This ad (to the right) is highly “incorrect” in modern consumer culture.
But that wasn’t the case 50+ years ago. Although it wasn’t her intention, Christine Frederick is responsible for this gradual change in culture (and advertising).
Christine Frederick was a home economist, editor of multiple papers and an advertising research expert who specialized in WOMEN.
She put most of her big ideas in a book called Selling Mrs. Consumer (you can read it here).
Selling Mrs Consumer
Selling Mrs. Consumer was Christine Frederick’s magnum opus after 10+ years of work conducting consumer research about the average US woman.
In the book, Frederick paints a picture of the average American woman (Mrs. Consumer) in 1929. She also points out flaws of contemporary advertising and describes what advertising towards women SHOULD look like.
[Translation: She found a bunch of actionable ways to sell more stuff to women.]
Almost no one today knows who Christine Frederick is, but her impact on advertising, marketing, capitalism and consumerism is unmistakable.
She was one of the first–if not THE first–to understand (and write about) the huge untapped potential represented by women in a consumer society. She also pointed out little-known contemporary trends such as that:
- The husband may earn the money, but it is generally Mrs. Consumer who spends it.
- Mrs. Consumer enjoys advertising in women’s magazines because it satisfies her curiosity of keeping up with recent trends (why women read Elle magazine or airline magazines, when both contain 10 % content and 90 % ads).
- Even if the husband likes a car he will not buy it unless Mrs. Consumer also likes it (when this insight caught on, car manufacturers started making more colorful models and advertised them in women’s magazines, so that when men who took their wives shopping, the wife would recognize the car and want him to buy it).
Frederick believed that contemporary advertising towards women was too advanced, logical, and boring. She recommended that companies go with the magic pill (marketing) strategy instead:
We women don’t consciously follow advertising in order to make great basic changes. We think in short cycles, not long cycles; of today rather than of tomorrow. . . The object of every consumer, is to get the greatest value for my money with the least expenditure of time and effort.
Today’s female ads are simpler and less mentally straining. No need to read.
Frederick believed women had adapted themselves to advertising in a different way than men:
This attitude of ours toward advertising is unconscious. We [women] inhale advertising as we breathe in air–and exhale unconsciously that part of it which is without interest. . .
We women simply adapt ourselves to an advertising age as men adapt themselves to a machine age.
And she thought advertising was character-building in a positive way:
Not only has it [advertising] by force of example made a bath in a porcelain tub and a brushing of our teeth national, daily rites, but it is performing the task that the churches have long given up–it is strengthening our characters. I am really serious. Advertising is truly forcing us to develop strength of will to resist its alluring temptations to buy articles which we do not need.
Christine Frederick and Progressive Obsolescence
Her second biggest impact on modern consumer culture was the idea of progressive obsolescence: