Soap, Sex and Cigarettes- A Book Review

Soap, Sex and Cigarette is a book about the impact of society, business and technological advances on the evolution of American Advertising. It explains how modern advertising could not have developed without the printing press or other form of media and communication as well as how the industrial revolution, the world wars and the great depression were all essential events in shaping the current advertising spectrum.

More than just a chronological account of events that led to the advertising that we see today, the book explains the involvement of the consumer in shaping the current marketing practices. It explains how changes in the economy, emerging technologies and the consumer research and analysis of what is appropriate for all has shaped the way consumer products are manufactured, packaged, marketed and advertised. The book also gives a brief overview of the evolution process of the modern American full-service advertising agency.

The target audience for this book is not only a person interested in the evolution of the advertising industry but also someone trying to foresee the future of digital advertising that is currently evolving. Understanding the reasons and the events that led to the way advertising is done today can help a reader understand deeply why advertising is moving online and even to possibly predict the near future of this industry. From this perspective, the subject matter is interesting, carefully selected and well coordinated with illustrations that are quite pertinent.

In terms of content, the book is divided into four major evolution modules, indicating the impact each had on advertising practices in American society due to social, cultural and technological advances in that era, enabling a new and more targeted way for advertisers to reach consumers.

Early American Advertising (1880-1920):

The book lays a great foundation of how the advertising modules grew. For example, the industrial revolution led to a culture of mass consumption leading to the development of consumer goods like ready made clothes, canned foods, sporting events, recreational reading centers and theatres. This required a more targeted advertising. It led to the creation of targeting consumer by market segment, defining target markets, which eventually gave rise to mass media advertising.

Modern American Advertising (1920s- 1960s):

Sivulka gives a detailed account of the impact of wars, atomic age, the evolution of new communication mediums and its impact of society.
It all started with the impact of the 1920s machine driven culture. As consumer electronics started becoming affordable, and owning these items became a status symbol, advertising became inspired with fashion, colorful logos and stylish poster depictions to attract consumers. Mass media allowed defining entirely new markets which were previously unreachable for marketers. Television, Radio, magazines and the tabloid newspaper advertising led to the creation of the slogan line, selling on appeal and advertising design. These new range of services led to advertising agencies expanding their services, thus were created the present agencies like Leo Burnett, DBB, Ogilvy and the like. The book is able to tie the cultural impact of the wars, the great depression and the atomic age in the development of this business.

Contemporary American Advertising (1960-2000):

“The spread of new social values began to transform the workplace, creating new demands for equal rights in hiring and promotion.” In this part, the book ties the impact of multiculturalism, feminism and environmentalism to American Advertising, explaining the impact of culture change, leading to high creative demands which resulted in large acquisitions and creation of the “Mega Agencies” like McCann-Erickson, BBDO, Ogilvy, Grey Advertising and the rest. The technological advances like the computer generated graphics in television commercials, aided the popularity of television advertising. The ability for marketers to capture large audience led to creation of marketing niches based on class, gender, race and age. Thus came the era of genre targeted advertising. Product differentiation, market segmentation, comparative advertising, all were stepping-stones to the evolution of the information era- the era of the Internet.

New Media Advertising/Digital Advertising (2000 Onwards):

In this part, the book talks about the problems that advertising faces in the Internet age, where communication channels are mainly email, texting, you-tube, social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. From the requirement of multicultural targeting to user-generated content, the book explains the dilemmas that marketers/advertisers face in this age. It also flashes some light on the new interactive advertising strategies that have now emerged like mobile applications and interactive television. Finally, the last chapter explains the growth of agencies and their memorable digital campaigns like that of the Apple IPod, Nike Burger King and others, which have paved the way for digital advertising campaigns of tomorrow.

Each of these sections clearly outline, the events that led to the changes in American advertising and the resulting effect on consumers. The book is however subtitled “A Cultural History of American Advertising” and here is where it falls short. Being an excellent resource for understanding history of advertising, it is not able to communicate how advertising influenced society. In short excerpts, it demonstrates the stereotype of people of color and women being influenced by advertising, however this demonstration is not nearly as well explained as would be expected from a book with this title.

At last, “Soap, Sex and Cigarettes” is definitely exhaustively researched and very well written. I would recommend it as a great resource for both the professional marketer/advertiser and the casually interested.

Book Reference:

Sivulka J. (2011) Soap, Sex, and Cigarettes: A Cultural History of American Advertising, Boston MA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

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One response to “Soap, Sex and Cigarettes- A Book Review

  1. Pingback: Book Reviews « COM546 : Evolutions

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