Jennifer Scanlon, “Advertising Women: The J. Walter Thompson Company Women’s Editorial Department.”
Article Blog by Sterling Warren-Hepburn
Scanlon delves into the world of the women behind the advertisements in women’s magazines during the early twentieth century; specifically the women of the J. Walter Thompson agency, which was the most successful advertising agency in the United States at that time. The agency had a uniquely progressive stance on women in the workplace and provided great opportunities to the women employed there; even establishing a department run by women specifically geared to create advertising aimed toward female consumers.
Helen Lansdowne Resor (who we discussed Monday in class) was one of J. Walter Thompson’s female employees that made a name for herself during her time at the agency. She was the first person to use sex appeal in ads (very subtly) as a way to market products. This was found to be an incredibly successful marketing tool.
Two examples of Helen's ads:
A recent ad (also for soap) that shows that we still use sex appeal to sell things (sorry this is huge!):
Scanlon states that the women who worked in the department were “independent, resourceful, confident, and often feminist.” Most of them were middle to upper-middle class, and well educated. The women viewed their audience as complex and not easy to categorize. They did not think there was one "composite female" for them to sell things to. However, Scanlon describes a disconnect between these working women and their audience. Advertising was aimed toward the typical “housewife,” whose daily lives were very different from the lives of the women working in advertising at the agency. Scanlon also makes the point that the women found in the ads were more glamorous and idealized depictions of housewives, rather than being representative of what the audience of housewives was actually like.
Helen Resor developed the concept of using sex appeal in advertising. Why do you think this is an effective strategy?
Do you believe women are still emphasized as being the main consumers in our society (as opposed to men?) Why or why not?