make their children smarter and healthier; employees would have a
competitive edge. In addition to newspapers, magazines, and outdoor
signs, radio advertising became the fourth medium, in 1938 surpassing
magazines’ ad revenue by bringing a friendly voice into the home. Characters such as Betty Crocker became a radio staple. The success of this
chatty spokesperson, played by different women at radio stations around
the country, inspired advertising agencies to create other fictitious confidantes who conveyed the illusion of human intimacy.
During the fifteen years following World War II, advertising parlayed
increasing car ownership, new highways, and a rise in suburban consumption into the greatest prosperity for the industry since the 1920s.
The baby boom meant the construction of homes, new businesses, improved infrastructure, and shopping malls. Yet as a career choice, the
profession continued to be distrusted and shunned. In 1958 a survey of
high school students placed advertising as their eighteenth career choice
out of twenty.
While many Americans still consider advertising a great joke played
on them by charlatans, they are at least in on the punch line, as consumers
Barbara Kruger, untitled (We don’t need another hero), 1988 collage, courtesy of