‖ to its clients.
Full service included ―… the creation of ads as well as placing them in publications, and
persuading the quality magazines of the day to include advertisements.‖24 The agency
began to hire writers and artists instead of salesmen, establishing what is considered the
first ―Creative Department‖ in advertising history, which was responsible for the creation
of ads. By the beginning of the twentieth century, the J. Walter Thompson Company had
implemented a business structure similar to the management structure described by
Chandler, which divided the advertising agency into a multi-tiered organization with a
department for each individual issue of business. Of equal importance here is that, with
the establishment of art and creative departments, one of these tiers was devoted
specifically to the aesthetic of advertisements. 25
22 Ohmann, Selling Culture, 24.
23 Ibid., 26.
24 Ellen Gartrell, ―More About the J. Walter Thompson Company‖ Emergence of Advertising in America 1850-1920 (Rare Book,
Manuscript, and Special Collections Library, Duke University, 2000), http://scriptorium.lib.duke.edu/eaa/the J. Walter Thompson
25 Philippe Schuwer, History of Advertising (London: Leisure Arts, 1966).
In the first half of the 20th century, the way in which an ad was constructed shifted
from a text-based piece of copy with a focus on information (although advertisements
have always had a persuasive dimension) to a sensationalized, image-based
advertisement. This success was aided by several developments, including the change in
newspaper style and format at the end of the First World War; the establishment of
advertising as a subject to be taught at universities in the early 20 th century; interest in
how the eye and brain perceive pictures and information; the emergence of new media
that relied on no text whatsoever, like radio and moving pictures; and changes in art, such
as Bauhaus and surrealism, that had an effect on the changing value of the aesthetic in art
during the interwar period. As Raymond Williams notes, ―[a]dvertising is also, in a sense,
the official art of modern capitalist society: it is what ‗we‘ put up in ‗our‘ streets and use
to fill up half ‗our‘ newspapers and magazines.‖26 In his work, The Codes of Advertising:
Fetishism and the Political Economy of Meaning in the Consumer Society, Sut Jhally
composes a timeline of the construction of advertisements‘ move from text-based to
image-based ads that focused less on the utility or use value of the object and more on
lifestyles and ideas for consumption. These are based on ―the four stages in the evolution
of cultural meanings of products as reflected in advertising,‖ which parallels the
movement of psychological discourses into the advertising agency that is central to this
thesis.27 Jhally calls the first stage product utility or idolatry. In this stage (1890s-1920s),
the focus of text-heavy advertisements is on the utility and wonders of great new
technologies and the products they create, while using quasi-religious rhetoric Jhally
terms the second stage symbolism or iconology. In this stage (1920s-1940s), the focus is
26 Raymond Williams, ―Advertising: the Magic System‖ in Problems in Materialism and Culture: Selected Essays (London:
27 Jhally, Codes of Advertising, 201.
not on the symbol itself, but on what it is symbolizing; not on the commodity itself, but
on its social meaning. Jhally also notes that product-centered ads move closer to a
consumer focus. For Jhally, the third stage (1940s-1960s) is personification or narcissism.
Here the shift in ads to a consumer focus is complete. Purchasers are invited to believe
what great pleasures could be derived from new commodities and how ―the good life‖
(one where work is made easier) is only a purchase away. Jhally also calls this the stage
of fetishism. He notes that this stage was greatly aided by an increase in use of colour
photography in advertisements. The fourth stage (1960s-1980s) is what Jhally dubs
lifestyle or totemism:
The last phase draws together and synthesizes the other three phases: products are
freed from only being utilitarian things, or abstract interpretations of social values,
or tied up in the world of personal and interpersonal relationships. Here, utility,
symbolism, and personification are mixed and remixed under the sign of the group.
Products are badges of group membership.28
This is precisely the strategy by which perpetual adolescence as marketing discourse
works. Images associated with products in advertisements are void of any connection to
the use value of the product and instead are centered on the ways in which the product
can aid the potential consumer in their quest for both personal and group acceptance.
Why the Economy Needs Advertising
―From behind the emptiness, the degradation, and the suffering which poison
human existence in this society lies the profound irrationality and moral bankruptcy of
capitalism itself.‖29 In their influential 1960 essay Monopoly Capital, Baran and Sweezy
examine a post-war economy propped up by military spending and an advertising
28 Ibid., 202.
29 Paul A. Baran and Paul M. Sweezy, Monopoly Capital: An Essay on the American Economic and Social Order (New York:
Monthly Review Press, 1966) 363.
ideology of planned obsolescence. Tapping into early discourse on mass society, Baran
and Sweezy speculate that an economy in the most advanced stages of monopoly
capitalism, which they believe characterized post-war America, leaves consumers
continually looking for new ways to overcome their emotional starvation. 30
Understanding the role of advertising in an economy of monopoly capital will help
explain how advertising works.
Monopoly capital is an economy that is dominated by an oligopoly, which results
in no price competition. In the absence of price competition, new types of competition
arise, namely, what Baran and Sweezy call ―the sales effort.‖31 In monopoly capital, the
economy is stagnant and relies on either the government or an outside force to keep the
economy moving through either an increase in military spending and /or advanced
advertising techniques. Instead of cutting back production, the focus of monopoly capital
becomes the stimulation of demand. The sales effort then becomes more sophisticated to
include not only what was traditionally considered advertising, but also the variation of
products offered by the same company, the appearance and packaging of the products
offered, their planned obsolescence/increasing the rate of wearing out, style changes, the
rate of product discard, and the increase of credit schemes to aid the purchasing of
products.32 Although advertising existed before monopoly capital, its role changes in an
economy of monopoly capital. As Baran and Sweezy state, ―this expansion [of
advertising in the first half of the 20th century] has profoundly affected the sales effort‘s
role in the capitalist system as a whole: from being a relatively unimportant feature of the
30 For Baran and Sweezy, the sales effort has created a prototype of the American consumer that is ―always receptive to new fads and
fashions, to new products and models- and to new tranquilizers and pain killers.‖ Ibid., 359.
31 Ibid., 67.
32 Ibid., 115.
system, it had advanced to the status of one of its decisive nerve centers. In its impact on
the economy, it is outranked only by militarism. In all other aspects of social existence, its
all-persuasive influence is second to none.‖33
The analysis of the advertising agency and its role in an economy of monopoly
capital is then of great importance to this project. Of equal importance is the timeline by
which Baran and Sweezy speculate that America itself has become an economy of
monopoly capital. Their timeline helps explain why an investigation of the J. Walter
Thompson Company is interested in the discourses of a post-war society and beyond, into
the late 1960s. According to Baran and Sweezy, the American economy began showing
signs of stagnation around 1907; however, the boom of the auto industry and the First
World War helped to overcome that stagnation. This is in line with the fact that only war
and key advancements in technology offset the stagnation of monopoly capital naturally.
Where Baran and Sweezy differ from most conventional theories of economics is that
they view the Great Depression of the 1930s not as an anomaly in the market, but instead
as the normal outcome of the American economy when not offset by military spending or
planned obsolescence. In the aftermath of the Great Depression, the economy was
propped up by the Second World War, whose success in production was maintained in
the post-war economy when continued military involvement in the Korean War and Cold
War provided the American economy with an additional decade of high employment and
a military outlet for surplus capital, in addition to an increase in consumer spending in the
two decades following the war‘s conclusion. For example, during the Second World War
not only was unemployment virtually wiped out, but conservation and the rationing of
raw materials for key industries in the war effort dictated that people save their money
(and pay off their debt) instead of spending money vicariously. When the war ended,
people were encouraged to spend, and they did so by buying large-ticket items such as
cars and houses, aided as they were by government legislation such as the GI Bill. The
resulting spending pattern was snowball-like, in that the mass migration of people to new
homes in the suburbs required an infrastructure to support the movement of people.
Between 1950 and 1960, the number of people living in American suburbs increased by
almost 50% as approximately 37 million people moved to the outskirts of cities. This
migration spurred the economy through the subsequent purchases of items like furniture,
appliances, and other household goods such as cutlery and coffee makers. 34
Baran and Sweezy are interested in the ways in which surplus capital gets re-
invested since, in traditional Marxist critique, it is the reinvestment of surplus capital into
the mode of production that allows the bourgeoisie to further alienate the proletarian
worker. According to Baran and Sweezy, there are two basic types of investment,
endogenous and exogenous. An endogenous investment is an investment that is funnelled
into outlets that arise from the internal mechanisms of the system, whereas an exogenous
investment is an investment that takes place independently of demand factors generated
by the normal workings of the system. 35 The reason why this is of importance to
monopoly capital is because, as Baran and Sweezy suggest, the rise in the importance of
advertising from a $5-million industry in 1867 to a $20-billion industry less than a
century later and the importance of advertising to negating the stagnating tendencies of a
monopoly capitalism suggest that advertising can no longer be viewed as part of the
35 Ibid., 89.
production costs of a business, as an expense that does not enter into profits. 36
Advertising now must be viewed as part of aggregate surplus, which gets re-invested
exogenously into the creation of more advertising regardless of consumer demand and
unrelated to the expenses of production and distribution.37
The goal of advertising in monopoly capital is to convince people to spend their
money instead of saving it, to offset stagnation. The advertising industry does this by
creating changes in fashion, creating new wants, setting new standards of status, and
enforcing new norms of propriety; this is what makes advertisements, according to Baran
and Sweezy, ―the chief architect of the famous American way of life.‖38 In order for this
artificial demand to be successful, producers must pour a steady stream of ―new‖ products
into the marketplace. Since ―new‖ products are not easy to come by, much of the
―newness‖ that is being marketed is actually fraudulent, such as the 1983 7 Up campaign
that promoted 7 Up as ―crisp and clean with no caffeine‖ or the 1973 Miller Lite beer
campaign that promoted the beer on the basis that it ―tastes great and less filling.‖39 This
fraudulence refers to the fact that there is no way of testing the claims being made, such
as being ―less filling,‖ or that it highlights a feature of the product that is not necessarily
different from its competitors but has never been highlighted before. The result of the
focus on ―newness‖ for consumers also resulted in a shift in ―the economic center of
gravity from production to the sales effort.‖40 The result of the emphasis on newness and
the sales effort had a negative effect on consumers, since planned obsolescence requires a
36 Baran and Sweezy speculate that the actual amount in 1962 is actually 12 million dollars but when the behind the scenes spending
on market research, public relations, and commercial design are included, the number is closer to 20 million. Ibid., 119.
37 Ibid., 125.
38 Ibid., 128.
39 The advertising examples are my own, which attempt to anachronistically prove Baran and Sweezy‘s point. Baran and Sweezy do
not mention any actual advertising campaigns in their work. Ibid.
decline in product quality (a product needs to be disposable and have a high turnover
when newness is desired). The effect of this is a higher price paid by the customer, which
is hidden in the shorter lifespan of the product or greater cost of repair bills. 41 Although
―newness‖ has a negative impact on the consumer, it has a positive impact on the
economy because continual success of monopoly capital is built on obsolescence and
products wearing out, becoming passé, or being disposable. This also results in a boost to
income and employment.42 The ‗―disposable economy‖ of monopoly capital highlights a
very interesting side-point to the relationship between advertising and monopoly capital,
in that the main economic function of advertising is not to relocate consumer dollars to
commodities, but instead to have a positive impact on the levels of income and
employment of a society.43
Advertising’s Social Role
The important question to highlight here is not whether the system of advertising
affects people‘s motivation for action, but rather, how the production discourse of the
system of advertising in a mass consumer society perpetuates the very inequalities it is
based on, by engaging the consuming public with a consumption ethic that promises
freedom but instead enslaves them. Discussing the social role of advertising and how
advertising works means exploring dominant ideologies at play in the system of
advertising and analyzing systems of power: those who wield the power and how they
distribute it. This discussion will highlight how the system of advertising works on
multiple levels, much like ideology, and in doing so continues to work to maintain the
43 Ibid., 144.
modern consumer society it created. On one level, an advertisement is selling a product,
like Listerine. The advertisement‘s sales pitch, however, often provides a reason for
purchasing the product that is above and beyond its utility and is usually related to a
social expectation and a personal fear or desire. For example, in what advertising
historian Roland Marchand described as one of the most influential advertising
campaigns in the history of advertising, the 1923 ―What Secret Is Your Mirror Holding
Back‖ Listerine campaign warned Americans of the social dangers of ―halitosis.‖ 44
Although bad breath had existed long before Listerine, the company was able to create a
need for their product by creating a personal fear in its consumers based on their social
image and in doing so created a market place for their product.45 Perhaps the most
important factor in understanding the implicit ideologies of advertising (or what lies
beneath advertisement) is the notion of ―taste‖ or ―distinction.‖ In the words of Pierre
Bourdieu, ―[t]here is an economy of cultural goods, but it has a specific logic,‖ in which
―taste functions as markers for class.‖46
In his critique of the sense of distinction, Bourdieu highlights three points. The
first point is that the dominant group (class or fraction) occupies a separate space from all
the dominated groups because of its relationship with economic and cultural capital. The
dominant group‘s holding of these two forms of capital and control of its distribution
make it dominant over the others. This form of domination is distributed and illustrated
through the aspect of its distinction, best witnessed through a certain type of lifestyle. For
Bourdieu, a lifestyle is simply ―the different systems of properties in which the different
44 Marchand, Advertising the American Dream, 18.
45 Marchand, Advertising the American Dream, 20
46 Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984) 1-2.
systems of dispositions express themselves.‖47 Lifestyles are precisely what are for sale in
advertising. The lifestyles offered up for consumption are only the lifestyles of the
dominant class and, whether obvious or not, they are marketed under a discourse of
paradoxical properties, in that the desire for this lifestyle is a desire to both be like a
group of people (homogenous) and to create difference with others (individuality). ―In the
process of selling specific products, advertisers also communicated broader assumptions
about social values. Implicit value statements, passed along unconsciously as givens,
usually carried ideological bias towards ‗system reinforcement‘.‖48 This is the great
achievement of the modern advertising agency, which allowed for the creation of the
mass consumer society: the ability to create the desire in consumers to purchase the
commodities whose obvious ideology promises happiness but whose implicit ideology
guarantees a continuation of the social chains that bind them.
Bourdieu‘s second point in his critique of the sense of distinction states that the
distribution of economic and cultural capital is both inversely and symmetrically
related.49 In the same way that when an hourglass stands upright, the amount of sand in
the top portion of the hourglass is inversely and symmetrically related to the bottom
portion (since the amount of sand inside the hour glass is always equal to one hour‘s
worth regardless of how much rests in the top versus the bottom), so, too, Bourdieu tells,
do relationships work between classes. The riches of the top half come precisely at the
expense of the bottom. Moreover, the top of the social and economic class system hold
power precisely because they are in distinction from the bottom. This distinction is
47 Ibid., 260.
48 Marchand, Advertising the American Dream, xviii.
49 Bourdieu, Distinction, 260.
predicated on the ―obviousness‖ of the similarities and differences between the classes.50
For fractions within the dominant class, the desire for replication is simply to prove that
there is a sense of belonging to the dominant group through the practice of conspicuous
consumption. In his 1899 piece, The Theory of the Leisure Class, Thorsten Veblen used
the phrase ―conspicuous consumption‖ in referring to how consumption became a marker
of class status, taste, and distinction. The purchase and acquisition of goods was not done
for the purpose of survival and sustenance, but instead to highlight that that person was
part of what he called ―the leisure class,‖ whose wealth allowed them the luxury not only
of such purchases but also of the leisure time not afforded to the working class. 51 The
desire for distinction is illustrated by members of the dominant class to either move
themselves up the hierarchy of their own class or to further differentiate them from lower
classes. Within the dominated groups, the desire for replication is the desire for a better
life, greater opportunities or to achieve the American dream. This is where advertising
enters the picture. The goal of advertising is to provide a mirror for the consumer of all
that is the same and all that is different between themselves and their potential happiness.
However, as Marchand explains, ―people did not usually want ads to reflect themselves,
their immediate social relationships, or their broader society exactly. They wanted not a
true mirror but a Zerrspiegel [a fun house mirror].‖52 Or, to draw upon the discussion of
Adorno and Horkheimer‘s notion of pseudo individuality in the introduction, as
advertisers aimed to create a desire for both replication and distinction (at the same time),
the images that the Zerrspiegel reflected back to the consumers ―responded to [their]
50 Obviousness refers to Louis Athusser‘s use of the term in: Louis Althussier, ―Ideology and Ideological State Apparatus‖in Media &
Cultural Studies: Key Works, revised edition. Eds. Douglas Kellner and Meenakshi Gigi Durham, 79-87 (London: Routledge, 2006).
51 Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class, reprint, (New York: Penguin Books, 1979).
52 Marchand, Advertising the American Dream, xvi
desires for fantasy and wish fulfilment,‖ since ―the illustrations in American advertising
portrayed the ideals and aspirations of the system more accurately than its reality. They
dramatized the American Dream. 53
Bourdieu‘s third point in his critique of the sense of distinction argues that the
inherited asset structures (or the habits of each class or fraction), in combination with the
existing hierarchy of class structure, commands the habitus (the system) to replicate the
dominant ideology, namely the lifestyle of the dominant class in all areas of practice.
Bourdieu names aesthetic choices, like art or consumption, as simply one of many fields
where this takes place. Notice the strength of the language used by Bourdieu, in that the
existing constraints on the dominated commands the habitus in all areas to replicate the
very ideas by which the domination occurs. This is the implicit ideology of advertising, in
that through the space of lifestyles and the field of consumption, the dominant class is
able to generate the desire for distinction in the field of production and have it meet little
resistance from the dominated groups, who are focused on quenching their desires for
their own creation of distinction. Advertising in the modern consumer culture dictates
what the legitimate lifestyle of the dominant class will be. Furthermore, in the discourse
of perpetual adolescence, it is advertising that dictates that the legitimate lifestyle of the
dominant class is ―youthful.‖ Through their portrayals of youth and youthful sensibilities
in advertisements, advertisers (whether consciously or not) dictate what is legitimate
behaviour for children and adults, as well as set boundaries around what it means to be an
adolescent versus an adult. This is what Tom Frank refers to as ―hip consumerism‖ in The
Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism.
53 Theodor Adorno and Max. Horkheimer, ―The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception‖ in The Dialectic of
Enlightenment, trans. John Cumming (London: Verso, 1991) 154-155; Marchand, Advertising the American Dream, xvi, xvii.
He argues that advertisers looked to the fragility of the youth consumers‘ desire to both fit
in with the peer group at the same time as standing out as an original by creating the false
dichotomy of ―hip‖ versus ―square.‖54
The point is simple: in discussing the notion of distinction, culture and class are
connected and actions in the field of culture help to reproduce the inequalities of social
class. Bourdieu argues that the social practices of cultural consumption, which involve the
making, marking, and maintaining of social difference, help to secure and legitimate
forms of power and domination that are rooted in economic inequality. Therefore,
although class rule is ultimately economic, the form it takes is actually cultural. So the
source of difference and power is symbolically shifted from the economic field to the
field of cultural consumption and makes social power then appear to be the result of a
specific cultural disposition. In this way, the production and reproduction of cultural
space helps to produce and reproduce social space, social power and class difference. We
see this played out in advertising at all levels. ―The function of culture is to strengthen the
feeling of belonging in some and the feeling of exclusion in others.‖55 Cultural
consumption does not bring to light social inequities that are created elsewhere; it is,
instead, the process of cultural consumption that produces, maintains, and reproduces
social hierarchies. How and what people consume is how and what classifies ourselves
and others. These classifications do not in themselves produce social inequalities but
instead function to legitimate the inequalities. ―Taste‖ then is a marker of class and
culture. It does not produce or cause class distinctions; however, through the practices of
54 Thomas Frank, The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism, (Chicago: University
of Chicago Press.1997).
55 Pierre Bourdieu, quoted in John Storey, Inventing Popular Culture: From Folklore to Globalization (London: Blackwell, 2003) 40-
cultural consumption ―taste‖ is used to legitimate social difference. A hierarchy of taste
(as naturally belonging to the upper class) is mapped onto a hierarchy of social class, and
the former is used to justify the latter.
How the J. Walter Thompson Company Defined Advertising
In 1971, the advertising industry as a whole came under the scrutiny of the
Federal Trade Commission after public concern about the manipulative traits of
advertising. Many ad agency and industry leaders were asked to speak in front of the
commission to explain how advertising was not manipulative. These testimonials provide
some of the best descriptions of how the advertising agencies viewed their social role and
how they defined what is advertising. One of these testimonials to the Federal Trade
Commission was by Alvin A. Achenbaum, the senior vice-president of the J. Walter
Thompson Company, and its head of marketing in North America. Achenbaum gave a
speech in front of the Federal Trade Commission on October 28, 1971, titled ―Does
Advertising Manipulate Consumer Behaviour‖ (the transcript of which was printed and
published internally at the J. Walter Thompson Company).
Achenbaum‘s goal was to dispel what he termed ―the popular myth‖ in post-war
American society that consumers were brainless sheep who were at the mercy of the
manipulation of advertisers. The scandalizing critiques of the advertising industry about
which Achenbaum spoke were popular academic and critical works, such as Vance
Packard‘s The Hidden Persuaders and David Riesman‘s, Nathan Glazer‘s, and Reuel
Denney‘s The Lonely Crowd. Part of Achenbaum‘s strategy to dispel the stories of
popular academics and media critics was to engage the works of other academics, like
Harvard School of Business Professor Theodore Levitt‘s Industrial Purchasing
Behaviour: A Study of Communications Effects. Achenbaum‘s argument that advertising
is not manipulative was grounded on Levitt‘s work, which suggested that advertising was
simply a form of communication and therefore its meanings were always involved in a
process of negotiation. As Levitt states, ―[c]ommunication through advertising or through
poetry or through any other media, is a creative conceptualization that implies vicarious
experience through a language of symbolic substitutes. Communication can never be the
real thing it talks about. Therefore, all communication is, in some inevitable fashion, a
departure from reality.‖56 Therefore, advertising, according to Achenbaum, should be
allotted some freedom to play with reality in the process of providing potential consumers
with the information necessary to make an informed purchase.
In an attempt to defend itself from the Federal Trade Commission, the advertising
industry worked very hard to define itself as an industry that did not practise
manipulation. One way to examine how the ad agency viewed advertising is to look at
what the agency clearly believed advertising was not. According to Achenbaum,
advertising is not ―a manipulative tool of business, whereby sellers, through the use of
various psychological and other social scientific techniques, subtly and unfairly are
bludgeoning consumers into buying things which they don‘t need or really want.‖57 The
key word in the above statement is manipulation, a term that Achenbaum worked hard to
contextualize and differentiate from offering consumers information and choice.
Accordingly, then, manipulation is not a key component of what advertising is, because
consumers are not passively accepting advertisements as gospel and advertisers have little
interest in selling consumers products they do not need or want, and this is why so much
56 Italics are Levitts, quoted in Alvin A. Achenbaum, ―Does Advertising Manipulate Consumer Behaviour‖ Report before the Federal
Trade Commission (New York: J. Walter Thompson, 1971) no page numbers given.
money is spent on marketing research, close to three-quarters of a billion dollars by
While Achenbaum was very quick to dismiss manipulation as a tool of advertisers
to influence consumer behaviour, he admitted freely that ―persuasion is an important and
legitimate purpose of advertising.‖59 Persuasion in advertisements works to affect
consumer behaviour by ―first affecting attitude, and then when attitudes change,
behaviour changes.‖60 This description of consumer influence implies a less direct,
physical, and corrupt interaction between the advertisers and the seller. Achenbaum
wanted to further distinguish manipulation from persuasion by highlighting the five
purposes of persuasion in advertisements: to convince a person to 1) purchase a product
he or she has never purchased before; (2) to use a product more frequently; (3) to
purchase a particular band of a product they already use; (4) to buy a particular form or
size of the brand; or (5) to take some sort of action (i.e. go to a particular store or venue)
which could result in the purchase of a particular brand.61 Herein lies the difference
between ―manipulation‖ and ―persuasion‖ that Achenbaum was keen to highlight:
manipulation does not allow room for the informed consent of the purchaser, while
persuasion is simply the process of providing the consumer with the appropriate
information to make a decision. All information has bias, and if you attempted to provide
any information without bias, you would in fact be practicing another form of persuasion.
Therefore, according to the agency, advertising is the process of providing potential
customers with information about a product or service in a persuasive, but not
58 Close to three-quarters of a billion dollars is spent on marketing research by 1971. Ibid.
manipulative, fashion, to help aid the consumer in their decision of whether to make a
Advertisers provide information to potential consumers because advertising is
fundamentally nothing more than a form of communication. However, as a form of
communication, advertising is, according to Wallace W. Elton, a vice-president at the J.
Walter Thompson Company in the 1950s, ―the most highly developed and most
influential system of communication we have. It is an emotional force.‖62 Appealing to
the emotions, those both expressed and repressed in individuals, allows advertising to
influence consumer behaviour. As Elton states, ―advertising is a means of influencing
people, of making them do or believe something in particular. It is used not only to sell
soap but also to elect presidents and project ideologies.‖63 Advertisers are able to have
such a strong influence on consumer behaviour because what advertising is
communicating to people is not information, as Achenbaum so sternly defended in his
report to the Federal Trade Commission, but ideas. Advertising is ideas and ideas are
most effective when they, as Elton says, arouse an emotional response in the receiver.
Acknowledging the critique of Packard, Riesman, and others who published concerns
about the manipulative practices of advertising in the post-war period, Elton addressed
the power of ideas in advertising by stating, ―the subtle and sometimes terrifying quality
of professional advertising is that it can sell an idea as effectively as it can sell a material
thing. The most powerful influence in the world is an idea … and we live by our
knowledge of how to deal with the symbols that ideas communicate.‖64 One of the
62 Wallace E. Elton, ―Comments on Creative Problems‖ (speech, Eastern Annual Conference, New York, 1956) no page numbers
given.. The J. Walter Thompson Company Writings and Speeches box 4, JWT Papers.
suggested techniques for creating idea-based advertisements inside the agency was based
on what was called ―the J. Walter Thompson Company T-Square.‖65 At each of the four
corners of the square, the advertiser must ask and attempt to answer one of the four ―w‖
questions about the product being pitched: what, who, where, and when. The research that
the T-square asked advertisers to find out before creating ads was not a new idea to
advertising agencies at the time, but it was an idea that had originated inside the J. Walter
Thompson Company almost 50 years earlier. The T-square was simply a re-iteration of a
practice that had been in advertising since the 1920s, when John B. Watson outlined the
seven stages of research necessary to understanding the consumer and the product
(discussed in Chapter 3). Both Watson‘s stages and the T-Square suggested that the key
to creating effective advertisements was based on the advertiser‘s ability to communicate
ideas about the products they were selling. 66 Since the ideas in the advertisements are not
necessarily centered on the utility of the item being sold, the focus of creating advertising
is more about the selling of ideas about products than it is about selling the products
What we learn from Achenbaum‘s testimony and the internal records of the J.
Walter Thompson Company is that advertising is not intended to be directly manipulative
but informative. This point draws back to the discussion in the introduction of Adorno
and Horkheimer, who suggested that activism was not destroyed by the culture industries,
but by consumers who chose consumption and political apathy over consciousness and
agency. Therefore, corresponding with both the ad agency‘s definitions of advertising and
the theoretical works underpinning this thesis, advertising can be defined as an economic,
66 Itals are mine
social, cultural and psychological negotiation between business companies and the
consuming American public that is mediated by advertisers and media outlets. The
companies express their desire to have potential consumers purchase their products by
hiring advertisers, who in turn provide potential consumers (via the media) with the
information that the companies and advertisers deem necessary for consumers to make
informed purchases; in this way, it is an economic negotiation. However, the information
provided by advertisers often expresses more about the psychological needs, desires, and
drives of potential consumers and their relationship with their surrounding environment
by highlighting notions of taste, distinction, and happiness through consumption, rather
than information about the product‘s utility. In this way, advertising is also a social,
cultural, and psychological negotiation. And since the actual use of the object by
consumers after its purchase cannot be mandated by companies, negotiation is always a
process that is open to being passively accepted or actively contested.
The J. Walter Thompson Company agency‘s rise to the top of the advertising
industry in America parallels the growth of American big business and creation of mass
consumer society. Both of these changes, in addition to new information and
communication technologies, created new roles for advertisers. Advertisers occupied
these roles and moved from purchasing ad space to creating actual advertisements. The
making of advertisements also changed from text-heavy ads to image-based ads. The new
focus on brand image is closely connected to the emotions of the consumer and feelings
generated by the product as opposed to the product‘s utility. This move away from utility
towards feelings plays an important social role as taste works as a way of making,
marking, and maintaining economic difference on the interpersonal level. Advertising‘s
influence in society grew as it occupied a greater role in the national economy in the post-
war era and was central to the making, marking, and maintaining of economic difference
on the corporate level as well. By the middle of the 1950s, it became clear to the
advertising agency that in answering the question of, ―What are we selling?‖ it was no
longer enough to say that ―we are selling a car.‖ At the J. Walter Thompson Company,
copywriters were reminded that ―you are always advertising something BESIDES THE
PRODUCT, whether it is glamour, health, refreshment, or taste. The effect of the product
is usually of more interest to people than the product itself.‖67 The next chapter will
examine the ways in which advertising agencies used market research techniques to
analyze and attempt to predict consumer behaviour so as to better communicate ideas, not
about the product itself, but about the glamour, lifestyle, or taste associated with the
67 Caps are authors, Wallace E. Elton, ―Comments on Creative Problems‖ (speech, Eastern Annual Conference, New York, 1956) no
page numbers given. The J. Walter Company Writings and Speeches box 4, JWT Papers.
Understanding the Consumer: Research at J. Walter Thompson
In 1958, the J. Walter Thompson Company implemented the Personality Profile
Project in an attempt to explain why certain consumers purchased particular products and
brands. This marks an important moment in advertising history, because for the first time
inside J. Walter Thompson, a clear and distinct research agenda was developed that
attempted to understand consumer behaviour based on the feelings and attitudes of the
consumer rather than the accepted practice of using gender, race, and class demographics
to explain consumer purchases.1 Although it was a change in practice for the agency,
precedent had already been set. Dating back to the 1920s and John B. Watson‘s service
with the agency, the J. Walter Thompson Company believed that psychology could play
an important role in research and development and was not afraid to try new and
innovative strategies (like customer questionnaires in the 1930s and 40s, or television
panels in the 1940s and 50s) to uncover different types of consumer purchasing
preferences. 2 The agency‘s size and commitment to innovation made them, by the middle
of the 20th century, trailblazers and trendsetters in the area of consumer research in the
American advertising industry.
As the largest advertising agency in the United States in the 20 th century, the J.
Walter Thompson Company was at the forefront of the industry‘s exploration into
customer research techniques. Here, the J. Walter Thompson Company and its influence
on the rest of the advertising industry parallel the ideas of Marxist economists Baran and
1 J. Walter Thompson Research Department, ―Personality Profile Project‖ (J. Walter Thompson, May 1958) Information Center
Records, J. Walter Thompson Company. Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library, Duke University. (hereafter cited as
JWT Papers). (no page numbers).
2 Herb Fischer, Development of Research in Consumer Behaviour (J. Walter Thompson Research Department, February 1957)
Howard Henderson Papers, Box 8, JWT Papers, 2-5.
Sweezy, who, when discussing the trend of price setting in an economy of monopoly
capital, state that the largest corporations in each industry set the prices and dictate the
trends, which all other companies and corporations then follow.3 The J. Walter Thompson
Company was the first agency in the industry to hire a psychologist, adapt a customer
product survey, or implement an in-house television studio for consumer research. For
example, although in 1938 the J. Walter Thompson Company was the second-largest
national agency in terms of dollars spent ($5,320,608), the company‘s foresight and
ability to invest in research and development allowed them to be at the forefront of
television advertising, so that by 1957 the J. Walter Thompson Company was spending
over $109 million annually on television billings, which was more than $22 million, or
20%, above the next-closest agency. 4
Interest in research and development in advertising originally focused on product
brands and brand management, but by the middle of the 20 th century, the J. Walter
Thompson Company had helped to change the focus in research and development away
from a focus on the product towards a focus on the consumer. The movement towards
research centered on consumer satisfaction attempted to answer two simple questions:
―what do people buy?‖ but even more important, ―why do people buy?‖ By examining
advancements in advertising research where the company was at the forefront of
development, this chapter traces how the J. Walter Thompson Company throughout the
first 60 years of the 20th century helped to shape the focus of research in advertising
towards understanding ―why do people buy?‖ Most notably, this chapter focuses on the
3 Paul A. Baran and Paul M. Sweezy, Monopoly Capital: An Essay on the American Economic and Social Order (New York: Monthly
Review Press, 1966).
4 J. Walter Thompson Company, ―Agency National Network Expenditures‖ Advertising Vertical File, Box 14, JWT Papers;
―Television Spending and Costs‖ Air media Basics, July 1959, 114. Advertising Vertical File, Box 14, JWT Papers.
work of John B. Watson and the agency‘s use of the Consumer Panel and the Personality
John B. Watson: The Behaviourist Inside the Agency
Watson was not the first psychologist to examine the connection between
advertising and psychology. Nor was he the first person to suggest that by gaining a better
understanding of how the human brain works to retrieve, classify, and store information,
advertisers stood to improve their practices to predict and influence consumer behaviour.
As early as the last decade of the nineteenth century the academic discipline of
psychology began to take an interest in the advertising industry.5 This interest in the
psychology of advertising at the beginning of the 20th century can be seen through the
teaching of advertising at professional schools and universities like Northwestern
University or the University of Michigan; the establishment of trade journals, such as
Advertising Experience, for those in the profession; and the growing interest in research
of how advertising works by German and American psychologists such as Wilhelm
Wundt, William James, Edward L. Thorndike, James Angell, Edward Titchener, and
Walter Dill Scott.6
In the 1920s, research at J. Walter Thompson was based largely on the ideas and
direction of John B. Watson. Under Watson‘s tutelage, research was structured around
seven key stages to understanding the product and consumer.7 The seven stages
(explained below) appear to be directly connected not only to the practices of the J.
5 Ellen Mazur Thomson, ―The Science of Publicity an American Advertising Theory: 1900-1920,‖ Journal of Design History 9, no. 4
7 Herb Fischer, Development of Research in Consumer Behaviour (J. Walter Thompson Research Department, February 1957)
Howard Henderson Papers, Box 8, JWT Papers, 1.
Walter Thompson Company but also to Watson‘s own ideas about behaviourism,
advertising, and childrearing. To understand the potential consumer for a product, the
advertiser must first study the basic population and economic trends of the geographic
area to which the company was interested in promoting its product.8 Behaviourism, as
Watson tells us, helps to explain how the actions of the individual are wholly structured
and conditioned by their surrounding environments, or as Watson says, ―our personality is
but the outgrowth of the habits we form,‖ and ―the situation we are in dominates us
always and releases one or another of these all-powerful habits.‖9 In 1909, the J. Walter
Thompson Company conducted a regional study of the population and economic trends of
the city of Cincinnati, the first such study by any advertising agency. 10 The agency had
published on the topic of population trends since 1912 when it published the first copy of
Population and Its Distribution, which recorded its research findings on the population
and economic trends of regional American markets. 11 By 1958, Population and Its
Distribution was in its seventh edition and covered 58 major markets worldwide with
statistics on almost half the planet‘s population. 12
According to Watson and the agency, good advertisers would turn their focus to
consumer testing after completing an analysis of the marketplace. For example, in 1922
John B. Watson tested how people were affected by pamphlet advertisements. 13 Watson
offered 25 cents to anyone who could return to him a copy of either of the two free
cosmetic booklets that the Ordono Corporation had released in 1921 and answer a
9 John B. Watson, Behaviourism (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1924) 269, 276.
10 Howard Henderson to Dr. Donald Longman, 17 June 1958, Howard Henderson Papers, Box 8, JWT Papers.
13 David Cohen, J.B. Watson the Founder of Behaviourism: A Biography (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979) 177.
questionnaire. What Watson found was that almost 40% of the people who were sent the
booklet recalled reading it and almost half of them still kept a copy of it ―by their
bedside.‖14 The J. Walter Thompson Company believed very strongly in the importance
of not only understanding the market of the potential customer but also understanding the
media preferences of consumers of particular products; therefore, media analysis of
potential audiences in print, magazines, and radio was necessary. 15 The analysis of media
was a practice that originated at JWT. For example, if the client company sold soap, an
analysis of the entire soap market would be conducted to see how much soap was being
sold by the client company and its competitors. This included understanding what age
bracket, income bracket, and geographic location of consumers were purchasing each of
the major companies‘ soap to determine which markets were the most lucrative for future
The focus of the remaining three steps was strictly devoted to consumer
behaviour, beginning with a close examination of not only what brands people were
buying, but also how much they were paying, where they were making their purchases,
how often they purchased the item and how much of the item they purchased each time. 16
The goal of this type of consumer testing at the J. Walter Thompson Company in the
1920s was to gain an increased understanding of consumer buying patterns. This was the
initial stage of what would become the Consumer Panel, which was a key research
development of the agency in the 1930s. Furthermore, psychological studies of consumer
responses to advertisements and products were also conducted to better determine not
what people buy, but why they feel and act the way they do about certain products and
15 Fischer, Development of Research in Consumer Behaviour, 1.
16 Ibid., 5-7.
certain brands. As a behaviourist, Watson believed in the conditioning of responses. In
Behaviourism he wrote:
What do we have to do to change the personality? There must be both unlearning
the things we have already learned (and the unlearning may be an active
unconditioning [sic] process or just disuse) and learning of new things, which is
always an active process. Thus the only way to thoroughly change personality is
to remake the individual by changing his environment in such a way that new
habits have to form. The more completely they change, the more personality
changes. Few individuals can do this unaided. That is why we go on year in and
year out with the same old personality. Someday we shall have hospitals devoted
to helping us change our personality because we can change the personality as
easily as we change the shape of a nose, only it takes more time. 17
As an advertiser, Watson viewed the agency as precisely this new type of hospital, and
therefore if research could reveal what the consumer did not like about a product, Watson
thought that advertising could condition the consumer to think otherwise. The J. Walter
Thompson Company was at the forefront of the industry in this type of consumer research
and psychological testing, and an earlier forerunner to the Personality Profile Project
sought to connect the psychological make up of individuals to certain consumer types so
as to better focus advertisements based on psychological needs and desires.
Although some of the individual components of market and consumer research
stated above were practiced by other agencies at the time, no other agency by the early
1920s had such a tight, cohesive, and intensely focused marketing strategy with the
sophistication and breadth of techniques as the J. Walter Thompson Company. Over the
next half-century, the J. Walter Thompson Company would keep this strategy as its main
focus for how to sell its customers‘ advertisements to potential consumers and would
continue to build on each of the seven stages, becoming more focused and sophisticated
in its techniques for the collection and analysis of data. This is a process that was created
17 Watson, Behaviourism, 301-302.
in large part due to the ideas and supervision of John B. Watson. Watson‘s research
techniques were so successful that his ideas underpinned all of the research and
development at the agency for the next half-century. During that same period, the J.
Walter Thompson Company grew to become the largest advertising agency in the world.
And if the largest company in an industry dictates the trends of all of its competitors, as
Baran and Sweezy explain, then Watson might have been the most influential person in
advertising in the first half of the 20th century.18
Television: New Technology and New Developments in Consumer Research
By 1933, the J. Walter Thompson Company was the top-billing agency in the
world, with close to $33 million in annual revenues.19 The agency‘s annual billings more
than doubled in the next 12 years to $73.3 million by 1945, when it began to invest
heavily in television. 20 In the subsequent 12 years annual billings at the agency tripled to
over $290 million. 21 The J. Walter Thompson Company‘s ability to grow to the largest
advertising agency by 1933 and maintain that position for close to three decades was
connected to its significant investment in radio and television advertising and production,
which were heavily dependent on the continuous improvements and innovations in the
area of consumer research. The agency‘s foray into television began in the preceding
technology of radio. In 1927, the Radio Department was established at the J. Walter
Thompson Company with a mandate for soliciting customers to use the medium of radio
18 Baran and Sweezy, Monopoly Capital.
19 ―J. Walter Thompson Co, Billings, 1914-164‖ in Advertising Age, 7 December 1964. JWT Papers.
as a lucrative venture for promoting their products.22 Initially the Radio Department was
not a very large component of agency, consisting of only 11 people in 1931, five of whom
were writers and six in charge of production. 23 Although the J. Walter Thompson
Company had been involved with radio advertisements before this time, the agency was
unhappy with the services being provided to it by networks like NBC. It set out to hire its
own employees to create and produce radio advertisements, which at the time consisted of
radio programming that was sponsored by large-scale companies. Two popular shows
written and produced by the J. Walter Thompson Company at the time were ―Lux Radio
Theatre,‖ named after the Lux Soap Company, and ―Kraft Music Hall,‖ which promoted
Kraft food products.24 In writing and producing their own radio shows, like ―Kraft Music
Hall,‖ writers borrowed from popular vaudeville themes and Broadway productions and
hired celebrity actors from the motion picture industry to act in their productions.
In the late 1940s, the J. Walter Thompson Company shifted the main focus of its
many local radio departments in several regional offices to the emerging medium of
television, and a reorganization of their media operations was underway. By 1947 the
agency was offering full-scale television services to its clients similar to the services it
had offered in radio production, which included everything from creating show concepts
to post production.25 In 1955, the J. Walter Thompson Company restructured its
organizations so that all radio departments and television departments would come under
the control of the New York office, contained in one department under the supervision of
22 J. Walter Thompson Company, ―History of the Television Department‖ Radio and Television Folio Information, JWT Papers.
Dan Seymour and the title of Radio and Television Department.26 Between 1955 and
1963, the cost of television production became more expensive. As a result, many
advertising agencies began to shift their attention from being the producers of television
shows to time buyers, reoccupying the place they once held in the earliest days of
advertising. With the Radio and Television Department‘s focus moving from production
to time selling, internally the organizational focus was on creating strong commercial
concepts for their potential customers that would be produced and aired with the national
and local television networks.27 In the 1957 volume The J. Walter Thompson Company:
Manual of TV Basics, the new strategy for the advertiser in the television industry was
clearly laid out, with a smaller portion, roughly 30%, devoted to the basics of television
production, and close to 70% directed to how to attract an audience for advertisements,
how to entice that audience to purchase the product being promoted, and how to measure
if the audience was effectively reached.28
In 1957, under the guidance of the agency‘s former vice-president Howard
Henderson, a booklet was printed and distributed to potential clients titled New Accounts,
which detailed the process of working with, and the benefits and services offered at, the J.
Walter Thompson Company. One of the strongest selling points for the agency was the
size and specialization of their Radio and Television Department. According to
Henderson‘s description of the department, the J. Walter Thompson Company offered its
customers five unique services in the field of ―Television, Radio, and Motion Picture.‖29
According to Henderson, the J. Walter Thompson Company could offer full services from
28 J. Walter Thompson Company, ―Manual of TV Basics‖ (31 December 1957), Information Center Records, Box 11, JWT Papers.
29 Howard Henderson, ―Television, Radio, and Motion Pictures‖ 17 January 1957 in ―New Accounts‖ Howard Henderson Papers,
Box 9, JWT Papers.
ideas to post production, like a national network, and still present the ability to focus on
the local consumer through close media, economic, and population analysis of regional
and local markets (see figure 1.3 below).30
The J. Walter Thompson Company, like other agencies, conducts continuing
research on the size of audience, the cost of reaching that audience, etc. Added to
this, the J. Walter Thompson Company has the use of its Consumer Panel as an
exclusive tool for trying to measure the sales effectiveness of broadcasting media
by determining the nature of the audience viewing various types of programs in
terms of age, family size, family income, geographical location, etc.31
A key distinction between JWT and other agencies was their unique use of customer
research for television, radio, and motion picture advertisements. For example, the agency
could offer its clients access to the findings of their Consumer Panel, which since 1944
had been collecting data on consumer purchases.
Figure 1.3: ―J. Walter Thompson Corporate Structure‖ 1957, in ―New Accounts‖ Howard
Henderson Papers, Box 9, J. Walter Thompson Company. Rare Book, Manuscript, and
Special Collections Library, Duke University. 32
Figure 1.3 is final of three examples of the J. Walter Thompson Corporate Structure taken from the 1957
―New Accounts‖ document and is titled Figure 1.3 instead of Figure 3 to maintain consistency.
In addition to the Consumer Panel, a ―fully equipped television workshop‖ was
established in 1954, which stemmed from and used similar practices to the tests of John
B. Watson in the 1920s when he showed consumers potential advertisements and gauged
their responses. 33 The television workshop was a television studio where live or taped
commercials could be filmed and instantaneously viewed by a consumer panel in the New
York Office who could offer immediate commentary on their likes and dislikes of the
commercial. Likewise, prior to full-scale production of televised ads, the television
workshop allowed advertisers and their clients the opportunity to view their commercial
in progress to determine if changes were necessary. The technology of television helped
to cement the J. Walter Thompson Company‘s status as the largest advertising agency in
the world, but its success in television advertising was based entirely on its innovative
adaptation of an earlier marketing strategy to new techniques in consumer research that
fully utilized the new technology. The techniques and principles of the psychology of
behaviourism that were first introduced into the agency in the 1910s were honed in
practice in the 1920s and 1930s through the medium of radio and then implanted into the
new technology of television in the 1940s and 1950s.
The Consumer Panel
The Consumer Panel began in the J. Walter Thompson Company‘s London office
in 1939 with a selection of 400 families as a way of tracking local retailers and the
products that their individual stores were selling.34 In 1940, the Consumer Panel was
34 ―JWT Consumer Panel Traces Buying Habits of the Public: Proves so Valuable that Clients Pay Annual Fee for It‖ Advertising Age,
15 March 1943, Information Center Records, JWT Papers.
brought over to the United States and 2,000 families were enlisted to participate in a
larger, national experiment in the tracking of consumer purchases. 35 Families were
interviewed by agency personnel before selection to ensure that the panel represented a
cross section of the American population. However, the panel initially consisted of only
white, non-farm families of the growing American middle class, which was also the target
audience for the majority of the J. Walter Thompson Company‘s clients. In addition to
excluding minorities and African Americans, the panel also excluded the 22% of the
lowest income, white, non-farm families and the 3% of the highest income, white, non-
farm families. According to Arno Johnson, the director of media and research at the J.
Walter Thompson Company and head of the project, ―the sample covers 75% of the
population, which buys 85% of all consumer goods.‖36
Families participating in the Consumer Panel were given a diary that consisted of
12 spreadsheets with over 30 different product categories, into which they were asked to
record all of their daily purchases. 37 The product categories were titled only by product
name, like soap or margarine, and never indicated any brand information or product
names. The spreadsheets, or reports as they were referred to inside the agency, required
that the consumer write down only the most basic information about the purchases, such
as the brand of product purchased, the size of the package, the number of packages
bought, the price paid per package and total cost, any sales or deals, the type of store
where it was purchased, and the age and sex of the buyer. If there was a change in the
family‘s regular purchases, they were asked to provide a brief explanation for the change
37 Howard Henderson, ―the J. Walter Thompson Company Consumer Panel‖ in ―New Accounts‖ Howard Henderson Papers, Box 9,
in brand, in addition to the principal use of the product purchased. 38 The consumer family
was then asked to mail their completed report back at the end of each month. Each year,
researchers would visit with the families in the panel and occasionally schedule house
checks to ensure that the items in the family‘s pantry were consistent with the numbers
recorded in their diaries. 39
The J. Walter Thompson Company initially funded the cost of the research
conducted in the Consumer Panel as a tool for improving their own advertisements and as
a continuation of the practice started in 1909 of tracking changes in economic and
population trends in local, regional, and national markets.40 The desired goals of the
Consumer Panel, from the perspective of the agency, was to initiate a longitudinal study
that would allow them to track consumer purchases on a monthly basis, quarterly basis,
and yearly basis, thus eliminating some of the statistical error found in sampling a
family‘s purchases only once. This type of longitudinal study allowed the agency to track
how their own clients‘ sales were responding to advertisements, in addition to the sales of
competing brands, and larger trends in key markets of consumer goods.41 The J. Walter
Thompson Company compared the responses of it consumers against the sales data of its
clients to ensure accuracy, and after the first year, when they were satisfied with the
results of the Consumer Panel, the process began of expanding both its size in terms of
families, and size in terms of products and information collected.42 The Consumer Panel
was extremely successful in its first three years due in large part to the stability of the
39 ―J. Walter Thompson‘s Consumer Purchase Panel‖ Advertising Agency and Advertising Selling, 13 December 1950, Information
Center Records Box 4, JWT Papers.
40 Howard Henderson to Dr. Donald Longman, 17 June 1958, Howard Henderson Papers, Box 8, JWT Papers.
41 ―the J. Walter Thompson Company Consumer Profile‖ (J. Walter Thompson Company, 1944), Information Center Records Box 4,
panel responses and the accuracy that such stability provided. Between 1940 and 1943 the
J. Walter Thompson Company received almost a 96% return in diaries each month from
its 2200 participating families and experienced only a 10% annual turnover on the panel,
a number that would drop to 5% annually by 1950, even though the panel had grown to
over 5800 families by 1947.43
One of the reasons the J. Walter Thompson Company was able to maintain such a
strong commitment from participating families in the Consumer Panel was that in return
for their time, effort, and honesty, families were rewarded with points. In what appears to
be the first example of something like the current Air Miles program, in return for
providing companies with information about purchasing patterns and habits, consumers
collected points that could be exchanged for a series of products made available through a
rewards program catalogue.44 In this case, consumers were granted points each month for
returning their diaries, with additional points for promptness of the return and amount of
information included.45 Panel members also received annual bonus points for each year
they remained on the panel and for answering special questionnaires and surveys that
were sometimes mailed out in addition to the regular monthly diary. 46 One key difference
between the Air Miles and the J. Walter Thompson Company‘s reward system was that
for the Consumer Panel members, the accumulation of points had no connection
whatsoever with the amount of purchases made by the consumer.
43 ―J. Walter Thompson‘s Consumer Purchase Panel‖ Advertising Agency and Advertising Selling, 13 December 1950, Information
Center Records Box 4, JWT Papers.
44 ―JWT Consumer Panel Traces Buying Habits of the Public: Proves so Valuable that Clients Pay Annual Fee for It‖ Advertising Age,
15 March 1943, Information Center Records, JWT Papers.
46 ―J. Walter Thompson‘s Consumer Purchase Panel‖ Advertising Agency and Advertising Selling, 13 December 1950, Information
Center Records Box 4, JWT Papers.
For the clients of the Consumer Panel, it was an indispensable informational tool
and the agency was aware of this. The panel offered a detailed picture of what brands
people were buying. It not only marketed the panel as one of the key distinguishers
between itself and the other agencies, but also began charging its clients in 1943 an
annual fee for access to the information from the panel. 47 Clients of the J. Walter
Thompson Company were also given access to information about where consumers were
purchasing their products, how much of the product was being purchased, and the
frequency and price at which consumers purchased, all in detailed monthly reports. The
reports allowed manufacturers to track their sales in a more concise and detailed fashion
so as to be aware of industry trends that were emerging at the earliest possible moment
and to be able to immediately address any decline in sales. 48
The Consumer Panel would ultimately be disbanded in 1960, after more than two
decades of detailed research, when the J. Walter Thompson Company found the cost, at
over $500,000 annually (against only $250,000 in client fees), too significant to continue
to support.49 Furthermore, the field of market research had grown significantly by 1960 so
that there were now firms that specialized in the collection of consumer data (like Market
Research Corporation of America, who took over the panel from the J. Walter Thompson
Company in 1960), whereas when the panel was first originated in the late 1930s, it was
the first and only such panel in America. 50 David R. Longman, then director of research at
the agency, noted in discussing why the panel was being discarded in 1960 that ―the
47 ―JWT Consumer Panel Traces Buying Habits of the Public: Proves so Valuable that Clients Pay Annual Fee for It‖ Advertising Age,
15 March 1943, Information Center Records, JWT Papers.
49 ―JWT Panel Dropped: Shifts to Market Research Corp‖ Advertising Age 25 April 1960, Information Center Records Box 4, JWT
agency is today more interested in exploring ‗fundamental questions‘ – such as the
mechanics of how advertising works – than in measuring what consumers buy.‖51
However, the Consumer Panel still played an important role in subsequent research at the
J. Walter Thompson Company, most noticeably in the 1960s, when the Personality
Profile Project at the agency built on the consumer-centered research techniques of the
The Personality Profile Project
In May of 1958, the Research Department at the J. Walter Thompson Company
published a 115-page document titled Personality Profile Project, which laid out in great
detail the results of a Consumer Panel survey that took place over the course of a year and
collected data from almost 9,000 participants nationwide. The J. Walter Thompson
Company claimed that the data collected for the Personality Profile Project was at the
time ―the largest sample ever obtained in psychological testing of a cross section of the
United States civilian population.‖52 The project used the existing 5,000-plus families in
the Consumer Panel as its sample base for asking questions about consumer behaviour.
The project aimed to classify each of its participants along 15 main psychological traits or
characteristics that the research department had deemed to be found in all members of
society: achievement, compliance, order, exhibition, autonomy, association, analysis,
dependence, dominance, self depreciation, assistance, change, endurance, heterosexuality,
and aggression. 53 The psychological basis for this type of testing and categorization
52 J. Walter Thompson Company Research Department, ―Personality Profile Project‖ (J. Walter Thompson Company, May 1958),
Information Center Records, JWT Papers.
appears closely linked to psychoanalytical thinking, which views the close connection
between human behaviour and the satisfying or fulfilling of basic human needs and
desires. One of the arguments of psychoanalytical thought suggests that these desires and
drives are common to all individuals, and are at the unconscious root of all human
The design of the Personality Profile Project seemed to suggest that the 15
categories of psychological needs were universal and appear in all individuals. Although
the agency‘s research department does clarify that each need varies in its strength
between people (for example, why some people have a stronger need to dominate, or
make friends, or accept leadership than others), the idea of universal human
characteristics tends to go against the ideas of social psychology, which would argue that
the social milieu dictates which characteristics are most prevalent at any given moment in
any given society. ―Social Psychology may be defined, then, as the study of persons in
their interactions with one another and with reference to the effect of this interplay upon
the individual‘s thoughts, feelings, emotions and habits.‖ 55 Instead, the argument that
there exists a set of universal human characteristics appears more in line with ideas found
in adolescent psychology and first introduced by Hall and Freud (discussed in Chapter 2)
in the early 20th century, where they suggested that there was a universal struggle, a
Sturm und Drang that all young people experienced. It appears that the advertising
agency, in attempting to move advertising discourse away from the practical component
of purchasing toward a discourse that centered on feelings, identities, lifestyles, and
54 Sigmund Freud, The Ego and the Id, in The Essentials of Psycho-Analysis, trans. James Strachey (London: The Hogarth Press and
The Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1986) 439-483.
55 Kimball Young, Social Psychology, 2nd edition. (New York: F.S. Crofts & Company, Inc., 1944) 1.
leisure, was also attempting to re-open the feelings of Sturm und Drang with which adults
were supposed to have made amends before the completion of adolescence.
The J. Walter Thompson Company stated that the goal of the Personality Profile
Project was not to measure how people ―feel,‖ but instead to use the ways in which
people express their emotions as an indicator for future purchases. 56 As explained in the
[T]he measures indicate the needs that people express, what they say, what they
want, and values they consider important. The test scores themselves indicate not
necessarily how people behave, but rather how they express their needs. These
expressions can be related to their behaviour. This is important to advertising,
because we get a measurable response that can be directly related to buying
The exact way in which the agency planned to use the material collected from the
Personality Profile Project to influence buying behaviour is not expressed clearly in the
published report itself, nor in subsequent trade journal articles about the project. Most of
the discussion around the benefits of the Personality Profile Project deals with the
immense value that the research could provide to the advertising agency‘s ability to
construct stronger brand identities for its clients. Such research could directly link
consumer emotions, psychological needs, and personality traits to buying behaviour,
thereby allowing the agency to more easily influence consumer purchasing.
Consumer information for the Personality Profile Project was collected through
direct mail surveys. The male and female heads of homes of the over 5,000 families in the
Consumer Panel were each sent questionnaires and asked to respond independently. 58
Each female head of the household was mailed a consumer survey, which asked them to
56 J. Walter Thompson Company Research Department, ―Personality Profile Project‖ (J. Walter Thompson Company, May 1958),
Information Center Records, JWT Papers.
read 225 pairs of what researchers deemed ―equally desirable statements‖ and select
which of the statements best described themselves. Each of the statements reflected one
of the 15 psychological needs, and each of the needs was represented by a statement an
equal number of times throughout the survey. In one question, ―aggression‖ and
―compliance‖ may be paired together, while in another question, ―aggression‖ and
―heterosexuality‖ may be paired together. 59 An example of a pair of statements was:
#23 A) I like to keep my letters, bills, and other papers neatly arranged and filed
according to some system.
B) I like to be independent of others in deciding what I want to do.60
Six months later the same survey was mailed to the male heads of the same families and
the men were asked the same questions as their partners. The responses of both men and
women were recorded and graphed according to how frequent their responses were to
each of the psychological needs.61 One of the critiques about this type of questioning
surrounds the authenticity of the respondents‘ answers in a forced-choice scenario; for
example, do respondents‘ answers represent how people see themselves, or rather are they
simply a replication of how the questions were paired?62 A direct example of this
confusion can be seen in question 159, which asked the respondent to choose between the
A I like to become sexually excited
B I like to accept the leadership of people I admire 63
Given the difficulty around issues of sexuality that researchers reported in the Personality
Profile Project, it is very likely that many respondents would simply answer B if they
were uncomfortable with identifying themselves with the statement A. 64
In creating the Personality Profile Project, researchers at the J. Walter Thompson
Company had hoped to be able to graph the frequency at which individuals associated
themselves with a certain type of personality trait (or psychological need) against the
frequency at which those same consumers purchased particular brand name products. In
doing so, they hoped to be able to say with certainty that ―men who expressed higher
levels of ( __insert psychological need here___) tended to also purchase products with a
brand image that reflects ______‖ or ―women who expressed higher levels of (__insert
psychological need here___ ) tended to purchase products who use (____insert name of
medium here___) as its primary form of advertising,‖ or ―consumers who expressed
higher levels of (__insert psychological need here___) tended to also purchase products
like beer, automobiles, and spam in the price ranges of ____ and therefore might also like
to purchase the following products___.‖ This is the practice of current retailers like
Amazon.com in 2007, who continually give suggestions to their on-line customers. For
example, if you look up C. Wright Mills‘ White Collar at Amzaon.com, the web-retailers
inform you that ―customers who purchased this book also purchased David Riesman‘s
The Lonely Crowd, and William Whyte‘s Organization Man‖ or that this book is ―better
if purchased along with C. Wright Mills‘ Power Elite.‖65
At the beginning of the project, the J. Walter Thompson Company was already in
possession of very detailed statistics on the would-be participants. The 5,000 plus families
65 Amazon.com , White Collar information page, http://www.amazon.com/White-Collar-American-Middle-Classes/
in the Consumer Panel had previously filled out questionnaires and surveys, which
identified what products they purchased, where they made purchases, and how frequently
they purchased different types of products.66 Therefore, researchers at the agency already
knew a fair amount about the demographics of its panel, such as family income, family
composition, ages of household members, and their education and occupations.
Furthermore researchers knew a fair amount about the lifestyles survey participants were
leading, such as the types of automobiles, appliances, and products they bought, how they
spent their leisure time, what magazines they read, and what types of TV shows they
watched.67 The researchers hoped to achieve insight into consumer behaviour by taking
the data collected from the answers given to the Personality Profile Project survey and
comparing them against the existing purchasing data already housed on these same 5,000-
The aim of the Personality Profile Project was to gain a closer knowledge of
consumer behaviour by attempting to link consumer purchasing patterns to personality
traits. In doing so, the J. Walter Thompson Company‘s aim was to gain an advantage in
the marketplace for its clients by creating a brand image for its clients‘ products that
would fit a psychological make-up similar to its potential consumers. 68 As explained in
Chapter 2, it is the brand image of a product and not necessarily its physical properties
that influences consumer purchasing behaviour. Although in early advertising research,
agencies hoped that consumer behaviour could be manipulated into purchasing products
they did not desire, consumer research in the post-war era actually tended to prove
67 ―the J. Walter Thompson Company Consumer Profile‖ (J. Walter Thompson Company, 1944), Information Center Records Box 4,
68 J. Walter Thompson Company Research Department, ―Personality Profile Project‖ (J. Walter Thompson Company, May 1958),
Information Center Records, JWT Papers.
precisely the opposite.69 Advertising does exert some influence on the purchasing
behaviour of consumers, but it only does so in instances where the consumer already feels
some inclination (albeit obvious or subliminal) to the product or service that is being
advertised. 70 With the advertising agency aware that consumer behaviour could not easily
be changed, the focus then moved to being able to change the brand image of the product
to match the personality of the consumer. The agency believed that although the primary
needs of the consumer could not be influenced, perhaps secondary needs could be
accessed. For example, advertisers may not be able to convince consumers that every
family needs to have more than one automobile, but they may be able to convince them
that the car they drive to work does not offer them the same freedom in leisure time or
that a drive in the country can release them from the strain of the office that they feel all
week long. Herein lies the central focus of the Personality Profile Project – to properly
identify the drives and desires of consumers (as adolescent psychologist would define
them), and to link these drives and desires to purchasing behaviour. If successful, the J.
Walter Thompson Company could then market the products and services of its customers
not directly to potential consumers, but rather to the drives and desires of personality
groupings similar to potential consumers.
One of the key people behind the creation of the Personality Profile Project as a
tool for consumer research was research associate Arthur Koponen, who would later
become the director of research at the J. Walter Thompson Company. Koponen‘s idea for
the Personality Profile Project was to take consumers whom the ad agency had already
69 Elihu Katz and Paul F. Lazarsfeld, Personal Influence: The Part Played by People in the Flow of Mass Communications (Glencoe,
Illinois: Free Press, 1955).
70 Alvin A. Achenbaum, ―Does Advertising Manipulate Consumer Behaviour‖ Report before the Federal Trade Commission (New
York: J. Walter Thompson, 1971.
classified into socio-economic groups based on the combination of their age, gender, race,
and income, and create a further distinction into groups based on their personalities or
character traits. In doing so, the ad agency hoped to move past the problems and failures
of the customer questionnaires and surveys, and properly be able to answer the question:
not ―what do people buy,‖ but ―why do people buy?‖ Koponen believed that the answer
to this question lay in tapping into the deeper motivations of consumer behaviour, by
understanding how patterns of behaviour (that is, personality traits) led to certain types of
purchase and how different types of media advertisements best accessed these desires. 71
Koponen completed a PhD in psychology, with a specialty in research methods
and social psychology, at Columbia University in 1958. Koponen‘s dissertation, ―The
Influence of Demographic Factors on Responses to the Edwards Personal Preference
Schedule,‖ can be directly linked to the themes and research procedures of the Personality
Profile Project.72 For example, the Personality Profile Project itself used the Edwards
Personal Preference Schedule (this is the name given to the type of survey that was
conducted). Furthermore, the information that researchers attempted to draw from the
Personal Profile Project looked specifically at how responses to Edwards Personal
Preference Schedule changed or were influenced based not on demographic factors, as
Koponen‘s doctoral dissertation had discussed, but rather based on psychological needs.
Before coming to the J. Walter Thompson Company, Koponen also conducted medical
research at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, consumer research at Alfred Politz
Research Inc. (one of the largest research firms in United States at the time, focusing on
71 J. Walter Thompson Company Research Department, ―Personality Profile Project‖ (J. Walter Thompson Company, May 1958),
Information Center Records, JWT Papers.
72 Arthur Koponen, ―The Influence of Demographic Factors on Responses to the Edwards Personal Preference Schedule‖ (Ph.D diss.,
Columbia University, 1958).
measuring the total audience of media such as newspapers and magazines), and military
research for the Office of Naval Research.73 The American military had been using
personality profile testing since the early 1940s as a way of screening existing military
personnel for their potential to conduct certain types of work, and tests like these had
been used in business since the 1920s to screen job applicants.74 Therefore, it appears that
Koponen built on his previous experience in medical, consumer, and military research, in
addition to his academic research, when he introduced the Edwards Personal Preference
Schedule to advertisers looking to gain a stronger understanding of what personality traits
influence consumer purchases.
The particular personality test used in the Personality Profile Project is called an
Edwards Personal Preference Schedule. The Edwards Personal Preference Schedule
(EPPS) was designed by Allen L. Edwards to measure the ways in which people view
themselves in relation to 15 personality traits that are believed to be common to all
individuals: abasement, achievement, affiliation, aggression, autonomy, change,
deference, dominance, endurance, exhibition, heterosexuality, interception, nurturance,
order, and succorance. 75 The Edwards Personal Preference Schedule is what is referred to
as a ―forced choice survey,‖ where individuals are asked to choose between two
statements deemed to be of equal social desirability. 76 In designing the EPPS, Edwards
borrowed from H.A. Murray, who claimed that there were 15 personality traits that were
shared by all people, however the rate or intensity at which each person exhibited these
73 Arthur Koponen, ―The Personality Characteristics of Purchasers,‖ Journal of Advertising Research, Volume 1 (1960): 6-12.
74 Major Harold A. Abramson. ―The Minnesota Personality Test in Relation to Selection of Specialized Military Personnel,‖
Psychosomatic Medicine, 7 (1945): 178-184.
Forest A. Kingsbury, ―Psychological Tests in Business I,‖ The University Journal of Business, Volume 1, No 3 (1923): 249-281.
75 Raymond L. Horton, ―The Edwards Personal Preference Schedule and Consumer Personality Research,‖ Journal of Marketing
Research, Volume xi, (1974) 336.
traits differed.77 Edwards inserted into the EPPS 135 self descriptive statements, nine
statements for each need. A statement for each need was paired with a statement for every
other need. Each pair was compared twice, and 15 pairs were repeated to ensure accuracy,
thereby giving a total of 225 pairs of statements. All of the statements in their comparison
were to be equal in social desirability, so as not to unduly influence the respondent‘s
choices. However, the efficiency of the EPPS in controlling this problem came under
more heavy scrutiny in the two decades following the Personality Profile Project.78
The Personality Profile Project draws heavily on the notion that the processes of
socialization affect the personalities and characteristics of individuals in addition to
biology, rather than in replacement of biology. In his work on the changing roles and
expectations of the middle class in post-war American society, sociologist C. Wright
Mills concluded that the white-collar worker in mass society suffered from a status panic
and a desire to find pleasure in lifestyle choices. 79 Mills‘ work, much like the work of
Riesman and social psychologists at the middle of the century, uses psychology and
sociology to provide a Marxist economic analysis of class. According to Mills, the status
panic was the result of the changing expectations of the middle class. Since the middle
class in the post-war economy had expanded to include everyone from the manager of a
multinational corporation to a worker on the assembly line (although they occupy
different rungs on the ladder, they are on the same ladder), class and status no longer were
connected.80 As such, Mills stated that an individual‘s class may be connected to his or
77 H. A. Murray, Explorations in Personality (New York: Oxford University Press, 1938).
78 Scott M. Cunningham and Robert P. Brody, ―Personality Variables and the Consumer Decision Process,‖ Journal of Marketing
Research 5, no. 1 (1968).
79 C. Wright Mills, White Collar: The American Middle Classes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1956)
80 Ibid., 254-259.
her employment, but their status is connected to consumption of commodities.81 Much
like the discussion of taste as a marker of distinction in Chapter 2, style becomes the
distinguishing factors between who has status and who does not. In the immediate post-
war economy, when credit was made abundant and the middle class made fluid to include
more people worth more disposable income, it was the car in the driveway, the designer
on the suit, the brand name of coffeemaker on the counter, the prestige of the
watchmaker, and the frequency of vacations that were used to distinguish between
foreman and worker, manager and secretary. Furthermore, as individuals became more
detached from the mode of production, their connection to the workplace became severed,
other than as a claim to prestige (in that working for a large company gave a man a sense
of worth and value to his neighbors) and as a gateway to being able to purchase greater
commodities on the weekend. As such, everything from barbecues to tennis racquets
emerged as desired commodities, and the leisure industry boomed by selling the upper
class leisurely lifestyle to the burgeoning middle class, white-collar worker. This is why
Mills calls the psychology of the white-collar class the psychology of prestige striving. 82
The Personality Profile appears to be a report interested in accessing the information
necessary to extend the status panic that Mills discusses.
Although market research had gained popularity by the mid 1950s, the Personality
Profile Project was unique in its structure and mission statement. There are three key
differences between the Personality Profile Project and other forms of consumer research
taking place in the middle of the 1950s.83 The first difference is the scale of the testing.
As already mentioned, according to the researchers at JWT, no survey of the American
public this large had ever been conducted for business purposes. Furthermore, the
project‘s sample drew on both male and female participants from all geographic areas
across the United States.84 Most importantly, the project was a longitudinal survey. The J.
Walter Thompson Company already had running records of each of its participants and of
their buying behaviour. In their attempt to find the most successful avenue for accessing
the inner drives of consumers, researchers borrowed from a rich and vast pool of
resources, such as the psychoanalytical techniques of motivation research, the survey
techniques of market research, and buying behaviours of consumer research. In this light,
the Personality Profile Project was the most sophisticated form of consumer research in
American history at the time.
There is a strong connection here between the Personality Profile Project and
adolescent psychology, even if this connection was not acknowledged by the J. Walter
Thompson Company researchers at the time. In moving advertising research away from
what people buy to why people buy and the focus of advertisements from the practical to
the emotional, the Personality Profile Project was in fact building on G. Stanley Hall‘s
recapitulation theory of adolescent development and Sigmund Freud‘s psychoanalytic
83 In the 1950s, motivational research such as the psychoanalytical testing of Dr. Ernest Dicther, market research such as the survey
work of Alfred Politz and Paul Lazersfeld, or consumer centered research such as those types of studies proposed by Pierre Martineau
were also popular.
84 This is not to suggest that the survey itself and its results were representative of the American population. The survey was
problematic in that it included only nuclear families, of a moderate family income or higher, and we can safely assumer of one
particular racial and ethnic background.
approach to adolescence to help create advertisements that could re-open the Sturm und
Drang of adolescence, where the individual struggles to make sense of their many
competing selves in an attempt to be able to say to both their society and themselves,
―This is my identity.‖ As argued by Pierre Bourdieu in his discussion of distinction and
by C. Wright Mills in his discussion of status panic, the ability to make the statement
―this is my identity‖ in a mass consumer society comes though the purchasing of
personalities and lifestyles. 85 In the aftermath of the Personality Profile Project,
advertisers became more aware of the connection between identities and purchasing, as
can be seen by the trends in advertising industry research since the 1960s, such as
psychographics and lifestyle marketing.
85 Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press., 1984).
The Personality Profile Project: Understanding Why the Consumer Buys
The Personality Profile Project, which was implemented at the J. Walter
Thompson Company in 1957 and published in 1958, appears to be a clear marking point
for the emergence of the marketing discourse of perpetual adolescence inside the
advertising agency. Although it failed in its business objectives, the research from the
Personality Profile Project made evident a new focus in the agency on consumer
behaviour. This chapter examines the research of the Personality Profile Project and
highlights how advertisers tried to create a universal consumer profile that could use the
selling of feelings and lifestyles based on discourses from psychology and mass society
critiques at the middle of the century. As the youth market continued to expand and grow
over the next decade, youthful sensibilities became the grounds on which the J. Walter
Thompson Company targeted the consumer marketplace. The agency first targeted
―youth‖ by directing their advertisements to teenagers, but then expanded and applied this
youthful approach to all of its consumers (as seen in the discussion of the youth market in
Chapter 5 and the case study of 7 Up in Chapter 6).
The Results of the Personality Profile Project
The Personality Profile Project aimed to classify each of its 10,000 participants
along 15 main psychological traits that the research department had deemed to be found
in all members of society: achievement, compliance, order, exhibition, autonomy,
association, analysis, dependence, dominance, self depreciation, assistance, change,
endurance, heterosexuality, and aggression. 1 ―If we can learn the psychological needs and
responses of our best prospects and relate their responses to purchasing behaviour, media
exposure, and other classification, we are in a better position to influence them through
advertising.‖2 The results from the project proved inconclusive. Researchers were able to
determine that age, gender, income, or geographic location (urban or rural) had an effect
on the levels of measured psychological needs. For example, Koponen, in summarizing
the findings of the project in a 1960 article, ―Personality Characteristics of Purchasers,‖ in
the Journal of Advertising Research stated,
[a]s would be expected, highly significant differences were found between the
average scores of men and women who answered the questions. Men were higher
in their expression of needs for achievement, dominance, sex, and aggression.
Women received higher scores on association, assistance, dependence, order,
compliance, and self-depreciation.3
However, the researchers also found that the correlation between the purchasing patterns
of consumers and specific psychological traits was not strong enough to establish with
any certainty that people who expressed higher levels of a particular psychological need
were more likely to purchase a particular product or brand of product.4 According to
Koponen, ―[o]bviously the effects of each of these relationships between psychological
traits and age, income, city size or region are not pure. Such demographic factors are
themselves highly interrelated. Older groups have higher incomes, for example.‖ 5 In
addition to basic psychological needs, researchers concluded that there were other
sociological, economic, and psychological factors that influenced consumer behaviour.
1 J. Walter Thompson Research Department, ―Personality Profile Project‖ (J. Walter Thompson, May 1958) Information Center
Records, J. Walter Thompson Company. Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library, Duke University (hereafter cited as
JWT Papers), (no page numbers).
3 Arthur Koponen, ―The Personality Characteristics of Purchasers,‖ Journal of Advertising Research, Volume 1 (1960): 8.
4 ―Personality Profile Project,‖ JWT Papers.
5 Koponen, ―The Personality Characteristics of Purchasers,‖ 9.
Koponen and the researchers at the J. Walter Thompson Company conducted a
series of direct mailings with a smaller sample of consumers to test the validity of their
findings from the Personality Profile Project. 6 In these tests, two groups of similar age,
geographic location, gender, and income were mailed an advertisement that was designed
specifically to appeal to one of the psychological needs from the Personality Profile
Project. One of the test groups scored very high on the psychological need that the
researchers then advertised to them, while the other test group scored very low. The test
group with the higher expressed needs responded more frequently and purchased a greater
amount of the product brand promoted by the direct mail advertising project. 7 However,
the difference between the two groups was not significant, as other factors such as price,
product qualities and other appeals of the advertisements, besides its psychological
underpinnings, proved to influence the consumers‘ purchases. 8 Therefore, the results from
the validation tests confirmed to the J. Walter Thompson Company that psychological
needs alone could not predict consumer behaviour. However, as Koponen suggested, it
could be a starting point for further research.
We have concluded that an individual‘s psychological characteristics as measured
by personality tests play a role in his response to advertising. Insofar as we have
been able to determine, the influence of these factors is relatively small. This
influence varies from product group to product group; for some, certain
psychological needs may be very important. The objectives of further research in
this area should determine for each product class what the relevant factors are, and
the degree of importance of each. 9
This is precisely what psychographics and lifestyle marketing since the 1970s have done
with advertising and the marketplace. That is, for each product class, advertisers
6 Ibid., 11.
7 Ibid., 11-12.
8 Ibid., 12.
determine precisely the target clientele of that product class, and then pinpoint the
psychological needs that are of the greatest importance to that specific target market and
highlight them in the product‘s advertisements. The marketplace is segmented into
thousands of smaller niche markets, with each product targeted to a specific niche market.
For example, in his 1992 article ―Gerontographics: A Scientific Approach to Analyzing
and Targeting the Mature Market,‖ George P. Moschis talks about how the segmented
mature market in America can actually be subdivided into four smaller niche markets,
based on the dominant psychological needs of the consumer.10
The 53 million adults age 55 and over can be grouped into four segments [niche
markets]: 1. healthy hermits, 2. ailing outgoers, 3. frail recluses, and 4. healthy
indulgers. The results suggest that the model is more effective than some
commonly used approaches not only in identifying prime segments for products
and services, but also in suggesting viable marketing strategies for reaching
specific segments of older consumers. 11
There is a difference between segmented markets and niche markets, as Shani and
Chalasani explain in their 1993 article ―Exploiting Niches using Relationship Marketing.‖
According to Shani and Chalasani, market segmentation ―is the process of breaking a
large market into smaller and more manageable submarkets. The objective is to identify
homogeneous submarkets which are significantly different from one another. The
organization picks one or more of the identified segments and treats each as ‗a small mass
market.‘ ‖12 Whereas niche marketing ―is the process of carving out a small part of the
market, the needs of which are not fulfilled. By specializing along market, customer,
10 George P. Moschis, ―Gerontographics: A Scientific Approach to Analyzing and Targeting the Mature Market‖ The Journal of
Services Marketing, Volume. 6, Issue. 3 (1992): 17-27.
11 Ibid., 17.
12 David Shani and Sujana Chalasani, ―Exploiting Niches using Relationship Marketing‖ The Journal of Business & Industrial
Marketing, Volume 8, Issue 4 (1993): 58-67.
product, or marketing mix lines, a company can match the unique needs.‖ 13 This is why
the marketing discourse of perpetual adolescence is so prevalent in advertising – because
it attempts to reunite the segmented marketplace by tapping into what discourses from
adolescent psychology in the early 20th century, like those of Hall and Freud, deemed to
be universal psychological struggles that everyone experiences in their evolution from
child to adult, creating one all-encompassing niche market. Therefore, if this evolution
can be delayed, then the marketplace of consumers who share similar psychological needs
can be extended and the product class that advertisers need to focus on in order to
influence consumer behaviour can be a significant portion of the marketplace rather than
a smaller, segmented, niche market.
The Personality Profile Project looked to the inner drives of consumers to better
access segments of the population along non-traditional lines of feelings and lifestyles
rather than traditional demographics such as age, class, and gender. In each of these
objectives, the project must be viewed as an astounding success. Although there is little
mention of the project in trade journals and academic articles over the last 50 years, there
is significant citing of Arthur Koponen‘s other work, including both his doctoral thesis
and his 1960 article ―Personality Characteristics of Purchasers‖ in the Journal of
Advertising Research, which was based largely on his findings from the Personality
Profile Project. In fact, ―Personality Characteristics of Purchasers‖ is quoted or cited in
almost every article on psychographics, lifestyle marketing, and market segmentation
based on consumer behaviour written from the mid 1960s on, when each of these areas
became focal points for consumer research in the advertising industry. Therefore, it
appears that Personality Profile Project is the earliest publication that distinctly marks
13 Ibid., 58.
and lays out the fundamentals of psychographics, which would become the most popular
form of consumer research in the 1970s by sectioning off the population into categories of
spenders based on the psychological predispositions to certain feelings.
Age as a Determinant of Consumer Behaviour
In the same way that researchers at the J. Walter Thompson Company found that a
person‘s gender affected their response to the questions of the Personality Profile Project,
results from the project also showed a significant difference in responses based on the
respondent‘s age. Koponen noted that, ―the younger were high in expressed need for sex
[titled ‗heterosexuality‘ in the Personality Profile Project], change, and exhibition.‖ 14 The
project‘s results also showed that ―older groups expressed a greater need for order and
compliance.‖15 In fact, with the exception of association and achievement, each of the
psychological needs tested for in the Personality Profile Project had a linear relationship
to age, either directly on inversely, in that the participants expressed a higher need for that
particular psychological trait as the age of the respondent went up or down. 16 The
remainder of this chapter will examine more closely the results of the project‘s
measurement of six of the seven psychological needs that were most strongly dependent
on age: sex and change, which scored highest with younger respondents; order and
compliance, which scored highest with older respondents; and association and
achievement, whose results were anomalous from the other 13 psychological traits, in that
they were not linearly related to age.
14 Koponen, ―The Personality Characteristics of Purchasers,‖ 8.
15 Ibid., 8.
Heterosexuality, for the researchers at the J. Walter Thompson Company, was the
term used in the Personality Profile Project to measure the individual‘s ―[w]illingness to
talk about sex, to be attracted to the opposite sex, to go out with the opposite sex, love
and desire.‖17 Levels of heterosexuality were tested through pairings of statements such
159 A- I like to become sexually excited
B- I like to accept the leadership of people I admire
141 A- I like to be loyal to my friends
B- I like to go out with attractive persons of the opposite sex 18
Consumer answers about heterosexuality were deemed inconclusive by researchers at the
J. Walter Thompson Company based on the fact that many people may have felt
unwilling to openly discuss their sexuality. 19 However, of significant relevance here is
that the researchers distinctly pointed out that heterosexuality scores were highest among
the younger age groups; and the scores for heterosexuality declined in a linear fashion as
the age of the respondent increased (see Figure 3 below). Researchers found that 77% of
the males in the category they named ―students‖ – age 13 to 19 years – and 70% of those
under 30 years of age scored high in their expressed need for sex. In comparison, only
47% of male respondents age 40 to 54 years and 31% of respondents 55 years and older
scored high in their expressed need for sex. 20 Heterosexuality scores also tended to be
higher in males than females, and in those from larger cities versus smaller towns and
17 ―Personality Profile Project,‖ JWT Papers.
20 Koponen, ―The Personality Characteristics of Purchasers,‖ 8.
Figure 3: ―Personality Profile Project: Heterosexuality Results‖ in Personality Profile
Project (J. Walter Thompson Company, May 1958), Information Center Records, the J.
Walter Thompson Company Papers. J. Walter Thompson Company. Rare Book,
Manuscript, and Special Collections Library, Duke University.
The results of what the J. Walter Thompson Company researchers termed
―heterosexuality‖ appear in line with psychological discourses about adolescent sexuality,
most notably found in the psychosexual stage theory of adolescent development posited
by Sigmund Freud. For Freud, a vital part of the completion of adolescence is the ability
to control the oncoming sexual urges of puberty and to be able to hold a mature
relationship, both platonic and sexual, with members of the opposite sex. 21 ―Freud viewed
sexual drives (or the libido as he termed it) as the foremost drive in all individuals. 22 A
successful mastering of competing sexual drives and of the Oedipal complex would
result, according to Freud, in a healthy and well-functioning adult in society. Whereas a
failure to master the competing sexual drives of adolescence resulted in neurosis. 23 For
example, completion of Freud‘s genital stage and entrance into a healthy and well-
adjusted adulthood was predicated on the adolescent being able to participate in a healthy
and intimate relationship with a member of the opposite sex.24
Connecting the results of the project back to the creation of advertisements,
Koponen believed that ―knowing the needs of consumers of certain product types could
be useful as a background for preparing copy.‖25 Therefore, based on the results of the
project, advertisements for a product that targeted a male consumer in the ―under 30‖ age
bracket from a mainly urban population could benefit from highlighting the ways in
which the product could attract members of the opposite sex and make them more
21Sigmund Freud, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, in The Essentials of Psycho-Analysis, trans. James Strachey (London: The
Hogarth Press and The Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1986) 279-375.
22 Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, in The Essentials of Psycho-Analysis, trans. James Strachey (London: The Hogarth
Press and The Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1986) 218-268.
25 Koponen, ―The Personality Characteristics of Purchasers,‖ 10.
appealing to the consumer. This is precisely the strategy of the J. Walter Thompson‘s
advertisements for the Ford Mustang in the mid 1960s (discussed in Chapter 6), when it
used sexual attractiveness as a desired quality that could be achieved by driving a Ford
Mustang and then further connected this sexuality to the youthful feeling associated with
driving a Ford Mustang (see Figure 4 below). 26 In his 1966 Wall Street Journal article
―Ads and Services Aim at Swinging Singles and Would-be Singles,‖ reporter Felix
Kessler quotes an unnamed Ford official as saying:
Every married man has a bachelor‘s alter ego … and most husbands have a
subliminal desire to return to bachelor hood. … Let‘s face it, they‘re domesticated
at home and subservient in the office. About the only time they can be their own
bosses is in the car.27
Kessler points out how Mustang ads target the imagined community of the ―Mustang
generation,‖ who are best represented by 20-to -34-year-old males who are swingers or
people who would like to be swingers. 28 Therefore, Kessler says that in writing the
advertisements for the Ford Mustang, there is a focus on what this unnamed Ford
executive called ―hyperbolic sex‖ and what Kessler referred to as ―obvious Walter Mitty-
like flights of sex fantasy.‖ 29
26 Felix Kessler, ―Ads and Services aim at Swinging Singles and Would-be Singles: The Mustang Generation, Age 20-34, has lots to
Spend; The Bunny & the Cosmo Girl‖ The Wall Street Journal, February 23, 1967. Marketing Vertical File, Box 20, JWT Papers
Figure 4: ―Being a Mustanger Brought out the Wolf in Wolfgang‖ 1965 advertisement,
Ford Mustang, J. Walter Thompson Domestic Ads, J. Walter Thompson Company. Rare
Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library, Duke University.
Furthermore, for Freud, the sexual struggles of adolescence were not pleasant.
Therefore advertisements like those for the Ford Mustang further highlight the point
raised in Chapter 2, that advertisers in establishing a marketing discourse of perpetual
adolescence seek to explicitly draw the consumer‘s attention to the romantic sensibilities
of youth, its care-free nature, and its innocence, at the same time as they are implicitly
inviting the consumer back to the struggles of sexuality, which for Freud was at the core
of adolescence. This paradox is further illustrated through Mustang using a youth sell that
was heavily connected to sex, but the irony is that children (although sexual beings
according to Freud) have been desexualized in contemporary discourse about childhood.
Therefore, the Mustang ads in the mid 1960s, in drawing on men‘s sexuality (sexuality is
the mid-point between youthfulness and adults, since according to Freud its mastery is
what allows for the completion of adolescence) were in fact exploiting the idea of a
The Personality Profile Project measured the psychological need for change
through questions aimed at the extent to which the individual desires continual change
and their discomfort with a lack of change. It asked after the desire ―to do new things, to
do different things, to change daily routine, variety and novelty.‖30 Statements referring
to change were used in pairings such as:
152 A- I like to travel and see the country
B- I like to accomplish tasks that others recognize as
requiring skill and effort
209 A- I like to kiss attractive persons of the opposite sex
30 ―Personality Profile Project,‖ JWT Papers.
B- I like to experiment and try new things 31
The results from the Personality Profile suggested that there was some (although
minimal) difference between respondents due to their gender, geographic location,
education, and income. However, there was a significant difference between the
respondents depending on their age; with those respondents under the age of 30 scoring
significantly higher in their desire for change than those respondents over the age of 30,
and with the levels of expressed desire for change decreasing linearly with the age of the
respondents, much like the results for heterosexuality (see Figure 3, above). 32
32 Koponen, ―The Personality Characteristics of Purchasers,‖ 8.
Figure 5: ―Personality Profile Project: Change Results‖ in Personality Profile Project (J.
Walter Thompson Company, May 1958), Information Center Records, the J. Walter
Thompson Company Papers. J. Walter Thompson Company. Rare Book, Manuscript, and
Special Collections Library, Duke University.
J. Walter Thompson‘s results for the psychological need of change are supported when
they are compared to mid-century discourses of adolescent psychology, like those of Erik
Like many other theorists in adolescent psychology, Erikson also devised a stage
theory to explain human development. Building on Freud‘s psychosexual stages, Erikson
proposed a psychosocial theory, which placed the emphasis not on the individual per se
but on their changing interactions with the social factors around them. 34 Erikson agreed
with Hall and Freud that adolescence was a time of Sturm und Drang but believed that
this stress was the result of an identity crisis rather than the struggle between the ego and
the id. Erikson‘s theory has eight stages, and each of the eight stages is centered on a
conflict, which is the result of changing social roles for the child. Each stage, if not
properly resolved, can result in a bi-polar consequence. The names of each stage suggest
the conflict in each stage, and the positive result of a successful completion of that stage
versus the negative result of an unsuccessful completion such as ―trust versus mistrust
(the first stage experienced in infancy), or ―autonomy versus shame and doubt‖ (the
second stage experience between the ages of 18 months and three years). 35 Erikson is also
an important contributor to the notion of perpetual adolescence, because for Erikson, the
conflict in each of his eight stages is never fully resolved. The development of identity for
Erikson is a lifelong process, the individual is always experiencing change, and although
33 Erik H. Erikson, Childhood and Society, 2nd ed. (New York: Norton, 1950; New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1964).
Citations are to the 1964 edition.
34 Erikson referred to his psychosocial theory as the ―Eight Stages of Man.‖ Erikson, Childhood and Society, 247-283.
identity crisis is most prominent during adolescence, it is an ongoing crisis that
individuals struggle with throughout their entire lives. 36
Koponen suggested that the results from the Personality Profile Project could be
helpful in creating advertisements, by providing advertisers with another avenue for
advertising the project; it is not a quantitative method or based on the utility of the
product, but instead on its emotional appeal. 37 ―[I]f the copy writer appeals to a certain
psychological need, people who score high on this need should be more likely to respond
to his advertising than people scoring low on these characteristics.‖ 38 If Freud was correct
that sex underlies all of humanity‘s other needs and drives, then selling a product through
highlighting the psychological need for sex to all ages of consumers becomes less
difficult, even if test scores for sex desire drops with consumer age. However, change
appears more difficult to sell than sex to members of the older age brackets that scored
lower in their expressed need for change. The problem with selling change is further
highlighted by the fact that the results of the study indicated that gender, income, and
geographic location were not influential in who scored highly in their expressed need for
change; it was only the under 30 category. Advertisers, then, in selling change and in
selling youthful sensibilities needed to find a way to make change appear to be a desirable
youthful attribute. The answer to this problem appears in the selling of lifestyles
(discussed in Chapter 2), closely tied to the concept of ―the makeover‖ and the
advertising slogan of ―try it out for yourself.‖ Advertisements like the 1965 Ford Mustang
―Bernard was a born loser‖ ask the consumer to ―try it out for themselves.‖ It suggests
37 Koponen, ―The Personality Characteristics of Purchasers,‖ 7.
that a lifestyle change is not only attainable but also necessary and can easily be achieved
through something as simple as the purchase of a Ford Mustang (see Figure 6 below).
Figure 6: ―Bernard was a Born Loser‖1965 advertisement, Ford Mustang, J. Walter
Thompson Domestic Ads, J. Walter Thompson Company. Rare Book, Manuscript, and
Special Collections Library, Duke University.
In providing the consumers with a new look or lifestyle to try out, the advertiser is
informing the consumer of the positive effects of trying out new identities and
personalities for consumption and ownership. Much like Bernard in the Mustang
advertisement, consumers who are willing to change their lifestyle and their identity
always win. Adorno and Horkheimer speak about this idea when discussing movie stars,
or the lottery, in their work on the culture industry. Adorno and Horkheimer illustrate
how the lines between the general and the particular are removed by the culture industry
so that the secretary is led to believe that she could very easily be a movie star or that
anyone who buys a lottery ticket stands an excellent chance to win, even though the odds
would suggest a different story. 39 Therefore, a large component of the marketing
discourse of perpetual adolescence is centered on the psychological need for change.
In the Personality Profile Project, ―order‖ referred to the extent to which
individuals desired to have a precise understanding and control of their surroundings. ―To
have things arranged, to be organized, to be clean, tidiness, neatness, organization.‖40
Order statements in the Personality Profile Project questionnaire can be seen in the
58 A- I have to have my work organized and planned before
B- I like to travel and see the country
165 A- I like to tell other people what I think of them
B- I like to have my meals organized and a definite time
39 Theodor Adorno and Max. Horkheimer, ―The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception‖ in The Dialectic of
Enlightenment, trans. John Cumming (London: Verso, 1991) 145.
40 ―Personality Profile Project,‖ JWT Papers.
set aside for eating41
The results from the Personality Profile Project suggested that order was a psychological
need that had the largest variance between age groups, where those who were older
scored higher in their need for order. These results tend to support the ideological
assumptions, discussed in Chapter 2, of the puritan and romantic discourses of childhood.
The romantic discourse of childhood nostalgically views childhood as a time of innocence
where the child should be carefree and released from order and regiment and the
accompanying social pressures of the adult world. 42 However, with regards to the
psychological need for order, the findings from the Personality Profile Project tend to
reinforce the stereotypes associated with the puritan discourse of childhood that view
children as wild and chaotic, disorderly, uncivilized, and in need of strong moral
Freud‘s 1930 piece Civilization and Its Discontents stands as a social critique of
the importance of organized religion in a mass society. 44 Freud is interested in examining
the idea of religion as an illusion and why we buy into it. Freud makes the point that
religion and other forms of what he deems ―mass delusion‖ help individuals move past
the restraints and suffering of reality to find a sense of enjoyment.45 Speaking specifically
to religion, Freud states:
[e]ach one of us behaves in some one respect like a paranoiac, corrects some
aspect of the world which is unbearable to him by the construction of a wish, and
introduces this delusion into reality. A special importance attaches to the case in
42 Martin Woodhead and Heather Montgomery, eds., Understanding Childhood: An Interdisciplinary Approach (Milton Keynes, UK:
The Open University, 2003) 21-29.
43 Ibid., 22-29.
44 Sigmund Freud, Civilisation and Its Discontents, trans. and ed. James Strachey (New York: W.W. Norton, 1989).
which this attempt to produce a certain happiness and a protection against
suffering through a delusional remolding of reality is made by a considerable
number of people in common. 46
For Freud, then, it is the desire to find order in a chaotic world that allows civilization to
first appear and then to be maintained. 47 However, the individual is forced to surrender
part of his or her own individuality in the search for order.48 In this light then, it appears
that the results of the Personality Profile Project‘s testing for the expressed need of order
are validated. Since it is during adolescence and childhood that Freud argues this
civilizing process occurs, then older the person, the more accommodated they are to the
norms of civilization and the stronger their expressed desire for order will be. 49
Freud‘s discussion of religion suggests that religion is what people use to bring
order to their own lives. His discussion on religion and order bears a strong resemblance
to how the culture industry works, especially his discussion on how different libidinal
types influence how the individual works to achieve happiness.50 Freud states:
―Religion restricts this play of choice and adaptation, since it imposes equally on
everyone its own path to the acquisition of happiness and protection from
suffering. Its technique consists in depressing the value of life and distorting the
picture of the real world in a delusional manner, which presupposes an
intimidation of intelligence. At this price, by forcibly fixing them in a state of
psychical infantilism and by drawing them into mass-delusion, religion succeeds
in sparing many people an individual neurosis. But hardly anything more.51
This is precisely what Adorno speaks of when he describes the culture industry in a mass
society as the maker of pabulum for the masses.
All mass culture is fundamentally adaptation. However, this
adaptive character, the monopolistic filter which protects it from
46 Ibid., 31-32.
48 Ibid., 50.
49 Ibid., 88-89.
50 Ibid., 34-35.
51 Ibid., 36.
any external rays of influence which have not already been safely
accommodated with it reified schema, represents an adjustment to
the consumers as well. The pre-digested quality of the product
prevails, justifies itself and establishes itself all the more firmly so
far as it constantly refers to those who cannot digest anything not
already pre-digested. It is baby food.52
The connection here to order and compliance is that, as Freud argues, ―...what we call our
civilization is largely responsible for our misery.‖53 Much like how Adorno and
Horkheimer question the notion of why the consumer desires the very system that
enslaves them, Freud asks the question: ―So what is the monster that we have created and
how does it enslave us to unhappiness?‖54 The answer for Freud lay in the guilt that each
one of us feels as a direct result of the tension between our superego and our id. So that
when we act in a way (or desire to act in a way) that is in opposition to the social
conditioning we received form our parents and social institutions in our pursuit of
pleasure, we feel a strong sense of guilt that acts as a deterrent for such actions. 55 This is
why Freud describes ―the sense of guilt as the most important problem in the
development of civilization, and the price we pay for our advancement in civilization is a
loss of happiness through a heightened sense of guilt.‖56 Whereas for Adorno and
Horkheimer (as stated in the introduction), our actions in the pursuit of pleasure are
dictated by our desire to meet the social conditions set forth by the culture industries. Or
to draw on Adorno and Horkheimer‘s comparison of the culture industry to the Fascist
regime of Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany, ―[n]o one must go hungry or thirsty; if anyone
52 Theodor Adorno, ―The Schema of Mass Culture,‖ in The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass Culture, ed. J.M. Bernstein
(London: Routledge, 1991), 58.
53 Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents, 38.
54 Adorno and Horkheimer, ―The Culture Industry,‖ 139; Freud, Civilisation and Its Discontents, 38.
55 Freud, Civilisation and Its Discontents, 89.
56 Ibid., 97.
does, he‘s for the concentration camp.‖57 The culture industry decides what is and what is
not an acceptable lifestyle to lead; anyone opposing such lifestyles is made an outsider. 58
Therefore, if advertisers are able to make advertisements that appeal to the consumer‘s
outer desire to achieve a lifestyle propagated as happiness by the culture industries and
that appeal to the consumer‘s inner desire to meet the expectations of the superego and
achieve happiness, advertisers stand a greater chance to influence consumer behaviour.
Herein lay the reasoning behind the creation of the Personality Profile Project and the
marketing discourse of perpetual adolescence.
The Personality Profile Project defined compliance as how much a person was
disposed ―[t]o accept leadership, to follow willingly, to let others make decisions:
submission, deference, conformity.‖ Questions in the Personality Profile Project
measured the psychological need for compliance by asking to what extent the individual
exhibits a tendency to maintain their current social standing, even when the individual is
entitled to greater prestige. An example of paired statements used on the Personality
Profile Project that connected to compliance were:
110 A- I feel better when I give in and avoid a fight, than I
would if I tried to have my own way.
B- I like to analyze the feelings and motives of others
160 A- I feel like getting revenge when someone has insulted me
B- When I am in a group, I like to accept the leadership of
someone else in deciding what the group is going to do.59
57 Adorno and Horkheimer, ―The Culture Industry,‖ 149.
58 Ibid., 133.
59 ―Personality Profile Project,‖ JWT Papers.
The results from the Personality Profile Project suggested that the greatest variation
between answers were associated with the age of the respondents. Younger respondents
were less likely than older respondents to select statements that indicated compliance. It is
interesting that conformity is a psychological need that many young people do not
associate with, especially considering the connection between young people and ―the peer
group‖ that was so popular is social psychology discourse in the post-war period.60 In
examining group behaviour, social psychologists like David Riesman defined ―the mode
of conformity‖ as what gets people to conform to the societal norms of what he deemed to
be an other-directed society.61
What is common to all the other-directed people is that their contemporaries are
the source of the direction for the individual – either those known to him or those
with whom he is indirectly acquainted through friends and through the mass
media. This source is of course ―internalized‖ in the sense that dependence on it
for guidance in life is implemented early. The goals toward which the other-
directed person strives shift with that guidance: it is only the process of striving
itself and the process of paying close attention to the signals from others that
remain unaltered throughout life. 62
The increase in conformity among other-directed people and their desire for peer group
acceptance is in many ways a continuation of the socio-psychological issues of the
adolescent that were prevalent in adolescent psychology at the time. 63
Returning to Freud‘s Civilization and Its Discontents, compliance is the lynchpin
that holds civilization together since ―[t]he development of the individual seems to us to
be a product of the interaction between two urges, the urge towards happiness, which we
60 J.E. Richardson, J.F. Forrester, J.K. Shukla, and P.J. Higginbotham, eds, Studies in the Social Psychology of Adolescence (London:
Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, 1957).
61 David Riesman, Nathan Glazer, and Raul Denney, The Lonely Crowd: A Study of the Changing American Character (New Haven:
Yale University Press, 1950) 6.
62 Ibid., 21.
63 Nelson B. Henry and Harold Ellis Jones, eds., Adolescence Forty-Third Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education
(Chicago: University of Chicago, 1944).
usually call ‗egotistic,‘ and the urge towards union with others, which we call
‗altruistic.‘‖64 For Freud, finding a balance between these two urges is a lifelong struggle,
and the ability to find a healthy balance is based on individuals willingness to conform to
the regulations and norms of their society, even at the expense of their own individualities
and ego drives.65 As Freud says, ―[a] good part of the struggles of mankind center around
the single task of finding an expedient accommodation – one that is, that will bring
happiness – between this claim of the individual and the cultural claims of the group.‖66
Freud claims that destruction and aggressiveness are natural tendencies but that society
works against these natural tendencies by creating an inner conflict in the individual,
through the establishment of groups.67 Groups, for Freud, contain people who are
affiliated by similarities in their libidinal drives. As individuals find attachment to other
members of the group (what the Personality Profile Project would call compliance) they
aim to control their desires for destruction or aggressiveness in order to benefit the group.
The individual trades personal freedoms for security. 68
Guilt is the underlying feature that moves us to compliance and to join groups, as
Freud believed, and this sense of guilt arrives immediately from a young age because
humans are born helpless and require the assistance of other people simply to live.69 They
equate the early achievement of their basic needs, like food and shelter, with the love of
another. It is a fear of the loss of this love that is the earliest form of guilt. Later, when the
superego becomes fully defined after the successful completion of the Oedipal conflict,
64 Freud, Civilisation and Its Discontents, 105.
65 Ibid., 50.
67 Ibid., 81-82.
69 Ibid., 85-89.
the super ego acts as the establisher of guilt based on what Freud calls fear of authority.
―Thus we know two origins of the sense of guilt: one arising from the fear of authority
[and a loss of its acceptance and love] and the other, later on, arising from the fear of the
super-ego.‖70 For Freud, the reason people are so heavily governed by guilt is because
they do not even realize that it is present; it masks itself either consciously or
unconsciously as an anxiety.71 Guilt, much like ideology, works on an unconscious level
and is most dangerous when it is invisible. 72 As Freud explains, ―it is very conceivable
that the sense of guilt produced by civilization is not perceived as such either, and
remains to a large extent unconscious or appears as a sort of malaise, a dissatisfaction, for
which people seek other motivations.‖73 These other motivations for Freud are love and
companionship, found in intimate relationships or groups and which require a
compromise of the individual‘s ego drives.74
Advertisers like the J. Walter Thompson Company came to recognize the
significant part that groups play in the individual‘s construction of their identity; they
created advertisements, like the Mustang advertisements in Figures 4 and 6 above, that
either explicitly or implicitly sold products by suggesting that its purchase would result in
the individual finding access to a community, like the ―Mustang Generation.‖ Access to
any community, as pointed out by Freud (and discussed above), requires order and
compliance, even if the community is imaginary, such as one that attempts to tie people
70 Ibid., 88-89.
71 Ibid., 99.
72 This idea is discussed at a greater length in the Introduction to this thesis.
73 Freud, Civilisation and Its Discontents, 99.
74 This is the central topic of Chapters Four and Five of Civilisation and Its Discontents. Ibid.
together through the valorization of youth and not based on the age of the participants. 75
The marketing discourse of perpetual adolescence is an economic re-construction of
Benedict Anderson‘s ―imagined community‖ that is made concrete through the culture
industries‘ representations of youth. 76 However, the desire to be a citizen in the imagined
community of youth is not restricted to young people, since the line between adulthood
and adolescence has been blurred by the culture industries. For example, in the 1966 Ford
Mustang advertisement ―Youth is a terrible thing to waste,‖ advertisers at the J. Walter
Thompson Company suggest that purchasing a Ford Mustang provides the purchaser
access to the imagined community of youth (see Figure 7 below). Even though the target
audience of this advertisement is an older consumer, chronologically excluded from
youth, advertisers suggest that youth can be purchased and consumed. John B. Watson,
in outlining the struggles of adulthood, connected adult wishes to youthful desires.
―Many but not all of these ‗wishes‘ [referring to adult desires]can be traced to early
childhood or to adolescence, which is a time of stress and strain and a period of great
excitement.‖77 Explicitly, advertisements like Figure 7 below highlight a romantic
representation of youthfulness but intertwined in this representation is a more implicit
negative connotation about ―adolescent struggle.‖ This can be seen in the ad copy,
―Youth is a wonderful thing, what a crime to waste it on children.‖
75 The imagined community of youth is a point I return to at greater length in the Conclusion. The history of the construct of ―the
nation‖ and the process by which communities are created across geographic, socio-economic, and cultural spaces is the subject matter
of Benedict Anderson‘s Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1983). The idea
that imagined communities can also be referring to any socially created category (gender, race, generations) and not simply ―the
nation‖ is raised by Lynn Spigel and Michael Curtain when suggesting that 1960s Television had a similar effect in the creation of
imagined communities as Anderson postulates the printing press did some 500 years earlier. Lynn Spigel and Michael Curtin, eds. The
Revolution wasn't Televised: Sixties Television and Social Conflict. (New York: Routledge, 1997) 10.
76 Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1983).
77 John B. Watson, ―The Psychology of Wish Fulfilment‖ in The Scientific Monthly, Vol. 3, No. 5. (Nov., 1916), 479-487.
Figure 7: ―Youth is a Terrible Thing to Waste‖1966 advertisement, Ford Mustang, J.
Walter Thompson Domestic Ads, J. Walter Thompson Company. Rare Book, Manuscript,
and Special Collections Library, Duke University.
The Personality Profile Project measured the psychological need for association
through questions aimed at the extent to which the individual desires and has the ability to
be with others, in other words, ―[t]o form friendships and associations, to participate in
groups, to do things with others, affiliation and companionship.‖78 Statements referring to
association were used in pairings such as:
76 A- I like to be loyal to my friends
B- I like to do my very best in whatever I undertake
96 A- I like to do things with my friends rather than by myself
B- I like to say what I think about things 79
It is ironic that the results from association, which show that teenagers and elderly people
tend to share in their ratings, mirror the results for the Personality Profile Project‘s
questions on autonomy, since the two terms appear to be in disagreement with each other.
The results of association are anomalous among the results of the Personality Profile
Project (except for those for achievement) in that unlike the results for compliance,
autonomy, dependence, dominance and assistance (all which appear to measure how the
individual acts with others in an interpersonal or group relationship), the results for
association are not related in a linear fashion based on age. In fact, almost half of all the
people surveyed in the Personality Profile Project expressed a high need for association
(see Figure 8 below).80 The need for association was highest (61%) amongst students
(aged 13-18) and (58%) those over 55 years old, but was close to fifty percent for the
remaining age groups.81 The researchers at the J. Walter Thompson Company made an
78 ―Personality Profile Project,‖ JWT Papers.
80 Koponen, ―The Personality Characteristics of Purchasers,‖ 8.
81 According to Koponen, under 30 =49%, 30-39 = 44%, 40-54 = 48%. Ibid.
interesting connection in which they made reference (without citing) to another study to
imply that the focus on association is high among teenagers before dropping to a low
point at middle age, before rising again among people over 55.82 Lazersfeld and Katz‘s
study on personal influence tends to suggest that the ways in which individuals in a group
are coerced to act in a similar fashion to the rest of its group members does not in fact end
or drop during middle age; but rather the arena in which conformity happens shifts from
the realm of consumption, perhaps to the political or the realm of information. 83
82 ―Personality Profile Project,‖ JWT Papers.
83 Elihu Katz and Paul F. Lazarsfeld, Personal Influence: The Part Played by People in the Flow of Mass Communications (Glencoe,
Illinois: Free Press, 1955).
Figure 8: ―Personality Profile Project: Association Results‖ in Personality Profile Project
(J. Walter Thompson Company, May 1958), Information Center Records, the J. Walter
Thompson Company Papers. J. Walter Thompson Company. Rare Book, Manuscript, and
Special Collections Library, Duke University.
The psychological needs of compliance, autonomy, association, dependence,
dominance and assistance appear to be heavily influenced by group behaviour. Therefore,
researchers at the advertising agency analyzing the data would have drawn largely on
social psychology and its work on group theory that was widely known at the time. For
example, Robert E. Witt in his book Group Influence on Consumer Brand Choice
suggests that Muzaref Sherif‘s 1936 work The Psychology of Social Norms “had
demonstrated that in a situation offering little objective bias for judgment [such as
deciding between two similar products in the marketplace], people are influenced by what
they perceive to be the judgment of the group.‖84 Early research into group behaviour
seems to have begun with F.H. Allport in 1920, studying students at Harvard and
Radcliffe College, where he concluded that in working with groups, there was a change in
the behaviour of the individual. 85 Group theory introduces the terms ―groups‖ and
―reference groups,‖ which are beneficial in analyzing the data from the Personality
According to Robert K. Merton, ―it is generally understood that the sociological
concept of a group refers to a number of people who interact with one another in accord
with an established pattern.‖ 86 For Merton, the group is defined by the frequency of
interaction, the fact that the interacting persons define themselves as members, and that
the persons in the group are defined through their interacting with others. 87 Group theory
is predicated on the notion that individuals have goals and groups are formed and
84 Robert E. Witt, Group Influence on Consumer Brand Choice, Studies in Marketing No. 13 (Austin, TX: Bureau of Business
Research, The University of Texas at Austin, 1970) 16.
85 J.E. Richardson, J.F. Forrester, J.K. Shukla, and P.J. Higginbotham, eds. Studies in the Social Psychology of Adolescence (London:
Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, 1957) 5.
86 Robert K. Merton, Social Theory and Social Structure, revised edition. (Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press, 1957) 285-286.
maintained by the belief that other members of the group share similar goals and are
active in helping the individual achieve these goals.88
Sometimes the attitudes of people can be influenced by groups of which they are
not members, and this is what is described as reference groups. Reference groups,
according to Sherif and Sherif, are ―those groups to which the individual relates himself
as part, as well as those to which he aspires to relate himself psychologically.‖89 For
example a person may aspire to be a part of a group and therefore act like they are a part
of it. This is the case in the discussion of distinction and taste as factors affecting
purchasing discussed in Chapter 2, where individuals purchase consumer goods to
highlight a distinction between themselves and their neighbors even when no real
distinction may be present. A current example of this can be seen in the purchasing of a
car, whereby a person may decide to lease a particular brand name, such as BMW, instead
of purchasing a lower-priced vehicle in an attempt to suggest that they are part of a
particular economic class or group. Another way that a reference group influences a
person‘s behaviour can be seen even when they don‘t want to be a part of that group but
see the norms of that group as valid and relevant. 90 A current example of this could be a
person who agrees with the social activism of Che Guevara and in turn purchases a Che
T-shirt, even though he or she expresses no real desire to take up arms and start a
revolution. Therefore there are two types of reference groups: the membership group,
where the individual relates as a part of that group directly; and the reference group,
88 Rom J. Markin, The Psychology of Consumer Behaviour (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.:Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1969) 192-193.
89 Muzaref Sherif and C.W. Sherif, An Outline of Social Psychology, 1948,: quoted in Witt, Group Influence on Consumer Brand
90 Ibid., 12.
where the individual aspires to relate psychologically. 91 A single group can be both a
membership and reference group to different people at the same time or to the same
person in different scenarios. Therefore, part of the goal of the marketing discourse of
perpetual adolescence is to move the status of ―youth‖ as a group to youth as a reference
group. In doing so, the entrance into this group is no longer predicated on a person‘s age,
but instead on the way in which a person psychologically refers to himself or herself.
The Personality Profile Project measured the psychological need for achievement
through questions aimed at to what extent the individual exhibits a desire for a more
significant social standing than the place they currently occupy. The survey asked after
the drive ―[t]o rival and surpass others, to do one‘s best, to desire prestige,
accomplishment, ambition, success.‖92 Statements referring to achievement were used in
pairings such as:
6 A- I like to solve puzzles and problems that other people
have difficulty with
B- I like to accept the leadership of people I admire
56 A- I like to be able to do things better than other people can
B- I like to eat in strange and new restaurants93
In his 1954 work Motivation and Personality, A.H. Maslow postulates that there
is a hierarchy of needs for the adolescent, which corresponds with the achievement of
tasks necessary for the completion of adolescence.94 According to Maslow, the lowest of
92 ―Personality Profile Project,‖ JWT Papers.
94 A.H. Maslow, Motivation and Personality (New York: Harper and Row, 1954).
the needs of the adolescent are their physical and biological needs, which he names the
physiological needs. Physiological needs refer to those items necessary for the child‘s
survival, like food. Physiological needs also refer to the child being able to have the
opportunity to make sense of their physically changing bodies and intellectually
developing brain, often through role play and increased responsibility in decision making.
Once the physiological needs are achieved, the adolescent seeks fulfillment of their
security needs. Security needs refer to the emotional security that is generally gained
through the adolescent receiving acceptance from their peer group. Belongingness and
love needs are the next category that the adolescent strives to control. Adolescents tend
to go through a struggle between the desire for dependence, such as acceptance from the
peer group, and independence, not only from parents, schools, and other traditional forms
of authority, but also from their peer group. That is, they desire to be enough like
everyone else that they will be accepted in the peer group and yet different enough from
everyone else that they achieve a sense of individuality. If the adolescent is able to
achieve their esteem needs, which is if they are able to feel secure with their changing
physical bodies and with their struggle for dependence and independence, then the
adolescent searches to achieve the highest needs on Maslow‘s scale: the desire to know
and understand, and the need for self-actualization. It is through self-actualization that the
adolescent makes sense of their many competing identities in a fashion that is socially
acceptable. According to needs theory, then, achievement is a core principle of adolescent
development. However, the results from the Personality Profile Project do not reflect
Maslow‘s needs theory. In the project, all of the age groups illustrated a tendency towards
achievement, but teenagers did not score highest; instead, it was the two age categories
coming directly after the teenager that expressed the highest need for achievement,
namely the age groups of under 30 and 30 to 39.95 This continuation of expressed needs
for achievement into a person‘s 20s and 30s gives credence to the notion that the
traditionally expressed goals of adolescent psychology, such as achievement, were by the
middle of the century no longer being considered only the goals of adolescence, and it
corresponds to the idea of a potential of prolonged adolescence in consumers.
Conclusion: Adolescent Needs Become Lifelong Needs
Central to any understanding of adolescence, then, is an understanding of the
needs and desires that are considered to be common among those experiencing
adolescence. However, the goals of adolescence that Hall, Freud, Erikson, and Maslow
postulated are no longer only the goals of young people. Goals such as establishing a
sense of identity, establishing independence from parents, learning to establish
relationships with one‘s peers and with the opposite sex, finishing formal schooling, and
beginning to assess one‘s place in modern society and to formulate plans for a career or
job are now the life-long goals of young and old. Adorno furthers this point in the essay
―The Culture Industry Revisited‖ when he says, ―[i]t is no coincidence that cynical
American film producers are heard to say that their pictures must take into consideration
the level of 11- year-olds. In doing so they would very much like to make adults into 11-
year-olds.‖96 In the aftermath of the Personality Profile Project and the market research
that came with the increased focus on the youth market in the 1960s (discussed at greater
length in Chapter 5), advertisers had the tools to do so at their disposal.
95 Koponen, ―The Personality Characteristics of Purchasers,‖ 8.
96 Theodor Adorno, ―Culture Industry Reconsidered‖ in The Adorno Reader, ed. Brian O‘Connor (London: Blackwell Publishers,
The Youth Market: How Advertisers Decide Who is “Young”
The period immediately following the Second World War is a very rich period for
investigation in American history for many reasons, most notably in terms of the drastic
change in demographics. The baby boom saw a record number of births: more than 29
million children were born in the 1940s, culminating in 20% of the population being
under the age of 10 by 1950.1 This had a drastic effect on social constructions of
childhood, notions of how to educate the child, and patterns of consumer spending (since
every child would need clothes, food, and other commodities, as well as schools, teachers,
and transportation). Herein lay the great difference separating the post-war period from
other, earlier constructions of youth: the sheer quantitative increase in young people
resulted in the need to rebuild social infrastructure including suburbs, grade schools,
malls, and universities. An increase in population, however, does not automatically
equate to an increase in spending, nor does it lead to an increase in purchasing power.
Quoting from Kalecki‘s 1954 essay on the rapid change in population in 19 th century
England, ―Theory of Economic Dynamics,‖ Baran and Sweezy explain that an increase in
population does not equal an increase in the demand for new housing because it could just
as easily result in more people crowding into existing living spaces. 2 Therefore, since the
key issue for resolving the issue of stagnation for monopoly capital is surplus absorption,
it is the rise in income (and its new emphasis on disposable income and credit versus
saving) of the middle class in the post-war period, and the creation of the desire to spend
1 Edward K. Spann, Democracy's Children: The Young Rebels of the 1960s and the Power of Ideals (Wilmington, Del: Scholarly
Resources, 2003), 2.
2 Kalecki‘s ―Theory of Economic Dynamics‖ quoted in Paul A. Baran and Paul M. Sweezy, Monopoly Capital: An Essay on the
American Economic and Social Order (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1966), 89.
that income through advertising, which most greatly affected the baby boomers, their
parents, and the explosion of suburbs in post-war America.
The main goal of this chapter is to introduce ―youth‖ to the discussion of the
movement of social psychology discourses into the advertising agency, by examining
exactly what it meant to be a child, an adolescent, a teenager, and an adult in the two
decades following the Second World War and how the definitions of these categories
were continually changing. What is of great importance here is the suggestion that in the
post-war period, as the advertising agency became more sophisticated in its work towards
understanding and manipulating consumer behaviour, and as new technology, such as the
television, assisted the advertising agency in this process, it was the advertising agency
that ultimately defined what it meant to be child, adolescent, teenager, and adult during
this period. What began as an attempt by the industry to highlight youth as a sellable
asset, and as an attempt to segment the marketplace to cash in on the growing ―teenage‖
market, in turn became the ideology that defined youth as the most desirable commodity
of the post-war American culture.
The Post-war Youth Market
The post-war youth market can be summarized in two words: baby boomers.
However, as pointed out by historian Edward K. Spann in his book Democracy’s
Children, the term ―baby boomers‖ is a misnomer that often leads to misinterpretations of
the period. Spann suggests that there were two baby booms in the post-war period: the
first reflecting those born between 1940 and the end of the war, and the second
accounting for those born after 1946.3 Therefore, just as I set out to problematize the idea
of ―childhood‖ and adolescence in Chapter 1, in this chapter I am seeking to problematize
terms like ―baby boomers‖ and ―the youth market‖ by illustrating how they are
essentializing terms that attempt to falsely homogenize the public by standing in for or
representing an entire group of people. The numbers from the United States census
bureau support Spann‘s argument, with birth rates rising steadily from 1940-1947 at a rate
of 22%, including over 3 million births in 1943. 4 By 1955, when the youth of this first
baby boom were entering their teenage years, there were, according to census numbers,
over 15 million teenagers in the United States.5 Spending statistics suggest that by the end
of the 1950s, when the first group of baby boomers were coming of age, teenagers
accounted for $9.5 billion in consumer spending, which represents a 300% increase in the
amount of money that teenagers directly spent in the economy in 1945 (without
accounting for their indirect influence on parental purchases). 6 The period more
commonly referred to as the baby boom, that is, in the years directly following the
Second World War, witnessed not a new spike in birth rates, but rather a continuation of
the increased birth rates of the early 1940s. By1965, there were over 22 million young
people in the United States who could be categorized as ―teenagers, which accounted for
$17 billion in consumer spending (again without accounting for their indirect influence on
3 Spann, Democracy’s Children, 2.
4 US. Census Bureau statistic quoted in: J. Walter Thompson Market Research Department, The Youth Market, (New York: J. Walter
Thompson, December 1964), J. Walter Thompson Marketing Vertical File, Box 20, J. Walter Thompson Company. Rare Book,
Manuscript, and Special Collections Library, Duke University (here after cited as JWT Papers) 1.
5 Spann, Democracy’s Children, 24-25.
6 This number refers to teenage spending in 1959. Ibid., 25.
7 Silvia Porter, Chicago Daily News, 15 November 1965, J. Walter Thompson Marketing Vertical File, Box 20, JWT Papers.
By the middle of the 1960s there was little argument as to whether or not the
youth market was a profitable area of focus for advertisers and business. There was,
however, significant discussion as to the impact of teenagers on the American economy
(the influence of first-wave baby boomers) and about the potential impact of teenage
spending (the coming of age of the second-wave baby boomers) over the remainder of the
1960s. In the first half of the 1960s, the ―youth market‖ became the hottest term in the
advertising and marketing industry as companies, corporations, and ad people worked
feverishly to define exactly who the youth market was and how to categorize their
spending patterns and habits in order to be better able to gain a stronghold on this $50
billion market.8 Much of the discussion that follows in this chapter examines the industry
literature and discussions in the mid-1960s as to who exactly constituted the youth market
and how the culture industries aimed to define, categorize, and attract and maintain these
youth as consumers. Of central importance is an internal report filed at the J. Walter
Thompson Company on teenagers as a spending category, titled The Youth Market. It was
written by the agency‘s Marketing Research Department in December 1964 9 and provides
insight not only into the growth and emergence of teenagers as a key demographic for
spending and influence in the American economy, but also offers insight into key changes
in population and demographics in post-war American society; key socioeconomic
changes that affected the increasing importance of the youth market to the post-war
American economy; key characteristics that define the youth market and the influences on
their decision-making abilities when making purchases; and how the J. Walter Thompson
8 Porter places the importance of the youth market at approximately 17 billion dollars annually in teenage spending. Ibid.; The J.
Walter Thompson Market Research Department speculates that teenagers also influence an additional 30 billion dollars in adult and
family purchases. J. Walter Thompson Market Research Department, The Youth Market, (New York: J. Walter Thompson, December
1964), J. Walter Thompson Marketing Vertical File, Box 20, JWT Papers.
9 J. Walter Thompson Market Research Department, The Youth Market.
Company and other advertisers addressed the youth market, first as a category of
teenagers and then as a potential category of youthful spending beyond adolescence that
deals with the problem of the teenage market ―growing up.‖
The Youth Market at J. Walter Thompson
In December of 1964, the Marketing Research Department at the J. Walter
Thompson Company‘s New York office completed a report titled The Youth Market,
which ―attempts to summarize selected published material on characteristics of the
teenage and young adult markets, and to analyze some of the broad trends revealed, as a
basis for evaluating the present and potential marketing significance of these age
groups.‖10 The 21-page report segmented the youth market into four categories: young
teens (in the upper grades or junior high school, aged 13-14), older teens (in high school
and early enrollees in college, aged 15-19 years old), young adults (also referred to as the
young married market, aged 20-24), and college students (who, although they overlap in
age with some of the other groups, require their own category because they form,
according to the J. Walter Thompson Company ―a relatively homogenous market [whose]
buying habits are influence by special circumstances‖). 11 The J. Walter Thompson
Company makes no effort in their study to further segment these categories by gender,
other than to mention that in all the census data from 1950 (when annual birth rates
topped four million babies per year, where they have remained every year until the
present) the ratio of girls to boys is almost even at all ages. 12
10 Ibid., 1.
12 Ibid., 2.
By examining the category of customers labeled ―young adults,‖ insight can be
gained into how discourses of perpetual adolescence could be found deeply entrenched in
the advertising agency by the middle of the 1960s. The category name itself suggests the
great struggle of adolescent psychology and the supposed stages of human development
that adolescent psychology endorses, in that the consumer in this group is ―the young
adult,‖ no longer a child, but not fully adult. According to the J. Walter Thompson
Company researchers, young adults are the key category of the teenage market,
constituting the focus of their 1964 study. They state that the ―most dramatic numerical
gains are scheduled to occur in this age group, in the over-all 1960-1975 period, when the
number of persons in the 20-24 year bracket will rise from just over 11 million to 19
million.‖13 What is it that separates the young adults from the older teens? Age is only
part of the answer. They are also divided according to their marital status, where the
young adult is simply an older teen who gets married. At JWT in the 1960s, an
individual‘s commitment to a heteronormative sexual relationship clearly distinguished
them as young adult versus older teen, since marriage signaled a level of successful
completion of the competing sexual selves and urges of adolescence. The company‘s
market research department, in justifying how they included the young adult bracket in
their discussion of the teenage market, stated, ―since it is obviously impossible to draw
firm and rockbound lines of age demarcation, it may be valid to say that classification of
young persons in the marketing spectrum depends on their life situations.‖ 14 This further
explains why J. Walter Thompson divided the youth market into four groups, three of
13 Ibid., 3.
these grouped based largely on the individual‘s place in the school system, and the final
group, the young adults, defined by their life situation as young married couples.
Socio-Economic Factors of the Youth Market
An integral part of The Youth Market is its socio-economic analysis of the key
factors that have contributed to the significance of the teenage-market in American
society by 1965. According to the J. Walter Thompson Company, the rise of the youth
market in economic and social importance can be directly linked to four key socio-
economic factors: demographics and (sub) urbanization; increase in affluence and
working women; a greater emphasis on education; and an acceptance of earlier
The rise in population resulting from the baby boom contributed not only to an
increased urbanization of American cities, but also the suburbanization of American
cities. New social pressures, like conformity and increased peer group influence,
accompanied these changes. Although not directly related to demographics, this is a
similar point made by Lizabeth Cohen in A Consumers Republic: The Politics of
Consumption in Post-war America, where she argues that one of the key socio-economics
of the post-war period, and one the central influences and motivators of the economic
boom in the post-war years, was the increased urbanization of American cities and the
creation of the suburbs. She posits that, in the suburbs (where all of the houses looked the
same), the lines of distinction between neighbors revolved around lifestyle choices in the
automobile a person drove, the types of leisure activities they participated in, the types of
appliances they purchased, the clothes they wore, where they bought their groceries, and
the schools their children attended.16 Returning to the discussion of C. Wright Mills in
Chapter 3 and his discussion of ―the status panic‖ in the suburbs, the job a person worked
no longer became the distinguishing feature of class status, as the president of a company
and a worker on that same company‘s assembly line could buy a house in the same
neighborhood.17 Therefore, the individual had to find new ways to outwardly express their
status and prestige – and those outward expressions were constituted in commodity
purchases of ―lifestyles,‖ witnessed best by the brand choices a person made. 18
The second socio-economic factor that contributed to the increasing influence of
the teenage market was directly related to an increase in affluence for teenagers
themselves. 19 The increased affluence experienced in the American economy in the post-
war boom also contributed to the significant increase in the teenage market‘s role in the
economy for several reasons. Teenagers experienced an increase in their own disposable
income through weekly allowances (which, according to the J. Walter Thompson
Company researchers, had increased 300% since 1945, averaging between $5-$6 for boys
and $3-$4 for girls in 1965) and part-time jobs. 20 In 1963, 35% of teenage boys and 22%
of teenage girls had part-time jobs, in addition to the nearly half a million teenagers who
had full-time work.21 Furthermore, by 1965 teenagers not only spent their own money, but
also significantly contributed to family decisions about major purchases, such as
automobiles, refrigerators, and groceries. As pointed out in an October 9, 1964, Time
article, ―Retailing: The Teenage Tide,‖ ―the teen-ager … originates most mass buying
16 Lizabeth Cohen, ―Chapter 5 Residence: Inequality in Mass Suburbia‖ in A Consumer's Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption
in Post-war America,1st Vintage Books edition. (New York: Vintage Books, 2004) 193-256.
17 C. Wright Mills, White Collar: The American Middle Classes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1956) 254-259.
19 J. Walter Thompson Market Research Department, The Youth Market, 3.
20 Ibid., 6.
21 According to the 1963 research conducted by Eugene Gilbert Youth Research, 492,000 teenagers had full time work. Ibid.
trends that reach the adult market. Youth is the carrier of news into the family circle.‖ 22
Therefore, as the average family‘s annual income rose throughout the 1950s (when 4.6%
of families had an annual income of $10,000 or more, compared with 12.3% in 1963), so
too did the influence exerted by teenagers on family spending. According to a 1964 Time
magazine article quoted in the J. Walter Thompson Company report, teenagers accounted
for almost $30 billion in indirect spending. 23 The J. Walter Thompson Company notes
that a further influence to the increase in affluence was the number of young families or
consumers in the ―young adult market‖ who were bringing home two paychecks given the
influx of women into the workplace. By 1963, over 14 million ―housewives‖ were
collecting paychecks and the number of families with two or more wage earners
outnumbered the number of families with only one wage earner. 24
The increased emphasis on education in the post-war period also had an impact on
the increasing importance of the American youth market. For example, as more people
gained formal secondary and post-secondary education, there was an increase in skilled
labor entering the workforce as well as an increase in the number of people entering the
workforce at a higher average starting income. 25 Linked to this increase in education is an
increase in expectations as those young people who invested their time and money in
college education expect not only a better job, but a different lifestyle upon completion.
As the J. Walter Thompson Company‘s study notes, ―this rush to higher education
reflects, of course, high levels of personal income and, perhaps, the prestige value of
college as a status symbol. More significantly, it is a reaction to broad changes in
22 Charles R. Campbell, UCLA Market Researcher quoted in ―Retailing: The Teen-Age Tide‖ TIME Magazine, 9 October 1964, the J.
Walter Thompson Company Marketing Vertical File, Box 20, JWT Papers.
23 Itals are mine. J. Walter Thompson Market Research Department, The Youth Market, 8.
24 Ibid., 4.
25 Ibid., 2-3.
employment conditions which are steadily diminishing opportunities for the unskilled and
workers with obsolete skills, and creating a demand for more specially-trained
What is not mentioned in the J. Walter Thompson Company report is how the
continuously increasing number of students enrolling in college (by 1980, the number of
youth annually enrolling in college had doubled again) functions as an extension of
adolescence. 27 Educational institutions served as the housing ground for adolescents,
where the young person‘s socialization is experienced and finalized, before they are let
out into the real world as healthy and functioning adults (assuming they survive
adolescence). It wasn‘t even 100 years ago that most people never had any form of higher
education: ―Back in 1900, for instance, only 6% of 17-year-olds graduated from high
school. By 1940, 25% of people age 25 and over had at least a high school diploma.
Today, a diploma is the rule rather than the exception: 83% of people age 25 and over had
at least a high school diploma in 1998.‖28 As Harry Braverman describes in the last
chapter of his 1974 work Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the
Twentieth Century, people with high school diplomas got better jobs and, therefore, it
became a social requirement, a rite of passage. However, it was only a matter of time
before the high school diploma was not enough education and the rite of passage was
delayed so that individuals required a university degree. Again, individuals were led to
believe that the university degree was a guarantor of a better standard of living.
The more science is incorporated into the labor process, the less the worker
understands of the process; the more sophisticated an intellectual product the
27 US Census Bureau, ―Higher Education Means More Money, Census Bureau Says,‖ News Release, 10 December 1998,
machine becomes, the less control and comprehension of the machine the worker
has. In other words, the more the worker needs to know in order to remain a
human being at work, the less does he or she know.29
While Braverman has suggested that the trend for extending the mandatory school age
emerged out of the Second World War as a way to keep unemployment down by keeping
a large portion of the population busy, it has had an even more staggering effect. This is
why 40% of 18-to-19-year-olds were in school or college in 1963 compared with only
29% in 1950.30 Raising the age at which people finish school determines at what age a
society sees its young people as either ―older teens‖ or ―young adults,‖ since, as the J.
Walter Thompson Company marketing research teams suggests, being a teenager (or a
member of the youth market) is not so much about how old one is, but where one is in
terms of their life experiences – and three of the four youth market categories revolve
around the school-life experiences of people. Therefore, extending the age of schooling
also extends the period of adolescence.
Researchers at the J. Walter Thompson Company also suggested that the lower
age at which marriages were happening in the United States had a significant influence on
the youth market.31 Beginning in 1940, there was an increase in marriages, such that the
28% of females in America who were unwed then had dropped to 9% by 1951 (its lowest
total since statistics on this subject began being kept by the U.S. census bureau in 1890).32
Although there was some concern regarding rising divorce rates in the aftermath of the
Second World War, by 1959, divorce rates had dropped to half of those at their peak in
29 Harry Braverman, Labour and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century, (New York: Monthly
Review Press, 1974), 425.
30 J. Walter Thompson Market Research Department, The Youth Market, 4.
32 Spann, Democracy’s Children, 5.
1946.33 According to the J. Walter Thompson Company researchers, a trend in women
marrying men two to three years older than themselves, in addition to an increase in
women enrolling in college education, saw the decline in the average age of marrying
women levelling off by 1964, after a steady decline throughout the 1950s, which
witnessed the average age for a woman‘s first marriage trough at 18.34 Nonetheless, by
1964, the average age for a first marriage for women was 20 and 21 for men. It is this
category of married couples in their early 20s that was targeted by advertisers as the
―young adult‖ category of teenage spenders. 35 Part of the desire to tap into this category
was the classification of these young adults by the industry as the ―must buys,‖ because it
is at this point in the life cycle when young people, ―after marriage, one, or even two
paychecks are apt to be rather heavily mortgaged in advance, for payments on durable
goods, educational loans, or other fixed expenses.‖ 36 As discussed in the article ―Young
America Is Three Markets,‖ for the young adult market of newly married couples, there is
a sense of keeping up with the Joneses, of wanting to have all of the luxuries that they
connect with being an adult in a consumer society, like a toaster, a fridge, a car, and a
house in the suburbs.37 It was previously believed that young adults tended to have
already spent a large portion of their income in advance (which is a good thing for
advertisers and business –that is, locking in the young adult dollars to large-scale
purchases through credit), However, a review by Brides Magazine of newlyweds between
the ages of 18-24 in the first four years of marriage, quoted by J. Walter Thompson
34 J. Walter Thompson Market Research Department, The Youth Market, 3.
37 Amei Wallach ―Young America is Three Markets‖ Merchandising Week, 6, March 1967, p.16, J. Walter Thompson Marketing
Vertical File, Box 20, JWT Papers.
researchers, illustrates that the majority of their large scale-purchases (such as furniture,
television, and major appliances) were made during their engagement period, leading up
to their marriage. 38 The company concluded that ―these data seem to indicate that the
lower average family incomes of new families may, in practice, yield higher immediate
purchasing ability than the dollars suggest‖ since, although it had previously been
believed that the bulk of their money was spent, it appears to be both present and
discretionary. 39 Through their research of the young adult, it became apparent by 1964 to
the J. Walter Thompson Company that the average after-tax family income where the
head of house was under 25 was $4370, versus $5773 for family heads aged 25-34, $6907
for family heads 35-44, $6962 for family heads 45-54, and $5798 for family heads 55-
64.40 During the mid 1960s, through segmenting and classifying, the youth market
advertisers became fully aware that the strength of consumer purchasing lay in the hands
of families whose head was between the ages of 25 and 44.
When analyzing the youth market, researchers at the J. Walter Thompson
Company continued to rely on the discourses of psychology in the aftermath of the
Second World War much like they had almost half a century earlier under the direction of
John B. Watson. For example, in describing the youth market, the market researchers at
the J. Walter Thompson Company stated, ―[w]hile this is a rather hazardous areas in
which to generalize, there seems to be consistent evidence that teenagers and young
adults as a group are motivated by deep feelings of insecurity.‖41 In his work on The Ego
& the Id, Freud suggested that all human action and interaction in the social world was
38 J. Walter Thompson Market Research Department, The Youth Market, 11.
40 Bureau of Labor Statistics 1964, quoted in J. Walter Thompson Market Research Department, The Youth Market, 10.
41 J. Walter Thompson Market Research Department, The Youth Market, 11.
mediated by a person‘s id, which was constantly trying to find harmony between what the
surrounding community deemed as acceptable behaviour and the deeper motivations or
―libido‖ of a person‘s ego.42 According to their findings in projects like the Personality
Profile Project, advertisers like the J. Walter Thompson Company then looked to
subdivide and classify their buyers through a series of psychological characteristics in
addition to the more commonly used practice of segmenting markets by age, gender, race,
and geographic location.
Youth Market Attitudes
The J. Walter Thompson Company was not the only ad agency participating in
research on the youth market. In their report on the youth market, the J. Walter Thompson
Company researchers cite the findings of another central ad agency, Young and
Republicam, who in 1963 noted that,
[t]he young market will very likely be stability minded; it will be security minded;
conservatism will be the keynote; young people will seek ‗anchors‘; they will ask
for more from a world changing too fast for them to cope with; they will seek the
protection of ‗authority‘; they will be more ‗civilized‘ and less frontier minded in
their attitudes towards science, art, and culture; there will be a growing
sophistication; there will be a greater desire for individuality; there will be a
continuing sense of frustration and a growing feeling that the American male is
not as masculine as he used to be.43
From their research on the youth market, Young and Republicam concluded in 1963 that
―today‘s young people are basically cautious and conservative and more interested in
security than in setting the world on fire.‖ 44 This corresponds with the work of historian
42 Sigmund Freud, The Ego and the Id, in The Essentials of Psycho-Analysis, trans. James Strachey (London: The Hogarth Press and
The Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1986) 439-483.
43 Young and Republicam research on the youth market was originally published in Advertisers Age, 18 November 1963, quoted in J.
Walter Thompson Market Research Department, The Youth Market, 11.
44 Ibid., 12.
Elaine Tyler May who, in her work Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold
War Era, suggests that in post-war American society, the nation‘s citizens had concerns
about changing roles in family, economy, and foreign policy, which resulted in a desire to
focus on the home front in searching for security and comfort in a time of uncertainty. 45
Historians writing about post-war American culture, including Tyler May, as well
as social critics at the time, tend to focus on the changing familial, economic, and security
roles in this era of American society. In the aftermath of the Second World War, there
were significant changes in familial roles as a result of profound social changes, such as
the large number of men returning home from the war; the return of a significant number
of working women to the domestic sphere; the baby boom; and the large-scale geographic
relocation of many Americans from rural to urban communities and from city centers to
suburban neighborhoods. Change in familial roles with an intense focus on family and a
re-defining of traditional gender roles was a significant part of the ideological warfare of
the Cold War, in that the nuclear family and its middle class suburban lifestyle was
represented as the antithesis of Communism. 46 There was also a change in economic roles
in that the economic prosperity that the American economy enjoyed throughout the 1940s
through the 1960s created changing roles in middle class. With more people earning more
money and receiving higher education, style came to replace class as the distinguisher
between groups. Furthermore, there was a change in roles with regard to security, which,
according to Tyler May, resulted from fears of World War Three and the atomic bomb in
the post-war period.47 The Cold War left Americans in a state of fear and insecurity about
their future, and therefore an increased focus and emphasis was placed on family and
45 Elaine Tyler May, Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era (New York: Basic Books) 1999.
46 Tyler May, ―War and Peace: Fanning the Home Fires‖ in Homeward Bound, 58-91.
47 Tyler May, ―Explosive Issues: Sex, Women, and the Bomb‖ in Homeward Bound, 92-113.
children in particular. As Michael Sherry explains in In the Shadow of War: The United
States Since the 1930s, inside a Cold War that is non-violent, other outlets become the
battleground between superpowers.48 Consumption itself became the ideological tool
through which Americans could illustrate their patriotism, faith in capitalism, disapproval
of Communism, and belief in the American dream and way of life.
As advertisers stressed the importance of doing one‘s patriotic duty through
consuming, children raised in post-war America were indirectly taught to value the
practice of consumption, and to feel a sense of gratitude for having the opportunity to
consume. The social practice of consuming became as valuable to the American national
identity as the right to vote, or the right to education. However, the right to vote in the
post-war period had age, class, and racial restrictions, as did the right to education.
Schools were still segregated until 1954, when the Supreme Court‘s Brown v. Board of
Education decision stated that segregation in schools was unconstitutional, finally
overturning the ―separate but equal‖ Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896.49 Likewise,
barriers like Jim Crow laws, poll taxes, and literacy tests continued to keep many
Americans (not only African Americans) from the polls before the Civil Rights Act
(1963), the 23rd Amendment (1964), and the Voting Rights Act (1965) removed both the
visible and invisible barriers preventing disenfranchised Americans from voting. 50 But in
1944, everyone could consume (just to different extents depending on their income).
Therefore, for people, like children, excluded from other practices of ―Americanism,‖ like
48 Michael S. Sherry, In the Shadow of War: The United States since the 1930s (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995); Elaine
Tyler May, Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era (New York: Basic Books) 1999.
49 Mark R. Schneider, We Return Fighting: The Civil Rights Movement in the Jazz Age (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2002).
voting, consumption in the post-war period took on an additional level of importance. As
researchers at Young and Republicam noted, ―as adults they [the post-war youth] will
seek individuality through consumption rather than in personal achievement or work
satisfaction.‖51 In the post-war period, the construction of youth was deeply tied to the
booming American economy, its capitalist mantra, and the belief that a prosperous and
safe future for America‘s children was closely connected to having the ability to consume
―more of everything, faster and brighter.‖52
Defining the Youth Market
As soon as advertisers became aware of the potential of the youth market, they set
about naming it, defining it, and subdividing it into neatly defined stages of development
or categories of customers, in much the same way that psychologists in the first half of
the century set about classifying and organizing adolescence, soon after G. Stanley Hall
first introduced the term into psychology in 1904. The stages and ages of the customers
included or excluded from the youth market differed depending on who was talking about
the youth market. Some industry insiders, such as Sam Vitt, the senior vice-president at
the advertising agency Ted Bates and Co. Inc., in 1967 defined the group as anyone
between the ages of 10 and 24 years old.53 Economist Fabian Linden, manager of the
consumer economics department of the National Industrial Conference Board, in an
interview in trade journal Media/Scope in April 1968, said that the youth market can be
51 J. Walter Thompson Market Research Department, The Youth Market, 12.
52 Raymond F. Betts, History of Popular Culture: More of Everything, Faster and Brighter (London: Routledge, 2004).
53 ―Media and the Youth Market‖ Madison Avenue, June 1967, J. Walter Thompson Marketing Vertical File, Box 20, JWT Papers.
split into two groups, adolescents aged 15 to 19 and young adults aged 20 to 29.54 Even
media organizations who were not advertisers held a great degree of interest in defining
this market. NBC, the broadcasting corporation, in a 1966 research bulletin defined the
―young adult market‖ as consisting of anyone between the ages of 18 and 49, who
accounted for an average of 70% of all product consumption in the economy. 55 This
definition of youth, which begins late in the teenage years and extends throughout
adulthood, would by the late 1960s become a conventional definition for who was to be
included in the ―youth market.‖ Even those inside the industry were unable to agree upon
the exact age of those in the youth market, so much so that E.B. Weiss in an Advertising
Age article in 1965, ―What Youth Market?,‖ criticized the advertising industry for
creating an artificial market that tried to lump together all young people into one category
so long as they fell between the ages of 12 and 31 years old. 56 Critics like Weiss warned
advertisers of the dangers of appealing to one homogenous youth market, and the need to
tailor messages directly to the appeals, concerns, fears, and ambitions of one of three
main youth segments: teens, young singles, and young families. 57
What is interesting is that at the same time as advertising agencies were working
hard to define the youth market, research on teenage spending patterns in the middle of
1960s was suggesting that the youth market was an illusion of false gold. In a 1966 article
―Who Buys More?‖ in Television Age, John R. Thayer at Peters, Griffin, Woodward Inc.
pointed out that ―this market [the youth market] might not be as important as many
54 ―The Adolescent Boom had its Bang‘‖ Media/Scope, April 1968, J. Walter Thompson Marketing Vertical File, Box 20, JWT
55 NBC Research Projects ―NBC Research Bulletin, #299,‖ news release, 10 November 1966, J. Walter Thompson Marketing Vertical
File, Box 20, JWT Papers.
56 E.B. Weiss, ―What Youth Market?‖ Advertising Age, 19 July 1965, J. Walter Thompson Marketing Vertical File, Box 20, JWT
people believe.‖58 Research by Thayer at Peters, Griffin, and Woodward Inc. indicated
that consumers in the age bracket of 35-49 were outspending the youth market, whom
they defined as aged 18-34 in all key categories of consumer spending, and by a
significant amount if consumers in the over-50 category were included. 59 Always at the
forefront of industry development, the J. Walter Thompson Company expanded its own
definition of the youth market to include persons from 15 to 34 years of age in its 1968
publication Review of the Youth Market for Home Electronics.60 In their report,
researchers at J. Walter Thompson suggested that the key trendsetters and spenders in the
following decade were to be found in the youth market of the 25-to-34-year-old age
bracket.61 By 1968, inside the company, the youth market was something very different
from the infant market (products sold to parents for their babies and small children) or the
seniors market (50 years and older); it had now expanded to encompass all the groups in
Extending the Youth Market
Since many of the consumers now included in the youth market were not
teenagers (chronologically speaking), the idea of selling ―youth‖ replaced the emphasis of
selling to youth as the focus of advertisers in the middle 1960s; ―the market of the
chronologically young is a big one. But the market for the chronically young is even a
58 ―Who Buys More?‖ Television Age, 25 April 1966, J. Walter Thompson Marketing Vertical File, Box 20, JWT Papers.
60 Mary Tynes, Review of the Youth Market for Home Electronics (New York: J. Walter Thompson Company Reference Unit, January
1968) J. Walter Thompson Marketing Vertical File, Box 20, JWT Papers.
bigger one.‖62 Selling younger was not a problem as both young and old customers
enjoyed the youthful sell that had become popular in advertising circles. 63 For example, in
his speech to the American Marketing Association in 1965, Macy‘s president David L.
Yunich stated that,
[t]eenagers are largely today‘s trendsetters. There was a time when all children
dressed like little men and women. Now look what‘s happened … Mothers are
dressing like their daughters instead of vice versa, fathers are wearing the narrow
trousers their sons prefer. Who fell in love with boots and textured stockings? Lots
of eye make-up and pale lipstick? Skirts that barely skim the knees? The bikini?
Stretch pants? Sportswear separates? These are all young fashions, and that‘s
where a lot of fashion is starting today and working its way up. 64
Macy‘s even found that in setting up the youth clothing section of their store on the
ground floor in the prime retail space that they had an increase in customer activity as
―mature women prefer to shop in a store that looks young and thinks young.‖65
In announcing their July 1965 issue of Esquire, which was to be a tribute to the
teenager called ―The New Kingdom of the Teen,‖ editors at Esquire spoke of the massive
impact of teenagers on all aspects of American culture.
But it doesn‘t stop there. Increasingly the American adult is expressing his desire
to do just what the teen does. The adult twists now, listens to the same music (and
likes it!), wears the same clothes, switches brands, watches carefully each new fad
to see if the kids go for it. If so, it‘s hot and something to imitate. 66
Furthermore, in the 1970s article ―Generation Gap Misunderstood,‖ Solomon Dutka, the
president of Audits and Surveys Inc., is quoted as saying that ―there was definitely a
62 Itals are authors. Stephen Baker ―Young Look in Ads can Sell to Over-25 Group as well as Youth‖ Advertising Age, 27 October
1969, J. Walter Thompson Marketing Vertical File, Box 20, JWT Papers.
63 David L. Yunich, David L. Yunich (speech, American Marketing Association, 18 February 1964) 11-12. J. Walter Thompson
Marketing Vertical File, Box 20, JWT Papers.
65 Ibid., 15.
66 ―The New Kingdom of Teen: Announcing an Issue of Important Dimensions‖ Esquire, July 1965, J. Walter Thompson Marketing
Vertical File, Box 20, JWT Papers.
youthful market of 35 to 45 year old family heads and wives committed to a young
style…and they can be sold with a youthful approach.‖67 What‘s of great interest here is
the training model for consumers; as social psychologist David Riesman speculated in his
1950 work, The Lonely Crowd, in an other-directed society such as post-war America, it
was the young who educated their elders instead of the other way around or, as Riesman
states, the change is from ―bringing up children to bringing up father.‖ 68
Riesman looked at American society in the post-war environment to examine in
what ways the rise of corporate organizations and big business, combined with rapid
changes in media, the concentration of power in government, and a large scale
demographic shift, affected the personalities and social character of the middle-class
American. 69 Riesman concluded that the personalities of Americans could historically be
classified in to three personality types: tradition-directed, inner-directed, or other-
directed, and in post-war American society, the outer-directed personality had come to
According to Riesman, a person who is tradition-directed is driven by the
demands of their culture to act in a socially approved fashion, and this desire to act in an
approved way is self-enforced through shame, based on a fear of losing honor or
prestige. 71 A person who is inner-directed is driven by their ―inner gyroscope,‖ which
presets their course of action. Drawing on the early work of adolescent psychology and
psychoanalysis, Riesman speculates that the ―inner gyroscope‖ is set primarily by the
67 ―Generation Gap Misunderstood‖ Drug Trade News, 23 February 1970, J. Walter Thompson Marketing Vertical File, Box 20, JWT
68 David Riesman, Nathan Glazer, and Raul Denney, The Lonely Crowd: A Study of the Changing American Character (New Haven:
Yale University Press, 1950), 48-50.
69 Ibid., 3.
70 Ibid., 8.
71 David Riesman, The Lonely Crowd, 11-13.
person‘s parents at an early age and that the behaviour of the inner–directed person is
self-enforced by guilt, based on a fear of acting against their ―inner gyroscope‖ and the
values that their parents had instilled in them in their youth.72 Riesman‘s inner gyroscope
provides a similar function as the Freudian super-ego. The other-directed person, as the
name suggests, acts in a fashion that is greatly influenced by the peer group. Because the
other-directed person is continually responding to the approval and disapproval of their
peers, their behaviour can change rapidly form moment to moment and their relationships
and interactions tend to be superficial and lack intimacy. 73
Riesman believed that at each moment in history a certain type of personality
would be most dominant due to the needs of the society at that time (the most obvious
example of this is that during times of war, society calls forth warriors). This in large part
was a reflection of the changes in demographics. Riesman believed that as population
went through boom and bust cycles, in a pattern that mimicked the shape of the letter S,
different societal roles were expected of the population. 74 Each of the curves of the S
could be seen as a period in history when one personality type dominated.75 In post
Second World War society, with a rapid rise in birth rates and middle class income, and
in an age of corporate expansion and organization, Riesman speculated that the outer-
directed personality had been called forth due to its desire to accommodate others to win
approval. As C. Wright Mills aptly explains, it is this mentality on which large-scale
72 Ibid., 13-17.
73 Ibid., 17-24.
74 The s-curve theory of population is based on Frank Notestein's 1945 paper ―Population -the Long View,‖ which was published in
the Theodore Schultz edited collection ―Food For Thought‖ (University of Chicago Press).
75 For Riesman, in times of high growth potential you have a tradition directed society, during transitional growth an inner directed
society, and during incipient decline a society of outer directed persons.
corporations and government bureaucracies (whom Mills‘ names the power elite) rely. 76
Riesman‘s historical account of ―how we came to be a society of outer directed persons‖
outlines the transition of American society from a tribal society based on tradition, to an
inner-directed community epitomized by the Protestant ethic, and lastly to the other-
directed society that is present today: ―More particularly, it is about the way in which one
kind of social character, which dominated America in the 19 th century, is gradually being
replaced by quite a different sort.‖77 Riesman concluded that with the shift away from
tradition-directed societies, the role of the elder as the story teller and educator in society
also disappeared and was replaced by the media and peer group in the other-directed
society. Where the elders used to train and educate the younger members of the
community how to fit in to society, in an other-directed society it is the youth who train
In an other-directed society where young people educate or train their parents,
there is an increased importance for companies to attract the loyalties of young people to
their brand of products. Furthermore, as David L. Yunich, president of Macy‘s New
York, pointed out in his February 18, 1964, speech to the American Marketing
Association, ―… the teenage years are where loyalties are formed. A recent research
survey showed that, after 20 years, about 30% of women still used the same brand of
cosmetics, nail polish, soap, or toilet water they had used in high school. In other words,
catch them young and you’ll keep them.‖78 Therefore, with 30 million children born in the
1940s (first wave baby boomers) due to enter the target age bracket of 25-44 in the years
76 C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite (New York: Oxford University Press, 1956).
77 Riesman, The Lonely Crowd, 3.
78 Itals are mine. David L. Yunich (speech, American Marketing Association, 18 February 1964) J. Walter Thompson Marketing
Vertical File, Box 20, JWT Papers.
between 1965 and 1975 and the 40 million children born in the 1950s (second wave baby
boomers) due to enter this age bracket in the years between 1975 and 1985, it became
apparent to advertisers that their ability to tap into the youth market and hold onto them as
they ―grew‖ into a higher income bracket would be the key to their survival in the
booming but competitive American economy. 79
If young people are the trendsetters in U.S. post-war culture, and if the youth
market can be extended into adulthood, then the keys to capturing the youth market‘s
attention in advertisements would be a continuation of the practice selling to teenagers.
According to the 1962 article ―Building Sales to Younger Customers,‖ published by a
U.S. government agency, ―[t]he average teenager is, in varying degrees: (1) self-centered,
(2) a conformist, (3) materialistic, and (4) a pursuer of happiness.‖80 Each of these
teenager traits coincides with the personal needs of the consumer identified by the
Personality Profile Project.81 Furthermore, in an internal publication at the J. Walter
Thompson Company from May 6, 1965, titled, ―The Youth Market: Experts from a Talk
by Per O. Benson, Co-Merchandise Director, Seventeen Magazine,‖ Benson is quoted as
saying that ―the way to reach the teenage consumer is to understand what they are like.
They are sophisticated and yet romantic and idealistic. They crave independence but only
assert their individuality in acting like their friends. Therefore ‗if you catch a leader, you
79 According to the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, there were 30 231 147 registered births between 1940 and
1949, and 40 010 636 births registered between 1950 and 1959 in the United States. Quoted in J. Walter Thompson, ―The U.S. Baby
Market‖ (J. Walter Thompson, November 1959), Table 1, J. Walter Thompson Marketing Vertical File, Box 20, JWT Papers, 8.
80 S.E. Mahle, ―Building Sales to Younger Consumers‖ Small Marketers Aids No.80, (Washington, D.C.: Small Business
Administration, US Government Agency, June 1962)
81 J. Walter Thompson Research Department, ―Personality Profile Project‖ (J. Walter Thompson, May 1958) Information Center
Records, JWT Papers (no page numbers).
catch them all.‘ ‖82 Examples of exactly how the J. Walter Thompson Company practised
this in their own advertisements will be looked at in the next chapter with the Seven-Up
The youth market was a category of consumer that was continually being
redefined by advertisers and marketers. By the middle of the 1960s, advertising agencies
were suspicious of the unprecedented growth of the youth market and concerned about
whether or not it could continue to grow at the same rapid pace it had for the previous two
decades. Further research into the youth market made ad people aware of the fact that the
youth market was not one homogenous market but rather three distinct submarkets: teens,
singles, and young families, each with its own clientele, each with their own very distinct
dreams, ambitions, fears, and desires. 83 Many of the same ad people, who had been so
infatuated with the youth market only a year earlier, by 1964 were looking for ways to
connect to the young consumers in a way that would foster brand loyalty that would last
past adolescence. How do you develop customers during their period of adolescence so
that they will still be customers after adolescence ends?
By the middle of the 1960s, with more research as to how much money each age
group spends on consumer products becoming more available, it became obvious that the
real success of advertisers in enticing the youth market was to be made in connecting with
consumers over 24 years of age, since they were the ones with the highest incomes and
82 J. Walter Thompson, ―The Youth Market: Excerpts From a Talk by Per O. Benson, Co-Merchandise Director, Seventeen
Magazine‖ 6, May 1965, p.1, J. Walter Thompson Marketing Vertical File, Box 20, JWT Papers.
83 Amei Wallach ―Young America is Three Markets‖ Merchandising Week, 6,March 1967, p.16, J. Walter Thompson Marketing
Vertical File, Box 20, JWT Papers.
they were also the group who spent the most money. To be successful with the 24-to-44-
year-old age group, advertisers needed to begin connecting to the youth market in a
meaningful way when they were adolescents who would allow businesses to establish a
brand connection that would last into their adult years. The answer to dealing with the big
problem of ending adolescence is to create a marketplace where adolescence never ends,
especially if, as Riesman suggested, the character of all Americans was other-directed, so
that the adult in the American society behaved much like the teenager whose actions were
dictated by a desired acceptance from their peer group. The discourse of perpetual
adolescence sells youth and youthful sensibilities as a tie-in to whatever products are
being sold. In the 1960s, advertising agencies began making connections between the
potential benefit of tapping into the internal desires of consumers, the underlying desire of
consumers to connect to a romantic notion of childhood, and the ability of advertisers to
extend adolescence by destabilizing an individual‘s identity (by asking them to continue
to define themselves through consumption into their 20s and what is supposed to be their
adult years). Thus, the achievement of the culture industries is complete: to reopen the
period of adolescent struggle and crisis in adults so as to gain access to the individual who
possesses the adult wallet but the insecurity of an adolescent.
Chapter Six: 7 Up and the J. Walter Thompson Company1
The Seven-Up Brand
In 1929, C.L. Grigg, a local retailer in St. Louis, Missouri, left his job as a part
owner and marketer with the orange drink ―Howdy‖ to start his own soft drink brand. The
product was originally called the ―Bib-label Lithiated Lemon Lime Soda,‖ but in 1934
Grigg changed the product‘s name to ―7 Up.‖ The product began as a regional brand, but
by the late 1930s it was being distributed on the national scale. Unlike most other cola
companies at the time, the Seven-Up Company did not bottle the product in a national
manufacturing plant and then distribute it to local retailers. Instead, The Seven-Up
Company worked in conjunction with a series of regional and local ―bottlers‖ or
―developers‖ that received the syrup from the company‘s head office and then mixed and
bottled the product themselves in their own plants before distributing it to surrounding
retailers in their region. The Seven-Up Company sold franchise rights to regional
developers to produce their product but still maintained rigid and tight control over how
the product was to be made, distributed, and advertised. By 1966 The Seven-Up
Company had over 500 bottlers nation-wide and was the third-largest company in the soft
drink industry (behind Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola), spending $13 million annually in
advertising and selling 185 million cases of 7 Up a year. 2
The Seven-Up Company‘s licensing of franchise rights is an important moment in
the history of branding and branded products. Since 7 Up was not being produced by the
1 In this Chapter ―Seven-Up‖ is used to refer to the Seven Up Company while ―7 Up‖ is used to refer to the product. All of the 7 Up
advertisements discussed in this chapter are reproduced in Appendix 2.
2 Anonymous to Mr. Thayer Jaccaci, memorandum, 29 January 1952, Information Center Corporate Vertical Files, Box 27, JWT
Papers; Pat Paterson to Dan Zahner, memorandum, 23 April 1965, Advertising Vertical File, Box 13, J. Walter Thompson Company.
Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library, Duke University (here after cited as JWT Papers); Ted Sanchagrin, ―Colas
Clobber Foes‖ Marketing/Communications, June 1968, Advertising Vertical Files, Box 13, JWT Papers.
company, but instead in local plants, to ensure that a uniform of quality was maintained in
both production and marketing, The Seven-Up Company had to place an excessive
amount of energy towards brand identity and brand consciousness. This is because the
Seven-Up Company didn‘t produce 7 Up (local bottlers did that) but instead produced the
7 Up brand that they sold to local bottlers who then produced the product and sold it
under the umbrella of the national brand being built by the company. This speaks to both
the importance of creating a brand identity for 7 Up but also to why 7 Up needed a strong
national advertising campaign. The practice of manufacturing a brand identity is precisely
the issue at stake with the developments of modern branding, according to Naomi Klein
in No Logo.3 According to Klein, by the end of the twentieth century, brand
advertisements had shifted the consumer‘s focus away from the manufacturing of
products; in that the quality and utility of the product were not what the primary interest
of the customer.4 The focus of manufacturing is removed from the physical production
and reproduction of products and relocated to the mystical realm of ideas and the creation
of a brand image; it is the brand that they are selling. The manufacturing of brands is very
similar to the highlighting of lifestyles in advertising (discussed in Chapter 2), in that
advertising in the 20th century moved the focus of consuming away from the utility of the
object towards the illusionary feelings and emotions associated with the purchasing of the
product. For example, in marketing a product like the Ford Mustang (discussed in
Chapter 4), the marketing discourse of perpetual adolescence in advertisements
highlighted feelings of love, sex, inclusion, and acceptance while placing very little
emphasis on the function of driving the car to get to work (or to a destination).
3 Naomi Klein, No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies (New York: Picador, 2000).
4 Klein, No Logo, 3.
This chapter aims to tie together the first five chapters, which map the movement
of discourses from psychology into the advertising agency and the creation of youth and
youthful sensibilities as a sellable commodity, by providing textual analysis of
advertisements from the Seven-Up Company between 1944 and 1969. It is during this
period that 7 Up became marketed by J.W. Thompson and 7 Up became an established
national brand with a strong market share in the soft drink marketplace. In 1945, J.W.
Thompson and the Seven-Up Company launched their first multimedia national
advertising campaign, and within a decade the Seven-Up Company had risen to third in
market share in the soft drink industry, and first place in the non-cola market, a position it
held throughout the 1960s.5 The early print and billboard advertisements of the Seven-Up
Company produced by the J. Walter Thompson Company clearly demonstrate how
business practices like market segmentation and branding along with psychological
techniques that highlighted the life-cycle, peer influence, and group identity were present
inside the advertising industry in the post-war period. The connection between 7 Up
advertisements and the marketing discourse of perpetual adolescence is evident in the
company‘s focus on ―the all family drink‖ at the time, which attempted to market its
product to all age categories.
7 Up Advertising and Market Segmentation in the 1940s and 50s
Advertising of 7 Up until 1942 was conducted regionally by the developers but in
conjunction with the head office, which often provided copy and slogans for local and
regional use. In 1942, the Seven-Up Company became a client of the J. Walter Thompson
Company, with the goal of establishing a national marketing program that all of the
5 The J. Walter Thompson Company, ―The Soft Drink Industry‖ [nd], 35, New Business Records, Box 2, JWT Papers.
regional bottlers could buy into and benefit from. The Seven-Up Company also hoped to
increase its national sales, especially in a war-time economy that focused on rationing.
With soft drinks being ―non-essential products‖ with a main ingredient, sugar, under
rationing restrictions, the Seven-Up Company hoped that a national advertising strategy
could help the product‘s sales grow.6 In 1943, the first advertising budget of the J. Walter
Thompson Company partnership with the Seven-Up Company was considered an
exploratory budget, at approximately $200,000. 7 Immediately, the J. Walter Thompson
Company worked to build on the existing war-bond advertisements that were already
familiar to and popular with the American public to help create a national brand image for
the Seven-Up Company. One of the early successes of the relationship between the
Seven-Up Company and J.W. Thompson in creating national brand awareness can be
seen in their first national ad campaign together in 1944, where the Seven-Up Company
built on the patriotism and familiarity of the ―support the war movement‖ advertisements
to help get its new product some much needed brand recognition in the national
marketplace dominated by Coca-Cola (see Figure 9 below). These early ads are an
example of the sophistication of the practices used by the J. Walter Thompson Company
in its selling of 7 Up.
6 The J. Walter Thompson, the J. Walter Thompson Company/the J. Walter Thompson Company Chicago Michigan Ave. News: A
Special Commemorative Issue highlighting the first 30 years of the Partnership between The Seven-UP Company and J. Walter
Thompson/ Chicago (Chicago: J. Walter Thompson [1971?]). Information Center Corporate Vertical Files, Box 27, JWT Papers.
7 The J. Walter Thompson, [A History of the Seven-Up Company ?], [nd, 1955?], 2, New Business Records, Box 2, ―7 Up‖, JWT
Figure 9: ―Support the War Movement‖ 1944 advertisements, 7 Up, J. Walter Thompson
Domestic Ads, J. Walter Thompson Company. Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special
Collections Library, Duke University.
The images are identical between the ―fighter backer‖ and 7 Up ads, with the
exception that bottles of 7 Up are superimposed into the hands of the fighter backer
characters. The only change between the two ads is in the copy. In the ―fighter backer‖
ad, the copy informs the reader that ―a fighter backer is a patriotic American, man,
woman, or child, that does his share to back up our fighter.‖ In the 7 Up advertisement,
consumers are told that ―while war time production is limited, you can still get your
share.‖ In doing so, the goals of the advertising campaign were to connect the 7 Up brand
with the national exposure of the war movement in addition to connecting the product
with the wholesome values associated with American patriotism. The success of 7 Up‘s
connection to war time patriotism is in part due to the capitalist realism of advertising, in
which, as Schudson explains,
The pictures of life that ads parade before consumers are familiar, scenes of life as
in some sense we know it or would like to know it. Advertisements pick up and
represent values already in the culture. But these values, however deep or
widespread, are not the only ones people have or aspire to, and the pervasiveness
of advertising makes us forget this. Advertising picks up some of the things that
people hold dear and re-presents them to people as all of what they value, assuring
them that the sponsor is the patron of common ideals. 8
The sophistication of this advertising campaign lay in the fact that the 7 Up
advertisements were then placed in the same magazines as the fighter backer ads. This
allowed both the 7 Up and fighter backer advertisements to benefit from each other‘s ad
placement, since the consumer came to associate them with each other.
Although the J. Walter Thompson Company advertisements for 7 Up made use of
all available forms of media (such as television, billboard, newspaper, and radio) the
primary focus of 7 Up advertisements was in magazine publications, because they already
delivered a customer of middle class income to advertisers and because of their flexibility
to produce national advertisements for regionally diverse markets.9 For example, 7 Up,
with its many regional bottlers, would increase advertisements in regions where 7 Up
sales were strongest as a bonus and reward for strong sales, at the same time as it could
increase its advertising coverage in regions where local sales were lower and in need of
additional support. Furthermore, it provided the J. Walter Thompson Company and the
Seven-Up Company the flexibility to increase local advertisement coverage to increase
awareness of a contest or promotion that was not nationally available but only regional.
With a product such as 7 Up, where hundreds of franchised regional bottlers nationwide
were responsible for their own promotions, this allowed all of the bottlers access to the
8 Michael Schudson, ―Advertising as Capitalist Realism‖ in Advertising, the Uneasy Persuasion: It’s Dubious Impact on American
Society, 209-233 (New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1984) 233.
9 The J. Walter Thompson, ―The Contribution of Magazines to the Growth of Seven-Up‖ 1959, .2, New Business Records, Box 2, ―7
Up‖, JWT Papers.
national medium of magazines and to the national advertising budget of the parent
company while still maintaining some level of independence that made it possible to
center their focus on their particular local consumer base. Another benefit of advertising
through magazines was that unlike television or newspapers, magazines already came
with a pre-determined audience. Since the majority of magazine sales came through home
subscriptions, the advertiser was already aware of who the potential customer was and
could tailor-make its advertisements specifically for its local or regional audience based
on whether the subscription base was urban or rural, or based on its race, gender, or class.
For example, if the address of the home subscription was located in the south side of
Chicago versus the north, or in Manhattan versus Queens, it immediately provided the
advertiser with a set of socio-economic variables that they could attach to the consumer
and their purchasing patterns.
The practice of market segmentation in advertisements was something that the J.
Walter Thompson Company employed from the beginning of its relationship with the
Seven-Up Company and found very successful. In this practice, the J. Walter Thompson
Company would create two advertisements, identical in all ways except for one
distinguishing feature that would highlight who the target audience of the advertisement
was. Often this practice would occur with the J. Walter Thompson Company creating two
identical print advertisements but targeting one to the African American audience and one
to white America. For example, in Figure 10 below, black actors were used in an
advertisement placed in Ebony magazine, whereas white actors were used in the
advertisements placed in Readers Digest, Seventeen, Life, and Saturday Evening Post.
Figure10: ―Boys Like Girls Who Make Seven-Up Floats‖ 1960 advertisements, 7 Up, J.
Walter Thompson Domestic Ads, J. Walter Thompson Company. Rare Book, Manuscript,
and Special Collections Library, Duke University.
Although staged to be addressed to teenagers, the actors‘ age appears youthful but
ambiguous. Schudson suggests that this ambiguity around the characters in an
advertisement is a paramount feature of capitalist realism in advertising. ―The people
pictured in magazine ads or television commercials are abstract people. … The actor or
model does not play a particular person but a social type or a demographic category.‖10 In
the advertisement ―Boys Like Girls Who Make Seven-Up Floats,‖ the people in the ad are
made to look young enough to be teenagers but old enough to also be young adults. By
placing this advertisement in both Readers Digest and Seventeen, it is obvious that a
conscious effort was made by the advertiser to ensure that either the actors in the ad
10 Schudson, ―Advertising as Capitalist Realism‖ 211.
appear both younger and older, and that there can be no mistaking them for being either
one or the other. Schudson suggests that this is a conscious displacement of age and class
by the advertisers before the ad is made. ―An actress seeking a role in a television
commercial is expected to have two wardrobes ready for auditions: standard and
‗upscale.‘ She is to represent either the middle-American housewife or the affluent
American housewife, but never a particular person.‖ 11 The ambiguity of the characters
extends to race, since both versions of the ―Boys Like Girls Who Make Seven-Up Floats‖
advertisement are identical except for the use of black and white actors. The product and
the feelings associated with consuming the product are stripped of class, age, and racial
distinctions and given a brand image that allows all consumers from all demographics the
opportunity to both relate to the product and picture themselves achieving a sense of
happiness from its consumption. Returning to the discussion of niche and segmented
markets in Chapter 4, advertisers at the J. Walter Thompson Company recognized the
importance of market segmentation, as can be seen by the creation of advertisements for
both black and white consumers. Advertisers also recognized the importance of creating
niche markets based on feelings (like youthful sensibilities), and they aimed to create
advertisements that would give advertisers access to one all-encompassing niche market
whether black or white.
The ―Boys Like Girls Who Make 7 Up Floats‖ advertisement (see figure 10
above) also carries with it a strongly gendered representation of youth. First, the
advertisement appears to serve as a training guide for young girls. Angela R. Record
explains in her piece on the creation of the female teenage consumer, ―Born to Shop:
Teenage Women and the Marketplace in the Post War United States,‖ that since the end
11 Ibid., 212.
of the Second World War, the American culture industries have worked to create a niche
market for teenagers that was different from adulthood.12 Furthermore, within this
teenage marketplace, there were two marketing discourses, one for females and
commodities targeted to them, and likewise one for males. ―Popular culture worked to
perpetuate the ideology of the ideal woman by wedding impossible physical standards
with a desire for domesticity. In particular, industries targeted teenage women in ways
that emphasized their social roles as wives, mothers, and homemakers.‖13 The discourse
behind the female teenage marketplace was in many ways a continuation of the female
marketing discourse of the 1920s that set out to socialize the role of the housewife with
that of the purchaser of household goods.14 Likewise, the marketing discourse of the
1950s and magazines such as Seventeen aimed to return women to domestic roles, and to
offer them advice to help them beautify themselves so that in turn they might be able to
find themselves a good husband. Magazines targeted to teenage girls, such as Seventeen,
where the above ad was published, continually repeated this theme in its articles: that ―the
right product could help young woman attain the ‗proper image‘ necessary to attract a
husband.‖15 Secondly, the advertisement is implying to the male consumer that the
potential for ―good‖ and ―wholesome‖ sexual gratification could be obtained through
consuming 7 Up. As Elaine Tyler May notes in Homeward Bound, ―in the popular media,
women‘s sexuality became increasingly central to their identity. The promising as well as
the troublesome potential of female eroticism found expression in the plots and genre of
12 Angela R. Record, ―Born to Shop: Teenage Women and the Marketplace in the Post War United States‖ in Sex & Money: Feminism
and Political Economy in the Media. Eds. Ellen Riordan and Eileen R. Meehan, 181-195 (Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press:
13 Ibid., 186.
14 Roland Marchand. Advertising the American Dream: Making Way for Modernity. Los Angeles, University of California Press:
15 Record, ―Born to Shop‖ 188-189.
the decade. From the late forties to the fifties, subordination made the difference between
good or bad female sexuality.‖ 16 For the girl in the advertisement, her sexuality is
portrayed as good and wholesome because she is performing a subservient role to her
male counterparts, and the male characters surrounding her confirm this representation
through the smiles on their faces that suggest that they are most happy to oblige.
The All Family Drink: Lifestyle Marketing to all Lifestyles
The practice of market segmentation allowed the J. Walter Thompson Company
and the Seven-Up Company to get the most mileage out of their advertisements, since
they would only have to write one set of advertisements for the entire consumer
population, and then they could refine that one advertisement to meet the requirements of
the target audience based on race, gender, or age. This was also the idea behind ―the all
family drink‖ campaign, which allowed the J. Walter Thompson Company to write one
set of advertisements to appeal to consumers of all age categories.
By 1946 the J. Walter Thompson Company had begun researching the brand
awareness and image of the 7 Up product by using their Consumer Panel to track
consumer spending patterns in the cola and soft drink industry at the regional and national
level and to gain a sense of how people felt about the product 7 Up. The responses from
the Consumer Panel were positive, in that the brand enjoyed a high level of satisfaction
from consumers; however, both the J. Walter Thompson Company and the Seven-Up
Company were shocked by the responses of the panel as to why they liked 7 Up. In its
initial advertisements in the early 1930s, 7 Up was sold along three main themes: its
refreshing taste that worked to cure seven types of hangovers; as a dieting agent because
16 Elaine Tyler May, Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era (New York: Basic Books, 1999) 63.
the carbonated soda was filling; and as a medicinal product with the ability to settle an
upset stomach.17 Responses from the Consumer Panel suggested that the reason people
enjoyed 7 Up was not for any of those features, but simply because of the flavor. Of even
greater importance was that 7 Up was a drink enjoyed by all members in the family, in all
age groups, from children to grandparents. 18 Realizing that this was a unique attribute to
the product, the national advertising campaigns of 7 Up at the J. Walter Thompson
Company over the next decade focused on the ―fresh taste‖ of 7 Up and on its ―all-
family‖ appeal, as can be seen in the three primary slogans for copy, which were often
repeated in the same advertisement: ―Fresh Up with Seven-Up‖; ―The All-Family Drink‖;
and ―You like it … it likes you.‖ Packaged with these slogans, the Seven-Up Company
established the green glass bottle as its brand logo and corporate trademark and placed it
firmly in the forefront of all of its advertisements, against a backdrop of wholesome
American family goodness where all family members were equal consumers of 7 Up.
Focusing on the theme of the ―all family drink,‖ 7 Up advertisements produced
between 1944 and 1969 often included copy that stressed the ―age-less-ness‖ of the 7 Up
product and of its consumers by posturing what Hall and Freud had deemed ―the
destabilized identity of adolescence‖ through a romanticized and nostalgic lens.
17 Harry Mitchell ―The Seven-Up Story‖ (J. Walter Thompson, ), 1, Information Center Corporate Vertical Files, Box 27, JWT
Papers. The seven types of hangovers that 7 Up claimed to cure were: over-drinking, under-drinking, over-work, over-worry, over-
eating, over-smoking, and over application.
18 [A History of the Seven-Up Company], 2.
Figure 11: ―The All Family Drink‖ 1948 advertisement, 7 Up, J. Walter Thompson
Domestic Ads, J. Walter Thompson Company. Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special
Collections Library, Duke University.
In ―the all family drink‖ advertisement in Figure 11 above, consumers are informed that
the 7 Up product is ―so pure, so good, [and] so wholesome for everyone!‖ The desire to
consume the product is emphasized by the large, script-like copy that informs the
consumer that not only will they like the product, but that the product also likes them.
Returning to the discussion of group theory from Chapter 4, the slogan ―you like it and it
likes you‖ offers the individual consumer access to a reference group made up of other
consumers of the product, and in turn it promises that their acceptance into this group is
guaranteed. Schudson suggests that entry into imaginary consumer groups is vital to the
representation of a capitalist realism in advertising. 19 According to Schudson, advertising
―connects the consumer not only to an item for sale and a person selling it but to an
19 Schudson, ―Advertising as Capitalist Realism‖ 213.
invisible, yet present, audience of others attuned to the same item for sale and the same
symbols used to promote it. Advertising is part of the establishment and a reflection of a
common symbolic culture.20 In maintaining that 7 Up was not just a kid‘s drink and not
just an adult‘s drink either, the Seven-Up Company and the J. Walter Thompson
Company blurred the lines of adolescence and adulthood by creating a reference group of
youthful consumers that was not bound to the chronological categories of ages.21
Advertisers used this to their advantage to sell their product, not only to teenagers – who
consumed the largest amount of soft drinks – but also to young adults and heads of
households in the 25-to-44-year-old age bracket, who, as mentioned in Chapter 5,
represented the most desired category of consumer spending.
In addition to copy that stressed ―the all family,‖ the appeal of 7 Up
advertisements produced at the J. Walter Thompson Company between 1944 and 1969
exemplified the marketing discourse of perpetual adolescence often through images that
highlighted the nostalgic value of youth by placing adults in youthful situations (see
Figure 12 below). Returning to the discussion of the ―commodity-youth trap‖ in the
introduction, advertisements such as ―Pizza Fire in your Throat‖ explicitly sell a romantic
discourse of childhood while implicitly drawing consumers back into a state of
adolescence, where the insecurities of identity formation and peer group acceptance are
magnified and the socially appropriate way to resolve these issues is through the
continual consumption of consumer goods that represent the lifestyle desired by the
20 Ibid., 210.
21 This is the ―imagined community of youth‖ that I introduced in Chapter Four and return to at greater length in the Conclusion.
Figure 12: ―Pizza Fire in your Throat‖ 1962 advertisement, 7 Up, J. Walter Thompson
Domestic Ads, J. Walter Thompson Company. Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special
Collections Library, Duke University.
The copy from the advertisement focuses on the wholesome values associated with 7 Up
by emphasizing its ―fresh, clean taste.‖ At the same time, however, the images in the
advertisement blur the lines between adulthood and adolescence. Set inside the home of
the suburban, nuclear family, the adults are framed like children as they enjoy the
youthful pleasures of a pizza party while sitting on the floor, eating with their hands, and
wearing bibs. The bibs of the adults embody the marketing discourse of perpetual
adolescence, especially given that they are embroidered with youthful nicknames like
―the pizza kid‖ or with child-care instructions such as ―spare this shirt.‖
T.J. Jackson Lears suggests that the therapeutic roots of consumer culture are
found in the mixing of psychological discourses in advertising and in the desire of the
consumer to turn to products to play the role of doctor, minister, or therapist and release
all of the tensions of the modern world and mass society. 22
To a bourgeoisie suffering from identity diffusion and inner emptiness, the
creators of the therapeutic ethos offered harmony, vitality, and the hope of self-
realization. The paths to self-realization could vary. One might seek wholeness
and security through careful management of personal resources; or one might
pursue emotional fulfillment and endless ―growth‖ through intense experience.
These approaches were united by several assumptions [such as] an implicit
nostalgia for the vigorous health allegedly enjoyed by farmers, children, and
others ―close to nature.‖23
In the advertisement ―Pizza Fire in your Throat,‖ the adults are portrayed as experiencing
emotional fulfillment through their enjoyment of the vigorous health of children by
partaking in the child-like activity of the pizza party. Meanwhile, the only child in the
advertisement is left to the backdrop of the advertisement, standing on the staircase
overlooking what we assume are her parents partaking in youthful pleasures. The child is
not only absent from the picture but is a hand-drawn cartoon and not a real-life
photograph, like the adults, to ensure that the illusion of youth presented in the adult
characters is not compromised by the presence of an actual, physical child. Again, in the
―Pizza Fire in your Throat‖ ad, the representation of the youthfulness is impacted by the
representation of gender. In this advertisement, it is the men who are the focus of the
advertisement, engaged in play and leisure, whereas the women are placed into
subservient roles. One of the two women shown in the advertisement is placed in the
22 T.J. Jackson Lears, ―From Salvation to Self-realization: Advertising and the Therapeutic Roots of the Consumer Culture, 1880-
1930‖ in The Culture of Consumption: Critical Essays in American History, 1880-1980. Eds. Richard Wightman Fox and T.J. Jackson
Lears, 1-38 (New York: Pantheon Books, 1983).
23 Ibid., 11.
backdrop of the ad, like the female child, and her role in the advertisement is to serve
what one can assume is her boyfriend or husband. The other woman, although in the
forefront of the ad, is only partially participating in the practice of eating the pizza, in that
she is sitting with her back to the camera and without a bib. The women in this
advertisement serve domesticated, adult roles and are kept from participating in the
youthful pleasures associated with eating the hot and spicy pizza, which is represented as
a masculine activity that is only for the youthful, male adults to enjoy.
The placement of children in 7 Up advertisements at this time was also ambiguous
(see Figures 13 and 14 below). Advertisements that were clearly targeted towards an adult
audience tended to place children in adult-like situations, and in doing so blurred the lines
between who was an adult and who was a child.
Figure 13: ―Why we have the Youngest Customers in the Business‖ 1955 advertisement,
7 Up, J. Walter Thompson Domestic Ads, J. Walter Thompson Company. Rare Book,
Manuscript, and Special Collections Library, Duke University.
The advertisement ―Why we have the youngest customers in the business‖ shows an 11-
month-old baby drinking 7 Up from a bottle that is being held by what the reader is to
assume is the hand of the baby‘s mother. Child-soothing images such as a plush toy lamb
and a rubber ball surround the bottle of 7 Up placed in the bottom-left-hand corner of the
advertisement. However, the copy of the advertisement clearly distinguishes this as
targeted to moms and dads and not to babies. Moms are told that 7 Up is ―so pure, so
wholesome that you can give it to babies and feel good about it,‖ and they are encouraged
to mix 7 Up with the baby‘s milk to help moms to get their children to drink their milk.
The advertisement also makes an appeal to dads. In small type set next to the baby, a
caption reads ―watch Soldiers of Fortune every week,‖ a television show sponsored by 7
Up. Although the images of the advertisement suggest children are at the forefront of this
ad, the copy suggests that it is adults that the company is targeting through images of the
Similarly, in the ―Let‘s Play House‖ advertisement in Figure 14 below, child
actors are pictured living out the everyday actions of adults. Sue, a young girl around the
age of eight, is dressed as the suburban housewife, happily presenting a tray of 7 Up and
sandwiches to Tommy, who is dressed in a robe and slippers sitting in ―dad‘s chair‖ while
reading a newspaper. The copy explains, ―Let‘s play house says Sue to Tommy … you be
dad and I‘ll be mommy and fresh up just the way they do.‖ Again, the images in the
advertisement suggest that the ad is focusing on a younger consumer; however, the copy
of the ad highlights how the audience of the ad is an adult audience. In the bottom-right-
hand corner of the ad, moms and dads are told to ―pick up a family supply‖ of 7 Up and
to buy it by the case. Here, 7 Up is again presented as the all family drink, ―so pure, so
good, and so wholesome that everyone from the tiniest tots to grandmas‖ can enjoy it.
The wholesomeness of the product is then positioned against the wholesomeness of the
nuclear family that the children in the ad are reproducing by playing house. The
ambiguity of age used by the J. Walter Thompson Company in selling 7 Up at the time
not only blurred the lines between adulthood and adolescence by staging the product as
the ―all family drink‖ but also presented nostalgic images of youth and childhood in a
therapeutic fashion by stationing children in advertisements that reinforced the
wholesomeness of the nuclear family.
Figure 14: ―Let‘s Play House‖ 1954 advertisement, 7 Up, J. Walter Thompson Domestic
Ads, J. Walter Thompson Company. Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections
Library, Duke University.
This ad, too, appears gendered. While we now think of grown men caring for their
own clothing, the image in the 1950s was certainly one of women doing the wash.
Therefore, the ad presents not just an infantilization but also women in a caretaking role
(just like the ―Boys Like Girls who Make Seven-Up Floats‖ ads above). Tyler May
suggests that in the post-war period, ―educated middle-class women, whose career
opportunities were severely limited, hoped that home would become not a confining place
of drudgery, but a liberating arena of fulfillment through professionalized homemaking,
meaningful childrearing, and satisfying sexuality.‖24 Therefore, in this ad, the domestic
space is work for the female character, as can be seen in her serving the husband, whereas
it is a space of relaxation and youthful leisure for the male character, as illustrated by his
attire (bathrobe) and his reading of the newspaper.
Even into the late 1960s, 7 Up continued to produce advertisements that
highlighted the age-less-ness of its product. In the 1967 ―Wet and Wild‖ campaign, there
is a focus on youthfulness in both the imagery and copy of the advertisement. Although
the image is a still photo of a waterfall, and not an action photo of young people
participating in group activities (as was the case with much of 7 Up ads in the late 1960s;
see the ―Where the Action Is‖ ads in Figure 15 below), when set next to the copy of ―Wet
and Wild,‖ the waterfall suggests a fun, exciting, vibrant, and youthful flare. This
youthful flare is further picked up in the last line of the text, which states ―the one soft
drink you never out grow.‖ Therefore, the ―Wet and Wild‖ campaign, although targeted at
an older audience than teenagers, was still attempting to highlight feelings of
youthfulness and age-less-ness to its consumers.
24 Tyler May, Homeward Bound , 22.
Figure 15: ―Wet and Wild‖ 1967 advertisements, 7 Up, J. Walter Thompson Domestic
Ads, J. Walter Thompson Company. Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections
Library, Duke University.
The Youth Sell and the Cola Wars
The practice of marketing to a consumer who was chronically young but not
chronologically young existed in more than just the soft drink industry. In Chapter 4, two
advertisements for the Ford Mustang were analyzed for their approach to selling youth, to
show how the marketing discourse of perpetual adolescence existed in more than just the
soft drink industry. It highlights how the J. Walter Thompson Company marketed Ford
products, and more specifically its advertisements of the Ford Mustang in the1960s, by
attempting to sell a lifestyle of leisure to an adult consumer that was epitomized by a
connection to youthful sensibilities.
Likewise, the practices of the marketing discourse of perpetual adolescence are
not isolated to 7 Up advertisements at the time. The soft drink industry appears to have
always been in tune with the tenets of the marketing discourses of perpetual adolescence.
The soft drink industry has been historically dominated by colas and in the 20 th century
especially by national brands, primarily Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola. Al Ries and Jack
Trout state in The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing: Violate Them at Your Own Risk that
the first national brand in an industry, in most cases, remains the dominant brand in that
area.25 Proof of this was already demonstrated in Chapter 2 when it was pointed out that
brands that ranked first in their respective categories, like Coca-Cola, still enjoyed that
position in the American marketplace at the end of the 20th century. 26 Ries and Trout‘s
second law of marketing is that a second national brand may in fact occupy a significant
market share (although never enough to displace the first and established brand), but in
order to do so it will have to differentiate itself from the primary brand, and since they are
ultimately selling the same product, the differences that it will highlight are illusionary. 27
An example of this in the soft drink industry can be seen in the advertisements of the
second-largest company, Pepsi Cola. Tom Frank, in his discussion of ―the cola wars‖ in
The Conquest of Cool¸ noted that Pepsi Cola worked to create a difference between itself
and Coca-Cola in the post-war period by creating the brand image of ―the Pepsi
Generation‖ and attempting to paint Coke as the drink of the establishment against whom
25 Al Ries and Jack Trout, The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing: Violate them at your own Risk (New York: Harper Business, 1993)
26 Thomas K. McCraw, American Business, 1920-2000: How it Worked (Wheeling, Illinois: Harlan Davidson Inc, 2000).
27 Ries and Trout, The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, 11.
the youth of the country could rebel by selecting a soft drink designed specifically for
The J. Walter Thompson Company researchers, in assessing the soft drink
industry for its 7 Up clients, recognized that there was a basic trend of themes that was
followed in newspaper and magazine advertisements of soft drink companies up until the
early 1950s.29 The advertisements of soft drink companies tended not to focus on the
spectacular but on the ordinary, every day lives of Americans. Soft drink advertisements
centered on simple themes by placing individuals, families, and the peer group in positive
situations and familiar settings, like the home, the park, a birthday party, or a picnic. 30 In
aiming to establish brand identity, soft drink advertisements worked to create a sense of
distinction, in which the respectability of a person‘s party or social function was not in
who was invited, but in what soft drink was served (see Figure 16 below).
28 Thomas Frank, The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism, (Chicago: University
of Chicago Press.1997) 169-183.
29 [A History of the Seven-Up Company], 30-33.
Figure 16 ―Sparkle‖ 1956 advertisement, Coca-Cola, Lightner Collection of Antique
Advertisements, Box 3.. Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library, Duke
As Frank notes, this practice in soft drink advertisements remained at Coca Cola
throughout the 1960s, with advertising campaigns that suggested ―Things go Better with
Coke‖ (see Figure 17 below).31
Figure 17: ―Things go Better with Coke‖ 1965 advertisement, Coca-Cola, Lightner
Collection of Antique Advertisements, Box 3.. Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special
Collections Library, Duke University.
31 Frank, The Conquest of Cool, 176.
Frank suggests that Pepsi advertisements in the 1960s were set up as the antithesis of
Coca-Cola and that their success was not in stressing what Pepsi was, but rather what it
was not, namely, Coke.32
Ever since the invention of the Pepsi Generation in the early 1960s, Pepsi has
offered not just a soda but a vision of its consumers as impudent insurrectionaries,
sassy upstarts flouting the dull, repressive mores of the past. As with 7 Up,
enlisting youthful vitality and insurgency was a natural strategy for Pepsi, locked
in a difficult battle with longstanding market leader Coca-Cola.33
Frank quotes the vice-president of advertising agency BBDO (who handled the Pepsi
account in the 1960s) explaining the focus of advertising campaigns for Pepsi: ―I think
the greatest thing that Pepsi-Cola ever did was make Pepsi the official drink … of young
America. The other drink is for those other people called Dad and Mom. That‘s right!
Loathsome.‖34 The strategy for Pepsi, according to Frank, was to focus advertisements on
youth. But youth for Pepsi ―was an attitude towards living – and particularly towards
consuming – rather than a specific age group.‖35 An example of this can be seen in the
Pepsi ads between 1961 and 1963, when the term ―Pepsi Generation‖ was first introduced
and designed around the copy tag line ―for those who think young‖ (see Figure 18 below).
32 Ibid., 171
33 Ibid., 169.
34 Quoted in Frank, The Conquest of Cool, 172.
35 Ibid., 171.
Figure 18: ―Now it‘s Pepsi-for those who Think Young‖ 1963 advertisement, Pepsi Cola,
the Pepsi-Cola Advertising Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American
History, Archives Behring Center, Smithsonian Institution.
As illustrated with the brief discussion of the Ford Mustang in Chapter 4, the soft drink
industry is not alone in its highlighting of youth to sell its products. Within the soft drink
industry, 7 Up was not the only company involved in targeting the youth market and the
youthful marketplace in their ads.
According to Ries and Trout, after the first two major corporations are established
in the marketplace, all other entries would be successful only if they were able to carve
out a distinct niche market that neither of the two most dominant companies occupied. 36
The obvious niche for 7 Up was that it was a lemon-lime soda instead of a cola, but this
was in a marketplace that also featured more than 100 other lemon-lime sodas in the
36 Ries and Trout, The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, 11,45-47.
1930s.37 The niche market for the Seven-Up Company, and its success throughout the
1940s and 1950s, when it climbed to its peak position of third in industry sales behind
Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola, was to establish itself as the ―all family drink‖ that could be
consumed by all age groups. It could then sell images of youth, leisure, and consumption
to this unified family market. As Pepsi focused on ―young America‖ and Coke focused on
―wholesome family values,‖ 7 Up attempted to attract both markets through its
advertising focus on ―the all family drink.‖ 7 Up advertisements with the J. Walter
Thompson Company between 1945 and 1954 revolved around this theme, which used
ideas from adolescent psychology to create a brand that privileged the youthful consumer
at the same time as 7 Up continued to market itself as a drink for consumers of all ages.
Where There’s Action: The Peer Group
Although the bottling of soft drinks and the soft drink industry had been around since the
Civil War in the United States, the industry experienced a significant boom in the post-
war economy thanks in large part to the increase in population, middle-class incomes, and
leisure time. As J. Walter Thompson executives noted, ―[people] with leisure time do
more things that seem to ‗go with‘ soft drinks. People with good incomes seem to drink
more [soft drinks], even though the unit cost is low…[and] ‗war babies‘ have become
teenagers, and teenagers as a group drink more carbonated beverages than other
groups.‖38 Two other distinct changes in lifestyle after the Second World War affected the
sales of soft drinks: the large-scale emergence of television in the home, which resulted in
―keeping all members of the family at home more hours of the week‖; and the increase in
37 Harry Mitchell ―The Seven-Up Story‖ (J. Walter Thompson, ), 1, Information Center Corporate Vertical Files, Box 27, JWT
38 [A History of the Seven-Up Company] 12-13.
supermarket shopping ―with more than one member of the family visiting the store.‖39
The ―all family drink‖ focus of 7 Up advertisements in the post-war period attempted to
tap into the home market, since in 1948, 49% of all bottled soft drinks were consumed in
the home, a number that would rise to 62% by 1956. Researchers at the J. Walter
Thompson Company attributed this rise directly to the increase in homes with television
sets.40 Furthermore, the focus of 7 Up also took a ―youthful approach‖ since, as research
statistics at the J. Walter Thompson Company indicated, teenagers were the primary
consumers of soft drinks and it was through building their desire to drink 7 Up that the
company saw the best gateway into increasing its sales in the home market. In 7 Up ads
at this time, the consumer, whether young or old, was continually reminded of how their
acceptance in the family or peer group could be enhanced through the consumption of 7
Up at the same time as they were reminded that their individuality came from enjoying
the beverage. Themes of individuality juxtaposed with images of the peer group and
family illuminate how the soft drink industry was always a breeding ground for the
marketing discourse of perpetual adolescence.
In the 1960s, advertisements for the Seven-Up Company, like the ―Where There‘s
Action‖ Campaign, built upon the insecurities of the individual in a homogenized society
in post-war America by drawing on the topics of peer influence and group identity from
social psychology. In Figure 19 below, the ―Where There‘s Action‖ campaign printed a
series of ads highlighting how 7 Up could be found where the ―action crowd‖ was, and
the 1967 ―How to Mix‖ ad promises popularity by mixing alcoholic drinks with 7 Up. All
three of these ads are youthful in presentation and in copy but the image content suggests
39 Ibid., 14.
that the target audience for these advertisements is in fact the young adult market.
Building on the findings of the Personality Profile Project (discussed in Chapter 4),
advertisers at the J. Walter Thompson Company were aware that people in all age
categories expressed high levels of the need for association. 41 By placing 7 Up as a
product to be consumed in groups using slogans such as ―Where There‘s Action,‖
advertisers at the J. Walter Thompson Company were appealing to this psychological
need for association. Furthermore, as discussed in Chapter 5, by the middle of the 1960s
advertisers were acutely aware of the potential of selling youthful attributes and
sensibilities to consumers in the 25-to-44 age bracket. The images of the ―Where there‘s
Action‖ advertisements place actors whose age is ambiguous but youthful in youthful
scenarios. Here, the symbol of youth replaces the physical age restrictions of adolescence
and, as Lears explains, this helps create a therapeutic feeling of happiness, which in the
case of 7 Up ads was made possible by connecting those consumers who are no longer
chronologically young with the romanticized sensibilities of youthfulness. 42
Advertising helped to create a culture in which there were few symbols rooted in
specific customs (as in traditional cultures), nor even many signs with specific
referents (as in Victorian print culture). There were only floating, detached images
that (like the flickering faces in the movies) promised therapeutic feelings of
emotional or sensuous excitement. But fulfillment seemed always just out of
Although chronologically, youth may be out of reach of the consumer, youthfulness
according to advertisers was not. The therapeutic nature of the marketing discourse of
perpetual adolescence allowed what William Whyte called the ―Organizational Man,‖ the
41 J. Walter Thompson Research Department, ―Personality Profile Project‖ (J. Walter Thompson, May 1958) Information Center
Records, JWT Papers (no page numbers).
42 Lears, ―From Salvation to Self-realization‖ 16-19.
43 Ibid., 22.
chance to be free from the constraints of his work life through consumption. 44 Likewise,
in the late 1960s, as the emerging counter-culture became associated with youth and
rebellion, the marketing discourse of perpetual adolescence offered the 25-to-44
consumers the opportunity to partake in feelings of rebellion in the socially acceptable
practice of consumption. Lears suggests that
[t]he worship of growth and process in the therapeutic ethos was closely allied
with other transformations in American culture: a ―revolt against formalism‖
among social scientists; a ―revolution in manners and morals‖ among the middle
and upper classes generally; the rise of a leisure ethic for those subject to a
regimented workplace. At the most obvious level, the therapeutic injunction to
―let go‖ eased adjustment to the rhythms of life under corporate capitalism. 45
Figure 19: ―Where There‘s Action‖ 1965 advertisements, ―How to Mix and be
Popular‖1967 advertisement, 7 Up, J. Walter Thompson Domestic Ads, J. Walter
Thompson Company. Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library, Duke
44 William H. White, The Organization Man, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1956).
45 Lears, ―From Salvation to Self-realization‖ 15.
Building on the existing knowledge of the youth market and in social psychological
discourses about the group, the ―how to mix and be popular‖ advertisement (in Figure 19
above) targeted an adult audience through youthful pleasures. The copy of the
advertisement suggests that the 7 Up product will provide access to ―mixing‖ in the sense
of mingling and socializing in both groups and reference groups and give the consumer
popularity with his or her peers. However, the image is targeted to an adult consumer
since ―mixing‖ here refers to combining non-alcoholic beverages with alcoholic
beverages. In the United States, the practice of ―mixing‖ is one that is relegated only to
those who fall outside of the age bracket that adolescent psychologists labeled as the
period of adolescence. Advertisements like ―where the action is‖ and ―how to mix and be
popular‖ highlight how the research inside the agency into consumer behaviour (such as
the Personality Profile Project) and into the demographics of the youth market (which
suggested that the prime consumer market was actually the 25-to-44-year-old heads of
household with youthful desires) had a direct affect on the practice of advertising of
consumer goods at the J. Walter Thompson Company.
By the end of 1960s, the practices of market segmentation, branding, and lifestyle
marketing had moved to the forefront of the advertising industry. Furthermore, the ―youth
sell,‖ that is selling to young consumers and selling youth to older consumers, had
become part of the regular practice inside the agency. 7 Up was at the forefront of this
movement. Branding and market segmentation had been part of their corporate strategy in
advertising since they began working with the J. Walter Thompson Company in 1942.
The focus on lifestyle marketing was at the core of the ―all family drink‖ campaign in
1948, and slogans like ―You like it and it Likes You‖ that were used in 7 Up ads as early
as 1946 pre-date the ―where there‘s action‖ campaign and Pepsi Generation‘s focus on
the peer group by almost two decades. In the practice of using the peer group, group
identity, and an imagined community as tools to increase sales in advertising, 7 Up then
stands as an excellent case study for the marketing discourse of perpetual adolescence.
Not because they were the only company whose advertisements practiced market
segmentation, branding, lifestyle marketing, and peer group influence, and not because
they were the only soft drink company who practice these, either. Instead, 7 Up always
seemed to be at the forefront of the entire advertising industry‘s movement away from
product-centered advertising to advertising that highlighted emotions and feelings – most
notably those associated with youth and youthfulness. This was partly due to their
association with the J. Walter Thompson Company and their commitment to research and
development in the area of consumer behaviour (which resulted in the Consumer Panel
and the Personality Profile Project), and partly due to their own production structure,
which saw them sell franchising rights to local bottlers; but mostly due to the fact that
they were not a cola and therefore had to work harder to attract consumer dollars in a soft
drink market dominated by colas.
Conclusion: Soda or Autos, it’s all the Same Thing
Between 1942 and 1969, the J. Walter Thompson Company produced
advertisements for the Seven-Up Company, helping their 7 Up product gain national
brand awareness and rise in sales to third in the soft drink industry behind Coca-Cola and
Pepsi Cola. The success of the brand and its advertisements was largely connected to the
sophistication of its ―all family drink‖ campaign. The campaign targeted both young
America, which was also the target audience of Pepsi Cola at the time, and older heads of
households interested in maintaining wholesome American values – the same group that
was the target audience of Coca-Cola at the time. From its initial advertisements with the
J. Walter Thompson Company, the strategy behind selling 7 Up appears to have always
been to sell their product as ―age-less.‖ This age-less-ness was best expressed in the
advertising slogan ―the all family drink,‖ which suggested that everyone from babies to
grandparents could (and did) happily consume 7 Up. Images of young people in adult
scenarios, like the ―lets play house advertisement,‖ or of older people acting young, like
in the ―pizza fire in your throat‖ advertisement, blurred the lines between adult and child
that adolescent psychology had suggested were firm and applicable to everyone. Actors in
the advertisements were ambiguously young and old at the same time, a tactic that helped
7 Up further reinforce its image of age-less-ness and the positive feelings of youthfulness
that were always implicitly implied in the advertisements. When the youth market
exploded as a target demographic for consumer sales in the 1960s, and when advertisers
later learned that there could be a profitable extension of this youth market to include
heads of households from the 25-to-44-year-old brackets, 7 Up and the J. Walter
Thompson Company continued their practice of age-less-ness with savvy slogans like
―where the action is‖ and ―how to mix and be popular.‖ The 7 Up advertisements used
ideas from social psychology and adolescent psychology that emerged in the first half of
the 20th century, which stressed the importance of the peer group on a person‘s behaviour.
The focus on ―age-less-ness‖ and ―youthfulness‖ was not exclusive to 7 Up or the soft
drink industry. Pepsi-Cola and other soft drink companies also targeted an imaginary
community of youth at this time. Likewise, industries from automobiles to pancakes also
participated in this practice. Customers of the J. Walter Thompson Company such as the
Ford Mustang and Aunt Jemima Pancake Mix also produced advertisements and
campaigns in the 1960s that attempted to sell youth as a tie-in commodity to an older
consumer. The case study of 7 Up does not illustrate the beginning of the marketing
discourse of perpetual adolescence, but rather helps to explain how the practice worked
and to highlight how many of the discourses from psychology became part of the
everyday practice of the advertising industry‘s continual quest for consumer dollars.
Conclusion: The Imagined Community of Youth
The Completion of Adolescence or Adolescence Prolonged?
The marketing discourse of perpetual adolescence suggests that the processes of
adolescence still begin in early puberty but no longer end at – indeed, they extend into –
adulthood. The topic of a prolonged adolescence appears to have been an area of study for
psychologists throughout the 20th century. In 1923, in ―A Typical Form of Male Puberty,‖
Siegfried Bernfeld first introduced the term ―prolonged adolescence‖ when examining
European youth movements in the aftermath of the First World War. 1 Bernfeld observed
that ―members of these groups presented a strong predilection for intellectualization and
sexual representation, thus delaying the resolution of adolescent conflict and, in
consequence, the personality consolidation of late adolescence.‖2 Fifty years later,
psychoanalyst Peter Blos took up the topic of prolonged adolescence in his 1979 work
Adolescent Passage. Blos examined prolonged adolescence in two eras: the years leading
up to 1955, and from 1955 to 1977. Blos examined male adolescents in American, middle
class families who were between the ages of 18 and 22 years old; he found that most of
his subjects in both eras (although at higher levels during the second era) had delayed the
entrance into adulthood either through a longer attendance in schooling or through living
at home and remaining financially dependent on their parents for a longer period of time.
According to Blos, ―instead of the progressive push, which normally carries the
adolescent into adulthood, prolonged adolescence arrests this forward motion with the
result that the adolescent process is not abandoned but kept open-ended.‖3 Blos‘ findings
suggest that prolonged adolescence was dangerous because‖[t]his dilemma leads to the
1 S. Bernfeld, ―Uber eine typische Form der männlichen Pubertät‖ Imago, 9 (1923) 169-188.
2 S. Bernfeld in Peter Blos, The Adolescent Passage: Developmental Issues (New York: International Universities Press, 1979) 38.
3 Ibid., 39.
contrivance of ingenious ways to combine childhood gratifications with adult
prerogatives. The adolescent strives to bypass the finality of choices and options exacted
at the close of adolescence.‖4 The works of Bernfeld and Blos highlight one of the core
arguments of this thesis: that discourses about what it means to be young and old are
social constructions and are always in the process of being defined and redefined.
In the introduction, it was stated that the American culture industries, most
notably advertising, played a central role in the construction and reconstruction of youth
throughout the 19th and 20th century. The ideas of Adorno and Horkheimer illustrated how
the identity of the American consumer in a mass consumer society becomes destabilized
through an over-saturation of images and lifestyles promoted for possible consumption.
Adorno and Horkheimer suggested that the culture industry did not randomly produce
valorized images of a consumption-based lifestyle, but instead, through a highly
specialized system of production, objects for consuming were given meaning in a pre-
planned manner. Consumers were sold ideas, not objects. The ideas connected to
consumption were liberation, freedom, and individuality. However, the promises of the
culture industry were illusionary. The liberation given to consumers was not from the
mechanical processes of the work week, but instead liberation from thinking and actively
engaging in the political and social issues surrounding them. The freedom given to
consumers was not to select and purchase all the joys of the modern world, but instead the
illusory freedom to choose from an already prescribed list of available commodities and
lifestyles. Here, Henry Ford‘s famous quote about purchasing a Model T Ford comes to
4 Ibid., 39.
mind: ―customers can have any color as long as it‘s black.‖ 5 And the individuality
promised by the culture industry – for consumers to distinguish themselves with in a mass
consumer society brought on by fears of homogeneity – was actually pseudo-
individuality, where all of the products and lifestyles offered by the culture industries
were the same. The only identities available for purchasing were in fact surrogate
identities, pre-planned and pre-packaged in advance by the culture industry and sold to
consumers through representations of happiness, leisure, and youth in advertising.
However, before there was a mass consumer society, there were already
competing discourses about what it meant to be young. In Chapter 1, I looked at how the
needs of a society influence the definition of what it means to be a child at any given
moment in time, and in any given geographical place. Examples were given as far back as
Plato, showing the educating of young people to be a form of socialization that has dealt
more with the fears, concerns, ambitions, and dreams of adults than it has with the actual
lived experiences of children. In modern Western culture, three discourses about children
have tended to form the dominant representations about what it means to be young: the
blank slate, the romantic, and the puritan discourses. The blank slate, posited by John
Locke in the 17th century, suggested that children were born tabula rasa and that all of
their knowledge was to be instructed and taught to them. The romantic discourse of
childhood is most commonly associated with Jean-Jacques Rousseau and his work Emile,
where children are viewed as innocent and naïve creatures, un-corrupted by the evils of
the world. The romantic discourse of childhood views childhood through a nostalgic lens
and proposes that all who leave childhood are then regretful and wish to return. The
5Brinkley suggests that it is unknown if Ford actually said this line that has been attributed to him. Douglas Brinkley,Wheels for the
World: Henry Ford, his Company, and a Century of Progress 1903-2003 (New York: Viking Penguin, 2003)181-182.
puritan discourse of childhood suggested that children needed to be sternly warned of
society‘s evils and sternly punished for not listening to such warnings. It viewed
childhood as a dangerous time by suggesting that children were inherently evil and in
need of protection from themselves and from the dangers and immorality of society.
Based on an intersection of these three competing discourses, childhood became
institutionalized by the early 20th century around the construct of the ―universal child‖ or
―generic American child‖ that presented childhood as a universal experience. The
institutionalization of childhood paralleled the institutionalization of adolescent
psychology, beginning in the late 19th century with G. Stanley Hall, but coming to
prominence in the first half of the 20th century with the popularized works of both
Sigmund Freud and John B. Watson. The psychoanalytic ideas about childhood posited
by Freud, and the behaviourist ideas about childhood posited by Watson, made their way
inside the advertising agency by the middle of the 20th century and became the foundation
upon which a significant amount of market research into consumer behaviour was
At the same time as childhood and adolescent psychology were institutionalized in
Western society, advancements in information and communication technologies, like the
telegraph and railroad, produced significant changes in the economic mode of production.
In Chapter 2, the rise of American big business, the managerial revolution, changes in
business structure, and the emergence and growth of a national advertising industry were
examined to highlight the important role that advertising played by the middle of the 20 th
century in the socialization of individuals. In an economy of monopoly capital,
advertising was necessary to keep the economy from stagnation, and in an affluent post-
war and mass consumer society, advertising was necessary to provide markers for taste
and distinction when traditional markers of class were being erased. Advertising played a
strong social role in the marking and maintaining of difference, but it also played an
important role in the construction and re-construction of gender, race, and age roles in
post-war society by providing examples of lifestyles that were represented as ―normal‖
against which all other lifestyles were to be judged. As Adorno and Horkheimer pointed
out, all who do not conform to the standards set by the culture industry are labeled as
outcasts and left to fend for themselves. Advertising was attacked in the post-war period
for being manipulative, but it was staunchly defended by ad people as doing nothing more
than providing information to consumers who then would decide for themselves whether
or not to purchase goods. As a result, Chapter 2 defined advertising as:
[a]n economic, social, cultural and psychological negotiation between business
companies and the consuming American public that is mediated by advertisers
and media outlets. The companies express their desire to have potential consumers
purchase their products by hiring advertisers, who in turn provide potential
consumers (via the media) with the information that the companies and advertisers
deem necessary for consumers to make informed purchases; in this way, it is an
economic negotiation. However, the information provided by advertisers often
expresses more about the psychological needs, desires, and drives of potential
consumers and their relationship with their surrounding environment by
highlighting notions of taste, distinction, and happiness through consumption,
rather than information about the product‘s utility. In this way, advertising is also
a social, cultural, and psychological negotiation. And since the actual use of the
object by consumers after its purchase cannot be mandated by companies,
negotiation is always a process that is open to being passively accepted or actively
As advertisements moved away from text-based ads that focused on the utility of the
object to image-based ads that focused on lifestyles and feelings, youth became a new
marketplace for advertising, in that everyone at one point has some experience with it,
and through a romanticized representation of it, everyone could once again desire a return
Chapter 3 traced the history of consumer research at the J. Walter Thompson
Company. It was the company‘s commitment to research and development and their
adoption of the managerial structures of big business described in Chapter 2 that allowed
J. Walter Thompson to become the largest advertising agency in the world by the 1930s
and then maintain that status for almost three decades. As the largest advertising agency
in the world throughout middle of the 20th century, J. Walter Thompson was often a
trendsetter whose actions in consumer research would then be followed by other agencies.
In particular, the work of John B. Watson in the 1920s is of great importance. First, it
marked a clear-cut moment in advertising history, when psychology and psychologists
became a prominent influence inside the agency and in the creation of advertisements.
But Watson‘s work also signaled a change in consumer research. Watson suggested that
in order to properly sell to the consumer, the agency had to be aware of not only what the
object to be sold was, but also who the product‘s potential consumer was. As consumer
research became a main goal of the agency, projects like the Consumer Panel in the 1930s
and ‘40s attempted to map out exactly what consumers bought by examining how much
and how they purchased particular products. By the middle of the 1950s, as
psychoanalytical thought returned to vogue in popular discourses, consumer research
began to move away from what people bought to focus instead on why people bought.
Under the supervision of Arthur Koponen at J. Walter Thompson, the Personality Profile
Project was designed. If it could be possible to understand the deeper motivations of
people and their purchases, then advertisements could be designed to attract the consumer
based not on what the product actually does, but rather on its ability to provide a
therapeutic sense of relief to the deeper psychological tensions of the individual around
inner conflicts, such as the resolution of what G. Stanley Hall called the adolescent‘s
Sturm und Drang conflict.
The Personality Profile Project, which was the subject of Chapter 4, attempted to
access the inner drives of the consumer by suggesting that all consumers were
predisposed to 15 personality traits. Each of the 15 traits was then measured through a
series of questions using the Edwards Personality Preference Schedule, and the results of
the test were then graphed against existing knowledge of the consumers from the earlier
tracking by the Consumer Panel of those same consumers‘ purchases. Even though the
project failed for the J. Walter Thompson Company in its objective to properly define
what makes people buy (so as to allow the agency to design advertisements that accessed
inner drives of the consumer), the project was a great success for the advertising industry
as a whole. The Personality Profile Project appears to be a clear marking point for the
beginning of psychographics in advertising research, a highly sophisticated system for
tracking consumers and their purchases based not on the demographics of age, class,
income, race, or gender, but instead on their psychological inclination and lifestyle
choices. As lifestyle choices and feelings replaced demographic data as the core of
advertising research, so too did lifestyle choices and feelings replace the utility of the
object in the focus of the advertisements themselves.
The development of the youth market and the subsequent research into what
motivates teenagers to buy products was the focus of Chapter 5. Looking inside agency
publications surrounding the growing youth market and its rise to prominence in the
industry in the early 1960s, the chapter pointed out that by the middle of the 1960s, youth,
as a construct applied to consumers, was no longer being used simply to sell to teenagers.
Instead, ―youthfulness‖ became the focus of a youth market that was being extended past
the traditional definition of adolescence associated with the discourse of adolescent
psychology in force at the time. It now included adult consumers. Consumer research
inside the advertising industry suggested that ―older‖ consumers enjoyed purchasing
products that made them feel youthful, and that fads in youth culture also had an appeal to
non-adolescent consumers. In attempting to tap into the more lucrative consumer age
bracket of 20 to 44, where the average head-of-household income was significantly
higher than teenagers, advertisers began to represent ―youth‖ in advertising as a feeling or
lifestyle that could be consumed by everyone and that could be achieved through the
purchasing of the right consumer products.
In Chapter 6, examples of advertisements in the post-war period from 7 Up were
examined to illustrate exactly how the marketing discourse of perpetual adolescence was
implemented. In examining the soft drink industry, it became evident that 7 Up was not
the only company practising the selling of youth by the late 1960s. In fact, as illustrated
by advertisements for the Ford Mustang in Chapter 4, the marketing discourse of
perpetual adolescence was now being used to sell all types of products. However, 7 Up
stood as a classic case study for perpetual adolescence because of its sophisticated use of
market segmentation and niche marketing, and its focus on lifestyle and age-less-ness that
put 7 Up and the J. Walter Thompson Company at the forefront of an advertising practice
that, by the middle of the 1960s, was becoming a standard in how to attract consumer
The practices of market research in consumer behavior and purchasing patterns
since 1958 would suggest that the Personality Profile Project and its objectives to classify
consumers into reference groups based on similar psychological traits (instead of the
traditional lines of race, class, and gender) had a significant impact on the advertising
industry. Lifestyle marketing and psychographics, two of the main streams of consumer
research since the 1960s, are both predicated on the belief that lifestyle choices are what
dictate buying behavior.
The term psychographics was coined by Emmanuel Denby, the president of
Motivational Programmers Inc, a firm in the 1960s and 1970s that specialized in tracking
consumer behavior through psychographic techniques. Denby defined psychographics as
[t]he practical application of the behavioral and social sciences to marketing
research…Most specifically, psychographics seeks to describe human
characteristics of consumers that may have bearing on their response to products,
packaging, advertising and public relations efforts. Such variables may span a
spectrum from self-concept and lifestyle attributes, interests and opinions, as well
as perceptions of product attributes.6
According to Denby, the history of psychographic research can be traced directly to Paul
Lazersfeld‘s 1935 article ―The Art of Asking Why?‖ when Lazersfeld posited that to
properly understand consumer behavior the researcher needed to gain an understanding of
the interplay between three variables: predisposition, influences, and product attributes. 7
However, as Denby argues, Lazersfeld did not formulate a model to go about conducting
this type of consumer research. Instead, Denby suggests that it was psychological
research of people such as Arthur Koponen at the J. Walter Thompson Company, which
attempted to connect the consumer‘s psychological make-up to product choice that first
created a system by which Lazersfeld‘s theory of understanding consumer behavior could
be tested.8 Denby‘s history of psychographics maintains that by 1968, the term
―psychographics‖ was in wide-use throughout the advertising industry to describe
6 Emanuel Denby,. ―Psychographics and from Whence it Came‖ in Lifestyle and Psychographics. Ed. William D. Wells, 11-30
(American Marketing Association, 1974) 13.
7 Lazersfeld quoted in Denby ―Psychographics‖
8 Denby, ―Psychographics‖ 12.
―quantitative research that projected a qualitative flavor or used self-concept, lifestyle,
attitude, interest, activity, and product attribute variables to segment the marketplace.‖ 9
Cultural Anthropologist, William O‘Barr argues that since 1969 the primary form
of psychographic research conducting has centered on the VALS system. 10 According to
O‘Barr, ―[t]he original system placed emphasis on both psychological (outlook) factors
and social concerns of consumers. The current system is based only on psychological
(outlook and motivational) features.‖ SRI Consulting Business Intelligence, the company
who owns the trademark to VALS explains how the acronym of VALS shifted away from
a focus on lifestyles to a focus on consumer psychology.
The first VALS system was based on social values, and at that time VALS was an
acronym for Values and Lifestyles. However, the current VALS system is based
on psychological traits instead of social values, so we dropped "Values and
Lifestyles" but retained the VALS brand. Marketers use VALS to understand why
consumers make the choices they do. The more marketers know about the target,
the better they can design messages that resonate with the target. By using VALS
to understand the motivations that stimulate consumer behavior (such as buying a
product or participating in a loyalty program), marketers increase their chance of
cutting through today's advertising clutter.11
According to the VALS system, there are primary motivations that each consumer
exhibits to a certain extent, and these primary motivations are the psychological factors,
which most influence the decision making and purchases of consumers. Therefore,
VALS attempts to classify consumers into one of eight categories. The eight current
categories used by the VALS, Thinkers, Believers, Achievers, Strivers, Experiencers,
Makers, Innovators, and Survivors.
9 Ibid., 15.
10 William M. O‘Barr, ―The Role of Research in Advertising‖ in Advertising & Society Review Volume 7, Issue 4 (2006).
11 SRI Consulting Business Intelligence, ―Frequently Asked Questions about VALS‖ SRI Consulting Business Intelligence.
The ideas behind the VALS questionnaire sound strongly familiar to the ideas
behind the Personality Profile Project described by Koponen: ―[i]f we can learn the
psychological needs and responses of our best prospects and relate their responses to
purchasing behaviour, media exposure, and other classification, we are in a better position
to influence them through advertising.‖12 Where SRI, claims that:
[t]he motivations and demographic characteristics that this questionnaire asks
about are very strong predictors of a variety of consumer preferences in products,
services, and media. The main advantage, therefore, is predictive power: To
understand consumers' individual preferences and likely reactions to new products
or services, we can ask this relatively short list of questions in place of a very long
list of questions about current product, activity, and media choices and media
Therefore, the current construction of psychographic research, which has been in practice
since 1969, and which is the research tool by which advertisers are able to create and
maintain an imagined reference group that privileges youthful sensibilities in 2007 is a
direct descendent of the consumer research of the Personality Profile Project.
The point of this project is not to suggest that advertising is manipulative or that
we have no choice in consuming products and that we are merely sheep being herded by
the culture industry. Likewise, the point was not to provide credence to Neil Postman‘s
1994 claim that childhood has disappeared. In The Disappearance of Childhood Postman
stated that ―American adults want to be parents of children less than they want to be
children themselves.‖14 According to Postman, advancements in information and
communication technology in second half of the twentieth century has caused a re-
12 J. Walter Thompson Research Department, ―Personality Profile Project‖ (J. Walter Thompson, May 1958) Information Center
Records, J. Walter Thompson Company. Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library, Duke University, (no page
13 SRI Consulting Business Intelligence, ―Frequently Asked Questions about VALS‖ SRI Consulting Business Intelligence.
14 Neil Postman, The Disappearance of Childhood (New York: Vintage Books, 1994), 138.
organization of the life-stages proposed in adolescent psychology. For Postman, ―in the
television age there are [now only] three [stages]. At one end, infancy; at the other,
senility. In between there is what we might call the adult-child.‖15 Instead, the project
aims to highlight the intricacies involved in the mode of production of advertisements and
show that advertisements are not created by accident or with little thought, but are
extremely well thought out and preplanned. The planning of an advertisement goes
through many sophisticated levels of consumer research and test panels and draws its
information about how to sell to consumers from a variety of disciplines. Not only
business texts, but texts (and people) in the fields of applied psychology, behavioural
psychology, adolescent psychology, social psychology, sociology, anthropology, history,
and many more now influence how ads are made. The practice of drawing on
psychological data to influence consumer behaviour is not a new practice, but one that
this thesis suggests can be traced to the end of the 19th century and that came to
prominence in the post-war period when discourses from these divergent fields of
academic and medical study came to be commonly used inside the ad agency.
Advertising is big business; it involves large-scale firms in a major industry, and it
falls under the same economic principles and factors that affect other major corporations
in the marketplace. Its actions and goals are always influenced by its priority, which is to
make money. However, because of its sheer size and its saturation in the marketplace,
advertising also maintains a social role (and not necessarily by choice). Because
advertising is a business, it is under no obligation to respect the social role that it plays
and therefore create unbiased advertisements. And since ads don‘t happen by accident, we
cannot lose sight of the fact that advertisements are ideological texts. Ideological texts
15 Ibid., .99.
always come with a bias and an unequal power dynamic. In the case of images and
representations of youth, advertisements have tended to reflect not the actual lives of
children but instead the fears, hopes, ambitions, and dreams of the adults in whose society
the ads are created and circulated. Childhood and youth as social constructions are
constructed largely by their representations in popular media like advertisements. Since
the middle of the 20th century, these representations have been strongly influenced by
competing discourses about childhood that go back 300 years, like the blank slate,
romantic, and puritan discourses of childhood. They have also been influenced by ideas
about adolescent psychology, most notably the ideas of Hall, Freud, and Watson, and by
the increase in adolescent spending, prompted in the post-war period by the surge in the
number of teenagers as a result of the baby boom(s). As ideological texts, the
representations of youth in advertisements inform and shape our own ideas about
classifications like race, gender, and, most importantly here, age.
Remembering that ideology works on both explicit and implicit levels,
representations of youth in advertising since the Second World War have tended to focus
at the explicit level on a romanticized and nostalgic representation of youth. Here, youth
has been presented not as a biological stage in life, but as a lifestyle and a feeling, no
different than happiness or wealth, and something to which everyone should aspire.
However, implicitly, representations of youth in advertisements have tended to draw on
the deeper psychological motivations of adolescence that, it was suggested by discourses
in adolescent psychology in the early 20th century – in particular, the discourses of Hall,
Freud and Watson – are to be experienced by everyone. Ads tend to represent youth as an
attribute that removes feelings of guilt, insecurity, and loneliness. William James
suggested that all people are born with the innate feeling of guilt. 16 John B. Watson‘s
research into childrearing practice suggested that James‘ notion of guilt was incorrect
because guilt was a socialized response, but that feelings of love, fear, and rage could be
found in all children – and remain the main motivators for action for the remainder of our
lives. 17 Representations of youth in advertising build on the fear and insecurity of being
alone, the desire and need for love (Watson himself indicated how what he called love,
Freud would call sex), and the rage or frustration of not being able to meet these basic
human needs. 18 The point is this: that the youth-sell, since the Second World War, has
placed ―youth‖ in nostalgic representations that suggest it is something – like fame,
success, and happiness – that everyone aspires to and that can be achieved or attained
through the purchasing and consumption of the proper products. Implicitly tied to these
representations of youth has been an underlying desire by advertisers to extend the youth
market to include the more profitable consumers in the 20-plus age bracket, who, with
their higher incomes, are more likely to consume more products. In doing so, advertisers
have created ads that work to destabilize the identity of the consumer and bring them
back to the Sturm und Drang of adolescence so as to be able to happily say that their
target consumers for their products are those with an adult pocketbook but childlike
sensibilities. This is the marketing discourse of perpetual adolescence.
16 William James quoted in John B. Watson and J. J. B. Morgan,―Emotional Reactions and Psychological Experimentation‖ in The
American Journal of Psychology, Vol. 28, No. 2. (Apr., 1917), 163-174.
The paradox of designing ads to fit people into groups and yet still provide them
with a sense of individuality was solved through borrowing from discourses in social
psychology about the reference group, discussed in Chapter 4. The ability of advertisers
to establish reference groups – which are not real, but which feel real to the consumer –
provides the ability for the individual to feel as if they are part of a group (even if it is a
group they aspire to join) without losing any sense of their own individuality through
purchasing. The reference group that I have termed the ―imagined community of youth‖
appears to be the best way to describe the youth focus in advertising from the Second
World War until the present.
Edward Bernays coined the term ―the engineering of consent‖ when referring to
how a politician, if they are to gain approval of the public, needed to be able to persuade
citizens of his or her platform for governance. 19 As Bernays states,
[t]his phrase quite simply means the use of an engineering approach – that is,
action based only on thorough knowledge of the situation and on the application
of scientific principles and tried practices to the task of getting people to support
ideas and programs. Any person or organization depends ultimately on public
approval, and is therefore faced with the problem of engineering the public‘s
consent to a program or goal. 20
For Bernays, in order to create a plan or goal that the public would buy into, four things
1. Calculation of resources both human and physical; i.e., the manpower, the
money, and the time available for the purpose;
2. As thorough knowledge of the subject as possible;
3. Determination of objectives, subject to possible change after research:
specifically, what is to be accomplished, with whom, and through whom;
19 Edward L. Bernays, ―The Engineering of Consent‖ in Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 250,
Communication and Social Action. (Mar., 1947), 113-120.
20 Ibid., 114.
4. Research of the public to learn why and how it acts, both individually and as a
This is precisely the model followed by the advertising agency in determining who the
youth market was, and then in attempting to sway public opinion away from the belief
that youth or adolescence ended and toward the idea that it was something that could be
consumed and maintained for a person‘s entire life. For Bernays,
[d]emocratic society is actually only a loose aggregate of constituent groups.
Certain individuals with common social and/or professional interests form
voluntary groups. These include such great professional organizations as those of
doctors, lawyers, nurses, and the like; the trade associations; the farm associations
and labor unions; the women's clubs; the religious groups; and the thousands of
clubs and fraternal associations. Formal groups, such as political units, may range
from organized minorities to the large amorphous political bodies that are our two
major parties. There is today even another category of the public group which
must be kept in mind by the engineer of consent. The readers of the New Republic
or the listeners to Raymond Swing‘s program are as much voluntary groups,
although unorganized, as are the members of a trade union or a Rotary Club. 22
This is why the imagined community of youth, as a reference group, is perhaps the best
way to think about how the youth-sell has continued to work up until the present.
The idea of an imagined community was first conceived in 1983, when Benedict
Anderson, a former professor of international studies at Cornell University, published his
seminal work Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of
Nationalism.23 In his book, Anderson relayed how language formed nationalism and how
nations were only artificial constructs that bound people together – even when
geographically disparate – through the idea of sharing similar cultural patterns (namely
language). The re-construction of Anderson‘s ―imagined community‖ in the new
millennium is produced by the culture industries of the media through the privileging of
21 Ibid., 116.
22 Ibid., 117.
23 Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1983).
youth culture, which allows people from all geographic areas, age brackets, racial
backgrounds, and economic conditions to share similar cultural patterns of consumption
(or, at the very least, the desire of consumption) of products that make a person feel
young. Whether listening to a popular music radio station, briefly skimming the pages of
a fashion magazine, watching a television sitcom, or simply walking down the street of an
urban area, the culture industries‘ message is simple: (1) to be young is to be happy (2)
youth is ―hip‖ (3) and the way to be young is to buy products that give you that youthful
feeling. As youth search for acceptance during the period in their formation psychologists
call ―adolescence,‖ and as youth continually look for a sense of identity and community,
which are key components of adolescence, they turn, either consciously or unconsciously,
to the culture industries. Young people find their identity in the mythical media creation
of the imagined community of youth. However, the desire to be a citizen in the imagined
community of youth is not restricted to young people, since the line between what is adult
and what is adolescent has been blurred by the culture industries. As a result, the
processes that have been attributed by psychologists to the stage of development in the
individual‘s life referred to as adolescence are now life-long processes, and they leave
North Americans in a state of perpetual adolescence.
Anderson said that the nation can be considered an imagined political community,
and he linked this idea to the rise of, first, the printing press, and then, print as
commodity, which allowed for ideas surrounding the nation to be circulated and
exchanged. The availability of knowledge through print as commodity and the
accompanying rise in literacy challenged ideas surrounding divine monarchs and social
hierarchies, and in doing so challenged the notion of privileged access to truth in script
language, and the idea that history and cosmology were the same. The possibility of
imagining the nation only arose once these three previously held ―givens‖ in society had
been undermined by the arrival of print as commodity. Anderson believed that the key
determinant in imagining a community was language. ―It was precisely the sharing of
language with the metropole of a common language (and common religion and common
culture) that has made the first national imaginings possible.‖ 24 In response to
advertisements, individuals shared the common language of purchasing and the
consumption ethic with the metropole and, in turn, made the first imagining of a youth
In much the same way as the imagined nation arose out of the technological
advancements in printing and the mass availability of print as a commodity, so too did the
possibility of imagining a community of youth arise with the advancements in technology
in the late 19th and early 20th century. Beginning with the railroad and the telegraph,
technological advancements helped to create the rise of American big business. This rise
resulted in advancements in mass-produced brand-name goods for consumption and an
advertising business to sell these goods. The advertising business of the 20 th century
would use further advancements in technology – from print as commodity to television –
to segment the marketplace and create distinct consumers for distinct brand name
products. By the middle of the 20th century, the culture industries had created a distinct
youth culture, a reference group, and an ―imagined community,‖ through which all young
people could come together and find a common identity. As Anderson said, ―it is
imagined because the members … will never know most of their fellow members, meet
them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their
24 Ibid., 197.
communion.‖25 Brand name recognition became the passport to an imagined community
As a reference group, the imagined community of youth performs all of the basic
tasks required for the individual. It places them into imaginary contact with others who
share similar goals. Furthermore, the community allows the individual to transcend class,
race, age, or gender barriers by granting them permission to purchase commodities that
give them access to groups that they otherwise may be restricted from. And lastly, it
serves the function of influencing future consumer purchasing decisions by standing as a
reference point as to what is and what is not an accepted practice of the group. Although
illusory, the imagined community of youth holds a significant amount of power in
influencing consumer purchasing but also in keeping consumers more occupied with
purchasing than with political engagement.
The ideas about what it means to be a child and what it means to be an adult are
always in the process of negotiation, being constructed and reconstructed in popular
discourse on both explicit and implicit levels. A universal child has never existed. There
are no experiences that are universal to all children (except, perhaps, birth). However, by
the early 20th century, the construct of a universal child had come to define what it meant
to be a child in America, even if it was a narrowly defined construct that excluded a large
number of children. Stemming forth from discourses in adolescent and social psychology,
by the 1960s the idea of creating a universal consumer child appeared to be well founded
and already underway. In the four decades since, the imagined community of youth has
grown in its significance as a reference group and has replaced the peer group as the first
step of influence in a new two-step model of communication. The universal consumer
25 Ibid., 7.
child (or the perpetual adolescent) although a social construct has become so prominent in
current representations of youth in advertising, that the imagined community of youth has
become a real place for many consumers. It is a scary thought, indeed, for the future of
enlightened thought and the hopes of increased engagement in political activity.
Appendix 1- “Like One White Pea in a Pod”
Appendix 2 – 7 Up Advertisements
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