Oh boy, but there's an ocean
Of joy in promotion,
Answering the question
“What's in it for me?”
Settling the digestion
Of the Land of the Free!
That's the stuff to feed the Rubes,
Subway Chumps and City Boobs!
Aren't you on to the surprising
Way they fall for Advertising?...
Try this delicious health-building War!
Buy all you need—then buy some more!
Never mind what we're fighting for!
Customers, customers, come and buy!
A short girdle does not bind the thigh.
We're the Salesmen of the OWI...
Read full poem...
— Poem by William Rose Benét, friend of the unhappy OWI writers, published in the Saturday Review, May 8, 1943.
By 1941, newspapers, newsreels and magazines — especially LIFE — regularly exposed the American public to photographic images and a new visual language for conveying information about current events. From these sources, citizens learned to equate documentary photography with truth. 21
The strategies of persuasion developed for marketing goods influenced the style and design of war posters produced in the 1940s. By this time, advertisers used images to appeal to emotions rather than text to appeal to reason. Posters shifted away from using the “reason-why” style of persuasive communication used during WWI.
The advertising industry, which had been under attack in the 1930s for manipulating consumers and promoting unchecked consumerism, formed the Advertising Council in June of 1942. They volunteered ad space and time to assist the Office of War Information with government wartime propaganda, and to help improve their own industry's public image.
Comparisons of posters from both wars suggest how the Council, composed of corporate advertisers and advertising agencies, became a “private vehicle for public information and persuasion.” 22
The tremendous volume of goods required to wage a war in Pacific and European theaters meant shortages at home and skyrocketing prices for homefront Americans. By 1942, many government officials believed the voluntary rationing strategy of WWI would be insufficient to offset the larger operation and greater needs of WWII.
The Office of Price Administration (OPA), whose job was to look after civilian needs, argued for food planning, including a program of economical and equitable distribution. To protect homefront consumers, they concluded, food needed to be rationed.
Predicting that Americans would dislike the authoritarian nature of mandatory rationing, administrators carefully emphasized the democratic, equitable nature of this method of conservation. They enacted a point system designed to limit consumption of certain products, while still affording individual households control over their food choices.
Among the 30 million consumers OPA affected on a daily basis, many recognized the benefits of price controls and OPA enjoyed popular support. To many business owners, however, government price controls signaled a growing regulatory state. OPA, as a popular government agency, challenged the right of private industries to set their own prices and sell their items freely. 24
The Ad Council's posters appeared to serve two goals 1) supporting the Office of War Information's need to inform the citizenry, and 2) furthering the admen's vested interest in free enterprise and businesses that might hire advertising agencies after the war. Some posters show a desire to convey messages that were simultaneously supportive of the war and friendly to private businesses.
Many government employees of the OWI believed their most urgent task was to inform Americans as much as possible about the war. A few who worked alongside members of the Ad Council claimed the admen discouraged honest information and honest depictions of war. Internal conflicts based on rival ideologies led to the 1943 resignation of many OWI writers and the Graphics Bureau chief, Francis Brennan.
In his resignation letter, Brennan agreed that some advertising techniques, like printing and distribution, were valuable, but the “psychological approaches” the admen had developed in the 1930s seemed at odds with his role as a public servant charged with disseminating information about war:
“In my opinion those techniques have done more toward dimming perceptions, suspending critical values, and spreading the sticky syrup of complacency over the people more than any other factor in the complex pattern of our supercharged lives.” 25
Posters in this section (and in the next one) reflect overlapping priorities of government, advertising and commerce. Many of the materials carried public messages and were designed specifically for shoppers in retail environments or for businesses catering to consumers.
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