Are You Owned By Madison 5th Avenue?


New York has traditionally been the hub of all things advertising, although this has changed somewhat with the advent of more mobile technology. Throughout history, advertising has been a lucrative business as the American economy transitioned to consumerism, especially after World War II.

In Mona Lisa Smile, we see how this affected a generation of women–modernizing meant labor-saving devices to take care of the family so that they could “get the dinner on the table by 5:00.” We saw this in advertising slicks, character archetypes. This film shows the social history of the post-war era very well.

The 1950’s were about the rise of the suburb and the American middle class.

Critical Questions and challenge: 

1. How does advertising and media portray certain groups of people at certain times in history?

2. Are these images accurate?

3. Why do the advertisers and media want to portray group in these way?

4. How has the image of this group, as portrayed in advertising and media, changed throughout history?


Pick a certain demographic or group, then pick a decade from US history.  Research advertisements that show your group in that decade. Then, analyze the information you find, and either write a blog post linking to the material and addressing the critical questions, or present your findings to the class in a 3-5 minute presentation, including visuals.

Option two: You may choose to examine a certain product throughout the ages–for example cars, or Coca-Cola. Look at how the campaigns change, and explain how pop culture drives this.

Please add any interesting vintage advertisements you find to this Learnist board, “Vintage Advertisements,”  so we can have a collection of our thoughts, showing how each group was portrayed.


Groups that met the challenge: 

This challenge turned out wonderfully. I’m going to post a few of the most successful presentations here.

Offensive Advertisements:  Alyson and Shyla researched material that is from the mainstream American advertising culture and assembled it into the theme “offensive advertisments.” The shocking nature of some of these “you’ve seen these on TV at 4PM” ads really hit home. What was more, was the reaction of the audience, by gender, to this presentation, shows me that we have a very long way to go. We will spend more time discussing that reaction next time we meet.

Leiah’s findings were similar, but of a different shocking nature–ads from the 50’s showed the image of women in relationships. Her question was “Why can men have several relationships and be portrayed as cool, but women are called names and looked down upon?”

The men–Domenick, Dylan, Edward, and Dayvon–traced the history of one of the iconic brands from American History–showing how the campaign for Coca-Cola transformed from the use of women to portray the home and family to one that quickly evolved to pin-up girls.

Dot and Mileena had some technical difficulties, but dug up an impressive archive with a theme that mirrored Alyson and Shyla. They have agreed to put it together for use here. Showing women in the kitchen, dominated by men, and portrayed negatively even in modern ads, they showed us the need to work on this image.

Zach and Britney took an entirely political approach, tracing the history of wartime propaganda ads and their effects on the American public.

We have more to go, and I would love to see you share these with me via Google doc for posting here. This assignment, and the after-convo, inspired me to do the work myself–I made this–Dove Beauty Campaign’s response to the fact that only 4% of women feel they are beautiful. Please add to this Learnist board. It’s an important topic.







One thought on “Are You Owned By Madison 5th Avenue?

  1. In the early 1900’s Many companies actually used uranium in their products. Many people thought that it had many positive qualities and effects. I mean hey, it glowed in the dark. In the early 1900’s this probably made it seem almost magical to a lot of people. Health companies also supported radium and even sold water infused with the the stuff. there was also a company that created watches that had glow in the dark dial faces for the military. However the problem was that the girls who painted these watch faces would often rub the bristles of their brush between their lips to give it that extra fine point for accuracy. This led to many of the girls either getting sick or dying from radiation poisoning.

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