Advertising and Public Relations:
The Mass Distribution of Ideas


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The Coolidge-Conservation collection calls attention to the careers of four major publicists during the 1920s: two advertising men, Claude Hopkins of the Chicago agency Lord & Thomas and Bruce Barton of Batten, Barton, Durstine, and Osborne; and two public relations agents, Ivy L. Lee and Edward L. Bernays. Hopkins and Barton embody the driven ad-man image; both seem to be have suffered nervous breakdowns at one time or another in their careers. Bernays, on the other hand, seems to have been consistently energized by his career as "Public Relations Counsel."

In "From Salvation to Self-Realization: Advertising and the Therapeutic Roots of the Consumer Culture, 1880-1930," an essay in The Culture of Consumption (1983), T.J. Jackson Lears describes high-powered salesman Claude Hopkins as a "phrasemaker who had sold astonishing amounts of beer, lard, and patent medicine by using what he called the 'Reason Why' approach. . . . Hopkins refused to appeal to a buyer's reason by listing a product's qualities; on the contrary he addressed nonrational yearnings by suggesting the ways his client's product would transform the buyer's life . . . [offering] the therapeutic promise of a richer, fuller life" (p. 18).

Included in the Coolidge-Consumerism collection are Hopkins' autobiography, My Life in Advertising (1927), and his do's and don'ts guide to Scientific Advertising (1923), a title that implies another aspect of the age's omnipresent debt to efficiency engineer Frederick W. Taylor (INTRO NOTE Taylorism).

Bruce Barton, son of a Congregational pastor, founded with Roy S. Durstine what by the 1920s had become the fourth largest advertising agency in the United States, Batten, Barton, Durstine, and Osborne. (For a portrait photograph of Bruce Barton, see the June 1926 issue of Associated Advertising, p. 7.) Barton was responsible for creating the Betty Crocker image for General Mills. His ability to bridge the tension between modern, corporate, business consciousness and the traditional spiritual concerns of his youth helped make him an enormously popular writer for the mass-circulation magazines. And in 1925, he capitalized on the dichotomy by writing the widely reprinted story The Man Nobody Knows: A Discovery of the Real Jesus (not included in this collection), a retelling of the life of Jesus Christ that casts Jesus as the world's first business executive and super-salesman. The book perched at the top of the nation's nonfiction best-seller list for two years. Barton even worked as a consultant, at the invitation of Cecil B. De Mille, on King of Kings (1926), Hollywood's first Biblical spectacular. (INTRO NOTE Spirituality)

Consumer activist Stuart Chase lumped Barton together with Edward L. Bernays and Ivy Lee in the essay "Averting Calamity," a critique of advertisers' manipulation ofthe consumer which Chase wrote for the February 16, 1927 issue of The Nation. The article concludes with a sardonic allusion to Barton's best-seller, "And so, happily, the consumer may forever cease from buying what he freely wants; and the Kingdom of Heaven of the Salesman will come upon earth." (INTRO NOTE Critiques)

The General Collections of the Library of Congress contain a small pamphlet, by Barton that highlights the beginnings of advertising's foray into the political arena in the twenties, "Calvin Coolidge: A Man with Vision--But Not a Visionary", a reprint of "The Silent Man on Beacon Hill: An Appreciation of Calvin Coolidge" from the March 1920 issue of Woman's Home Companion. Coolidge was then still governor of Massachusetts, but there was some thought of his running for president, although he ultimately was nominated to run as Harding's vice-president. In the piece, which seems to have served as Republican campaign literature, Barton features Coolidge's own devotional leanings prominently.

On a par with Bernays as the most sought-after public relations counsel of the decade was Ivy Ledbetter Lee, among whose chief clients were John D. Rockefeller, Sr., Bethlehem Steel, Armour & Company, and the Pennsylvania Railroad. Lee is represented in the Coolidge-Consumerism collection by Publicity: Some of the Things It Is and Is Not (1925).

Bernays, however, was a philosopher of promotion, and it was probably that philosophical quality, evident in his writings and speeches, as well as the sheer exuberant creativity and intelligence of his publicity blitzes, which enabled him to impart to his own efforts and to the field more generally a sense of stature, scope and profundity. (DIRECTORY NOTE Edward L. Bernays)

The belief that propaganda and news were legitimate tools of his business, and his ability to offer philosophical justifications for these beliefs that ultimately embraced the whole democratic way of life, in Bernays' mind set his work in public relations apart from what ad men did. The Bernays essays A Public Relations Counsel States His Views (1927) and This Business of Propaganda (1928) show that Bernays regarded advertising men as special pleaders, merely paid to persuade people to accept an idea or commodity. The public relations counsel, on the other hand, he saw as an Emersonian-like creator of events that dramatized new concepts and perceptions, and even influenced the actions of leaders and groups in society.

Bernays' magisterial, philosophical touch is in evidence in Manipulating Public Opinion (1928) when he writes: "This is an age of mass production. In the mass production of materials a broad technique has been developed and applied to their distribution. In this age, too, there must be a technique for the mass distribution of ideas." Yet he recognized the potential danger in so grand a scheme and in This Business of Propaganda (1928), as elsewhere, sounded the great caveat that adds a grace note to his ambitious vision: a public relations counsel "must never accept a retainer or assume a position which puts his duty to the groups herepresents above his duty to society."

Notwithstanding such seeming probity, articles in the journals of opinion, such as the one by Marlen Pew, Edward L. Bernays Critiqued as "Young Machiavelli of Our Time", and the debate between Bernays and Everett Dean Martin in Forum, Are We Victims of Propaganda?, depicted Bernays negatively. He and other publicists were often attacked as propagandists and deceptive manipulators, who represented special interests against the public interest and covertly contrived events that secured coverage as news stories, free of charge, for their clients instead of securing attention for them through paid advertisements. (INTRO NOTE Critiques)

Bernays' brilliance for promotion in this vein emerges clearly when one reads, in the Bernays Typescript on Publicizing the New Dodge Cars, 1927-1928: "Two Sixes", the story of how he managed to secure newspaper coverage for the radio programs he developed to promote the Dodge Brothers' new six-cylinder cars. The Bernays Typescript on Publicizing the Fashion Industry, 1925-27: "Hats and Stockings" and the Bernays Typescript on Art in the Fashion Industry, 1923-1927, reveal a similar flair for consumer manipulation in the arena of fashion.

As is evident from the description of his campaign to publicize the Dodge cars, Bernays had a particular gift for the marketing strategy called the "tie-up" or "tie-in" -- in which one venue or opportunity or occasion for promoting a consumer product, for example, radio advertising, is linked to another, say, newspaper advertising, and even, at times, to a third, say a department store exhibition salesroom featuring the item, and possibly even a fourth, such as an important holiday, for example, Thrift Week.

The January 15, 1926 issue of Talking Machine World, for example, carries a story about "How Dealers [selling record players and records] can Profit by Tying Up with the Anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America." The June 15, 1926 issue of the same magazine contains an article on the "tie-up" between the radio industry and National Thrift Week ("Convention of National Music Industries," pp. 66a-66b). A number of articles in the March 20, 1926 issue of Motion Picture News deal with promoting movies to the ultimate consumer through "tie-ins" with other events or with consumer products.

Like ad-man Bruce Barton, public relations counsel Edward Bernays also engaged in political activity on behalf of Calvin Coolidge: he was hired to improve the president's dour public image on the eve of the 1924 election that was to bring Coolidge his own, full term in office. Readers will find the anecdote in the Bernays Typescript on Public Relations Work and Politics, 1924: "Breakfast with Coolidge". A photograph from the National Photo Company collection, "John Drew, Al Jolson, and other prominent actors with President and Mrs. Coolidge, 10/17/24, memorializes this occasion. On the whole, however, as essays likePropaganda and Impropaganda (1928) and Putting Politics on the Market (1928) show, Bernays lamented that advertising techniques were notused more skillfully in political campaigns.

In the Coolidge Papers, correspondence in the case file Advertisement Exploitation presents the president's run-ins with business men who wanted to use his name, words, or picture, as, in effect, a product endorsement, to help advertise their wares. In a surprising corrective to the image of Calvin Coolidge as "the business president," in the great majority of cases, Coolidge refused to grant his permission. Several items show that when a company persisted despite lack of authorization, President Coolidge called in J. Edgar Hoover of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The file provides an invaluable overview of company practices, commercial climate, and advertising strategies, across many different lines of business, that would have been encountered by consumers during Coolidge's years in office.

Another Coolidge Papers case file that suggests limits to how far the president was willing to go in support of business is Advertising - General 1923-28. It too documents corporate advertising practices of the period, including the attempted use of the president's name and words in product advertising.

Nevertheless, the Address of President Coolidge before the American Association of Advertising Agencies (1926), preserved in the Sanders Papers, reflects Coolidge's conviction that advertising is important: Advertising "makes new thoughts, new desires. . . . It is the most potent influence in adopting and changing the habits and modes of life, affecting what we eat, what we wear, and the work and play of the whole Nation." Then, couched in the president's characteristically spiritualized language: "Advertising ministers to the spiritual side of trade." (INTRO NOTE Spirituality)

Items in the June 1925 issue of Associated Advertising, published by the Associated Advertising Clubs of the World, focus on the Truth-in-Advertising Movement, which gave rise to the National Better Business Bureau (replacing the National Vigilance Committee). On the whole, Commerce Secretary Hoover was a cheerleader on behalf of advertising and mass-consumption, although a Hoover speech in the same issue of Associated Advertising, "Truth-in-Advertising Work is Achieving a Notable Success," stresses the need for the advertising industry to monitor itself by erecting ethical standards and ideals, "exercising censorship over extravagant, distasteful and misleading copy."

Very little was actually known during the 1920s about consumers' particular emotional reactions to advertisements. Although many ads made very specific kinds of emotional or psychological appeals, the analysis of consumer response was in its infancy. Noted survey-taker Daniel Starch made an effort to decipher consumer response in An Analysis of Over 3,000,000 Inquiries Received by 98 Firms from 2,339 Magazine Advertisements (1927). Starch provides figures for how many consumers replied to ads of certain sizes, colors, and positions on the page, as well as ads that were accompanied by coupons. A 1931 Starch study, 300 Effective Advertisements: Selected on the Basis of 5,000,000 Inquiries Received from 3,500 Magazine and NewspaperAdvertisements of 163 Firms (not included in this collection), provides samples of highly effective ads for food, toiletry articles, clothing accessories, and household furnishings. Effectiveness of ads was assessed based on the number of consumer inquiries they generated (consumer inquiries had earlier been correlated positively with consumers' purchase of the products). The closest the decade came to interpreting more specifically how certain advertisements struck consumers is to be found in Paul K. Edwards' The Southern Urban Negro as a Consumer (1932), which comments on the findings from interviews with black consumers regarding their reactions to particular 1920s advertisements.

For the fullest view of advertising and promotion during the 1920s, readers may turn to the great variety of articles and advertisements from the mass-circulation and trade magazines of the period included in the Coolidge-Consumerism Collection. (INTRO NOTE Newsstand 1926) (DIRECTORY OF PERIODICALS in Coolidge-Consumerism)


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