The Sounds of CAPITALISM Advertising, Music, and the Conquest of Culture
By TIMOTHY D. TAYLOR
University of Chicago Press Copyright © 2012 The University of Chicago
All right reserved. ISBN: 978-0-226-79115-9
Chapter One Music and Advertising in Early Radio
This chapter begins with the early history of radio broadcasting and examines how this new communications technology became conceptualized and employed as an advertising medium. It charts the slow rise of radio advertising through the later processes of informing reluctant advertisers and advertising agencies of the usefulness of radio, the translation of print advertising techniques to sound, and the debates over which music to use in broadcast advertising. It also examines two early programs, the Clicquot Club Eskimos and Aunt Jemima.
Before proceeding, it must be understood that the rise of radio, and advertising, can be grasped only in a larger framework of changing patterns of American consumption beginning in the final decades of the nineteenth century. A complex series of factors marked this change, beginning, of course, with the rise of industrial production. Mass production necessitated an increase in wages so that workers could also participate in the economy as consumers. Coupled with this development, the growing banalization of work with the implementation of Taylorist and Fordist models of management and production also meant that the consumption of goods and services came to occupy a larger role in American life. Old American ideals of thrift and self-sacrifice ceased to serve an economy that increasingly demanded spending as American workers were transformed into consumers. To quote one observer from 1935: "As modern industry is geared to mass production, time out for mass consumption becomes as much a necessity as time in for production."
The growth of consumption in this period was aided by changes in American spending habits: the practice of credit rose, and the use of the installment plan accelerated greatly. Settings of consumption increased the allure of purchased goods, as new department stores became increasingly like churches, temples of consumption. Goods were designed to be more attractive to consumers. And movies helped promote the idea of lavish lifestyles.
Herbert Hoover, according to William Leach, used his presidency to legitimate the "bureaucratic language of consumption" with terms such as mass leisure, mass consumption, and mass services, terms that entered everyday usage and shaped Americans' thinking about consumption. Hoover's conception of government was that it should not only protect its citizens but help them realize their needs and desires as well. In a 1925 speech before the Associated Advertising Clubs of the world, he articulated his conception of "desire," praising advertisers for their role in raising the standard of living:
The older economists taught the essential influences of "wish," "want" and "desire" as motive forces in economic progress. You have taken over the job of creating desire.... In economics the torments of desire in turn create demand, and from demand we create production, and thence around the cycle we land with increased standards of living.
Edward A. Filene, of department store fame, said in the 1920s that in a new era of mass production and consumption, businessmen "must produce customers as well as saleable goods." This, he believed, would free modern people from everyday drudgeries and allow them to appreciate the higher things in life. Filene began his 1932 book Successful Living in This Machine Age with this definition:
Mass Production is not simply large-scale production. It is large-scale production based upon a clear understanding that increased production demands increased buying, and that the greatest total profits can be obtained only if the masses can and do enjoy a higher and ever higher standard of living.
This will result in the raising of wages, shortening of work time, and lowering of prices, so that class thinking will be erased.
But it is not standardizing human life. It is liberating the masses, rather, from the struggle for mere existence and enabling them, for the first time in human history, to give their attention to more distinctly human problems.
And the masses were not to feel anonymous. As a 1930 editorial in Collier's said:
The old kings and aristocrats have departed. In the new order the masses are master. Not a few, but millions and hundreds of millions of people must be persuaded. In peace and in war, for all kinds of purposes, advertising carries the message to this new King—the people.
Advertising is the king's messenger in this day of economic democracy. All unknowing a new force has been let loose in the world. Those who understand it will have one of the keys to the future.
As Hoover's speech makes clear, advertisers were well aware of their mission, which they conceived not simply as selling goods but as promoting consumption more generally, even equating their mission with that of civilization. The influential advertising industry trade magazine Printers' Ink said in 1923 that advertising was a means of efficiently creating consumers and homogeneously "controlling the consumption of a product through advertising." An entry in The Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences in 1922 said, "What is most needed for American consumption is training in art and taste in a generous consumption of goods, if such there can be. Advertising is the greatest force at work against the traditional economy of an age-long poverty as well as that of our own pioneer period; it is almost the only force at work against Puritanism in consumption." In 1929, an article in the trade magazine Advertising and Selling about the future of advertising held, "Having learned the value of advertising as a commercial expression ... the world will next turn to advertising to make itself articulate in a broad social way. By 1950 men will have learned to express their ideas, their motives, their experiences, their hopes and ambitions as human beings, and their desires and aspirations as groups, by means of printed or painted advertising, or of messages projected through the air." Advertising, to put it bluntly, was viewed by its practitioners and proponents as a powerful force of modernization, designed to obliterate the "customs of ages; [to] ... break down the barriers of individual habits of limited thinking," according to a 1922 observer. Advertising viewed itself as "at once the destroyer and creator in the process of the ever-evolving new. Its constructive effort [was] ... to superimpose new conceptions of individual attainment and community desire."
In an era of increasing rural-to-urban migration, much of what was sold in the early twentieth century were goods that played to people's fears of standing out in the crowd, with body odor or other attributes that were thought to indicate poor hygiene. Consumers weren't simply being told to buy—they were being indoctrinated by fear into thinking that unless they purchased certain products, they might offend others. This, of course, was an old strategy; Lynn Dumenil writes that advertising campaigns devoted to personal hygiene items were second only to those for food in the 1920s. This claim is borne out by publications of the period.
Selling Goods, Selling Radio
Thus, through medicine-show-style scare tactics and other strategies, the shift toward a consumer culture was well under way in this era. A question for broadcasters and potential advertisers, however, concerned how the new medium of radio was to be paid for; early funding mechanisms for radio were unclear at the beginning. And the earliest radio broadcasts were a haphazard affair: radio stations would put on the air whatever was convenient, available, and free, and this was usually music, for it was easier and often cheaper to employ an existing ensemble to perform than to hire writers and actors for dramatic works. And most musicians weren't paid until about 1925 since there was no revenue before broadcast advertising. One early musician recalled what it was like: no pay, but "people did it for kicks—or for laughs or for—just for the sheer novelty and fun of it"; this musician played the piano and chatted, a practice called "songs and patter" at that time. But then,
the [radio station] management realized or perhaps planned ahead of time that they had a commodity here that they could sell to advertisers—and they garnered a contract with the manufacturer of a very fine coffee—called Martinson's Coffee—it was a class kind of coffee—it was a little more expensive than the average—and I found myself on the air—at a—I won't say a very healthy fee—but enough to make it interesting—I believe it was once or twice a week—for Martinson's Coffee—doing what I had been doing gratis.
It wasn't long, however, before big money started to turn to radio and advertising, selling radio to the American public in order to give advertisers a new way to sell goods.
Selling Radio to Advertisers
At first, radio programs were designed to sell radios (about which, more later), but purveyors of hardware soon learned that the best way to sell radios was to sell programs. There was an expectation, as one writer said in 1923, that "when a radio manufacturer sells a receiving instrument he is more or less morally obligated to supply the purchaser with entertainment.... Our manufacturers have learned that they must sell programs instead of instruments."
And Merlin H. Aylesworth, the first president of the National Broadcasting Company, the first network (or "chain" as they were known then), wrote in 1929 that NBC was incorporated for the "purpose of promoting the presentation of good radio programs" in order to entice people to purchase radio equipment. NBC was owned by the Radio Corporation of America, General Electric, and Westinghouse, each of which owned, respectively, 50 percent, 30 percent, and 20 percent of NBC, and all of which manufactured radio parts. Aylesworth observed:
A radio receiving-set is of no value intrinsically, as it stands in your house with the switch turned off. Its only value is created by what comes out of it. Our business, therefore, is to do everything possible to give the public high-class broadcasting so that it will purchase equipment, either from the manufacturers who own our Company or from their competitors.
Yet convincing advertisers, and advertising agencies, that radio was a worthwhile medium for broadcasting required a good deal of effort by broadcasters. Significant amounts of money were spent on the promotion of radio, sometimes resulting in rather overblown claims; a document produced by NBC in 1929 stated boldly, "Because Broadcast Advertising appeals to the prospective purchaser through the medium of his ear instead of his eye, it acts on him in a subconscious manner, supplementing all other advertising to him," employing language from psychology that increasingly found its way into advertising discourse following World War I. People's emotions were preyed upon, whether fear or something more pleasant. "Soup can produce emotion," said Edith Lewis of J. Walter Thompson in 1923; "you can write as emotionally about ham as about Christianity."
The National Broadcasting Company and its younger, upstart rival, the Columbia Broadcasting System, produced countless lavish brochures on products, as well as on programs, stars, and their overall stable of entertainers in order to hype themselves to potential advertisers (I will examine some of these below). NBC would also send materials that touted previous successes, including sample scripts, recommendations for music, and more. And the networks would offer free items to listeners who wrote in. Erik Barnouw writes that in the June 1932 issue of Chain Store Management magazine, the Kellogg Company told its dealers how merchandising through Singing Lady program, a children's show, was working:
Just think of this: 14,000 people a day, from every state in the Union, are sending tops of Kellogg packages to the Singing Lady for her song book. Nearly 100,000 tops a week come into Battle Creek. And many hundreds of thousands of children, fascinated by her songs and stories and helped by her counsel on food, are eating more Kellogg cereals today than ever before. This entire program is pointed to increase consumption—by suggesting Kellogg cereals, not only for breakfast but for lunch, after school and the evening meal. It's another evidence of the Kellogg policy to build business—and it's building.
Selling Radio to Advertising Agencies
NBC and, later, the Columbia Broadcasting System also attempted to sell radio to advertising agencies using some of the same strategies just discussed. Typical of early solicitation letters sent to advertising agencies was this one from an NBC representative (no signature was on the carbon) to a representative at the Philip Kobbé Company Inc. in New York City dated 17 February 1925, which included a list of rates and the results of a survey that revealed that radios were in relatively affluent homes—"They can afford luxuries"—and a list of advertisers, followed by this pitch:
These representative advertisers have found Radio Broadcasting to be an effective means of gaining the friendship of the buying public, and a powerful medium for indelibly impressing the name of their product on its memory. Doesn't it follow quite naturally that when the radio audience is entertained by the "Eveready Entertainers"—"The Astor Coff ee Orchestra"—"The Happiness Candy Boys"—"The A & P Gypsies" each group composed of professional talent of the highest caliber, the result is bound to be a pleasant remembrance of the names "Eveready," "Astor Coffee," etc. One proof of this is the thousands of letters of commendation and appreciation addressed to the "Eveready Entertainers"—"The Astor Coffee Orchestra" or "The Happiness Candy Boys" in the files of their respective clients.
Once advertising agencies began to be convinced of the usefulness of radio in advertising—a process that did not happen all at once, some agencies being slower to get on the bandwagon than others—broadcasters and advertising agency radio department staff members devoted much of their to time informing their clients and potential clients about what radio, and advertising on the radio, was all about. Essentially, they had to promote radio to their colleagues who had learned advertising as a print business, and who saw themselves as rather highbrow. This was especially true at the J. Walter Thompson Company, the biggest advertising agency in America at the time; Stanley Resor, who with others had purchased the company from Thompson in 1916, was the first head of a major advertising firm who had a college degree, and his was from Yale.
The Thompson Company staff meeting minutes in the late 1920s reveal a good deal of proselytizing on behalf of radio by members of the agency's newly formed radio department. The first head of this department, William H. Ensign, defended radio to his bosses and colleagues in the meeting of 11 July 1928 by saying, "As far as J. Walter Thompson is concerned, the latest developments are along lines of loss of ground rather than making progress as far as billing is concerned," because two of their clients had decided to cancel most of their radio programs. Ensign nonetheless defended the new medium: the problem was not radio but the clients' cold feet, and once new sales data were in, the clients could be urged to resume broadcasting. Ensign went on to mention broadcasting plans for other clients, and then produced his main evidence in favor of radio, that "15 national advertisers and 6 semi-national or local have entered the ranks of broadcast advertisers" in the previous six months, and he included a list of Thompson competitors that had started radio departments.
Attempts to convince colleagues continued in other company venues. J. Walter Thompson's News Letter from 15 September 1928 displayed on its first page an article by one of the company's first radio program producers, Gerard Chatfield, who was a classically trained musician formerly employed by NBC. Chatfield began his article, "Advertising Agency Should Recognize and Use Radio," by writing, "Radio broadcasting has become a major medium in record-breaking time. It should be considered as such and not as a freakish mystery, a plaything or an experiment. It is simply another means of gaining entrance into approximately 10,000,000 of the most prosperous homes in the United States."
Excerpted from The Sounds of CAPITALISM by TIMOTHY D. TAYLOR Copyright © 2012 by The University of Chicago . Excerpted by permission of University of Chicago Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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