Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Christmas 1946

It looks like being a Wonga Christmas here in Britain. Blizzards of iPads and Play Station 4s will blanket the land, mostly paid for with payday loans or compensation payments for PPI mis-selling. Television remains the principle engine of consumption, alternately flattering, imploring or deceiving the viewers into parting with far more cash than they actually possess in order to give every appearance of boundless munificence. Looking back to the pages of Saturday Evening Posts from December 1946 we find that advertisers were deploying many of the techniques of persuasion that survive to this day as they scrap for a share of all the excess dollars that swill around every December. The example above from the insurance industry cultivates the sense of high anxiety and desperation that typifies Christmas for many. Tis the Season for Litigation – all the perils of Christmas cheer are graphically described here. Who hasn’t brained their neighbour with a snow shovel or entertained their guests with collapsing chairs? Compensation culture was already in full swing in 1946 America. Gift suggestions form the larger part of these ads and Christmas imagery is prominent. Where Santa puts in a personal appearance, the illustrators struggled to achieve a consistent standard of joviality and some distinctly ambiguous facial expressions can be seen. The tobacco industry was in its full majesty, marketing a wide range of gift packs and suborning the medical profession to testify to the benefits of smoking. A singular curiosity is the absence of alcoholic drink advertising, suggesting that the Post reader of 1946 was an abstemious creature, unwilling to see their favourite reading matter contaminated by publicity for the Devil’s cocktails. 

The railroads and airlines battle for supremacy in the “We get ’em home” category. The airlines would decisively win the battle in the next decade.

Attractive gift packs and a recommendation from the family doctor would surely be enough to eliminate any lingering health doubts on the part of smokers.

For men – shirts, ties, socks and pens, and for the lucky, lucky lady in your life, a shiny new Never-lift electric iron. Housework has never been so much fun.

The full-page Santas often had an unsettling air of menace about them.

Food and drink promotions relied on tableaux of seasonal euphoria, although Campbell’s Soup went for a less elevating message stressing the convenience of the product.

The home comforts and safety category was a brave attempt to sell some banal products by linking them to seasonal extravagance.

The man who covets a Higgins Camp Trailer may have unrealistic expectations but who could fail to be tempted by the graphic representation of such a thrilling range of activities?

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