OLD MAGAZINES AND THEIR ADVERTIZING CAN TELL US A LOT ABOUT OURSELVES AS A SOCIETY
As a child growing up in Sillery in the 1960s and 70s, I was always surrounded by books, magazines, music , information and knowledge of all kinds. I realize now just how lucky I was to have such a cornucopia of information so readily at my fingertips at such a young age.
My mother was part of the University Women’s club and every year, even today, they hold their annual book fair in Québec city to raise money for bursaries to send young women to college or university. Back then, the drop off point for all the books and magazines was my parent’s house, because we had a huge attic where we could store all the dozens of boxes of reading material.
I had a ball, along with my brothers and my sister, carrying all the boxes up and down two flights of stairs and in and out of various people’s cars. This meant I had first crack at everything that came through and would spend hours during evenings and weekends either in the basement or the dusty attic, rifling through boxes of books and magazines to see what treasures I could find.
I often found old National Geographic magazines from the 1940s, 50s and 60s, and would not only read the articles, but became fascinated by the old advertizing, especially the car ads, among other things. I already had a very analytical mind at that point, and was already very interested in social and political issues, so I’d always scrutinize the ads from that regard.
I noticed that the 50s car ads were flashier and portrayed a much more idyllic American lifestyle, which was typical of the values America was trying to plug after the war. There were a lot hydraulic and aeronautical-sounding buzz words like ‘Dynaflow’ and ‘Hydramatic’, which were evocative of the fascination with the space race of the era, and the burgeoning sense of material prosperity.
As the 50s gave way to the 60s, things started to get more conflicted, as the regulatory climate got tighter, and fuel economy, safety, and anti-pollution regulations started cropping up. You started getting the now perfunctory small print at the bottom of the ads with a variety of government-mandated safety or fuel economy-related statements such as ‘buckle up: seatbelts save lives’. Or ‘32mpg estimated highway, 22 mpg city’. And of course, as time went on, and GM’s status in the auto industry diminished, so did the size of the lettering above their logo, which used to read ‘Mark of Excellence’, which just kept getting smaller and smaller as the 60s crept into the 70s and GM got plagued by quality issues, until finally, that slogan just disappeared altogether, for obvious reasons.
Another bunch of ads which used to fascinate me were again, on the backs of National Geographic magazines, and were for Caterpillar brand heavy equipment. This again was during the late 60s, and throughout the 70s, when environmental concerns were starting to drive the agenda, and big businesses like Caterpillar were feeling the need to justify their place in the marketplace, probably since they were being perceived or targeted as not being an earth-friendly business, and needed to do some damage control by putting some positive spin on their company.
So basically, the ads went like something like this: They were sort of ‘point/counterpoint’ type affairs, with the page divided in half. On one side was a pro business advocate who was arguing for the need for more and better roads, as well as energy projects and construction, and on the other side, a pro-environment person who was arguing in favour of doing something positive about the garbage issue by building more landfill sites.
At the bottom of the page, the company then said something to the effect of ‘whatever solution is chosen, Caterpillar will be there with the equipment to do the job’. In other words, business is business, and for Caterpillar, it was business as usual for them.
This brings to mind the increasing use of spin-related advertizing slogans by various organizations to justify their behaviour in our increasingly stalemated, overcrowded, over-regulated, zero growth potential, post modern society.
The one which springs to mind immediately is the propaganda campaign used by the SAQ, the Québec Liquor Commission, to try and put a brave face on the fact that they’re a government monopoly which is now increasingly using sales optimizing marketing strategies to increase profit, selling a product which everybody knows can be damaging to your health.
They claimed, in a very self-righteous way, with the stats plastered, if you’ll excuse the metaphor, on the doors of their sales outlets, touting that ’80% of our customers drink in moderation’. Well goody goody for you. I guess that means that it’s those horrible 20% of the rest of your customers that are ruining it for everybody, right?
What our good friends at the SAQ DON’T tell us is that it is a well-known fact and is a standard business school case study, that 20% of a business’s customers generate 80% of their profit! Hmmmm.. Do I see a pattern emerging here? So I guess all those 20% of abusive-drinkers that the SAQ are blaming for making such a mess of things are actually the ones most responsible for their economic viability! Boy, imagine, if everyone actually followed the exhortation in the slogan ‘La modération à bien meilleur gout’. (Everything in moderation) I guess the Liquor Commission would be out of business practically overnight!
Oh well, I guess I just can’t help myself analyzing all of this advertizing business. They say that the proof of the pudding is under the crust. How true. One often has to look beyond the advertizing slogan itself to see what it is they’re really saying.
In the meantime, my mother is now gone and her house now sold, so they’ll be no more leafing through any old National Geographics for the moment. And my apartment is now overflowing with books from the Women’s club sale. So I think I’ll get to reading some more and get back to you all about what’s crossed my mind. ‘Bye for now.