You may enjoy leafing through old magazines for their colorful ads, but what might those advertisements tell us about the people who read the magazine and bought the products? What do they reveal about American society during this era? Read the background on these primary sources from the early 1960s, then see if you can analyze and interpret what historical evidence advertisements may hold.
The advertisements shown here were all published in Life Magazine from 1961 to 1965. Henry Luce founded Life in 1936, after the success of Time Magazine, which he started in 1923. According to Louden Wainwright’s account in The Great American Magazine, Luce was inspired partly by picture magazines emerging from Europe. His vision was for a magazine that would consist mostly of photographs that would "tackle subjects in a broad perspective," in contrast to the more in-depth treatments in Time (12). According to Wainwright, Life’s reputation as a publication was as "the earnest, cheerful broker of the high-mindedness and the good intensions of the American establishment" (363). Wainwright notes that in the 1950s advertisers invested more money in Life than any other magazine; but by the end of the 1960s advertisers were more convinced that their money should be spent on television ads. This "ad collapse" directly contributed to the demise of the magazine in 1972 (Wainwright, 175). Wainwright credits American novelist Laura Hobson, a member of the Life promotional staff during the magazine’s early years, for influencing Luce to "make a strong effort to reach the women’s market" (42).
Analyze and Interpret
What images or text did certain advertisers use to appeal to women during this time period? Do you think they were effective?
In what way do the advertisements shown here exploit women? How are today’s advertisements different-- how are they similar?
How did advertisers depict American life during this era? What values were they hoping to communicate? How did they suggest those values were conveyed by certain products?