Historical Advertising Study: “WOW! What A Radio!”

1st AD:http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/adaccess_R0040/

2nd AD:http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/adaccess_R0074/

3rd AD:http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/adaccess_R0114/

In the first advertisement (Sentinel), the viewers’ eyes are instantly drawn to the big and bold “WOW!” text in the corner. It is written in all capitalized letters and is the biggest text in the advertisement (along with the brand name of the radio) to evoke a tone of excitement and surprise for the entire advertisement. The connotation here is “what you are about to read next will utterly shock you!” which plays off of the pathos of the reader by persuading them to feel enthusiastic.  The emphatic “WOW!” is then followed up with “What a radio!” to introduce the Sentinel Radio as the center of the enthusiasm.

Next, the readers’ eyes are instantly drawn down to the cartoon drawing of a family listening to the radio. Having a family in the ad, instead of an individual, gives it an inclusive feeling; it implies that the radio is not just for adults, but for the family. It also plays on the pathos of the readers by suggesting that Sentinel Radio is committed to bringing the family together and cares about the entire family. Using a cartoon, as opposed to a real life photo, lends a playful and animated quality to the ad which adds to the ad’s tone of enthusiasm. The radio is much larger than it would be in real life (almost larger than the family) which draws attention to the radio as the most important object. The family lends more attention to the radio by facing it (with their backs to the readers) which persuades the readers that whatever is being said through the radio is engaging. It also has sound lines moving away from it in a diagonal motion toward the family to indicate volume and clarity.

The text written beneath the visual is much smaller than the rest of the ad, but centered to still assert its importance. It is composed of dialogue from each family member explaining how great the radio is which also adds to the tone of inclusivity. Words and phrases such as “Reception-Perception … Sentinel will have what you want!” engages potential customers by using ethos; The ad proposes that the customer will not want more because Sentinel Radio is reliable and offers

every choice so that the customer is never lacking anything. Subliminally, the entire advertisement appeals to the ethos of readers in the 1940’s. During this time, emphasis was placed on building the perfect family and the appearance of a happy home. The ad caters to this desire by having a husband, wife, a son, and a daughter (known as the ideal family during this time) who appear well groomed and well-dressed. The overall message conveyed by the advertisement is that Sentinel radios are “wowing”, quality radios for quality families.

The second advertisement (Arvin) possesses something not present in the first – color. The reader is instantly drawn to the brand name “Arvin” written in very large, red letters across the top of the ad. No other text on the page is this large or written in color, which implicates that the brand name itself is the most important part of the ad. The combination of the brand name’s size, position, and presence of color lends the Arvin brand of radio an air of superiority and luxury, as color in media (even color television!) was just being introduced during this time. Beneath the brand name is the caption “Velvet Voice Radio”, suggesting to the reader that the radio’s audio quality is as luxurious and smooth as velvet.

Directly beneath the brand name and caption is a real life, red-tinted colored photo of a beautiful woman, tuning and listening to the radio. The woman is wearing a semi-formal dress with a low neckline, a broach, a tennis bracelet, neatly curled hair, darkened brows and red lips, lending the ad a tone of extravagance and seductiveness. A “dream cloud” with a man playing the violin inside floats above the radio as if to imply the radio has a dreamy, rich, and angelic sound adding more to the highbrow tone evoked by the advertisement.

Beneath the photo is the tagline “you can hear the difference!” written in a different font from the other text which highlights it as the main selling feature of the ad. Further down is the smaller text used to describe the radio and its many benefits and qualities, exclaiming that the radio has “perfect fidelity of tone … from the highest note of a famous violin to the vibrant bass of a tympani”. Key words such as “perfect fidelity” cater to the ethos of the reader by expressing an attitude of loyalty; not only are Arvin radios the best for their prices, but they will deliver glorious and unmatched sound always. The ad also claims that the radio’s “performance glistens like diamonds on black velvet” which perpetuates the tone of elegance and luxury.

In the bottom right corner of the advertisement is a colored picture of a different radio model against a red background. This ties together with all of the other red portions of the ad to accentuate the Arvin brand and the allure of a lavish lifestyle. The red color evokes a seductive and vibrant quality, suggesting that the radio adds life and color to its owners. In a more symbolic sense, the advertisement caters to the objectification and expectations of women during the 1950’s when much weight was placed on the appearance of women. The woman is placed in the ad next to the radio as if to say “the tone and look of Arvin radios are as consistently beautiful and elegant as the woman sitting next to it”.

In the final and third advertisement, the first thing the reader notices is the writing across the top that reads “Treat Yourself to the BEST with this Beautiful New Howard Radio”. “BEST” is written in all caps and utilizes pathos and ethos to engage the potential customer; the highly valued customer deserves the best (pathos), and Howard Radio is the company that can fulfill this request (ethos). Beneath it are the features of the radio written in tilted, compact rectangles with its main point in capital letters to emphasize the main selling points. The entire ad is small and uses this to communicate its compact nature to consumers as a likeable and positive quality. A picture of a Howard brand radio reserves a fourth of the space, making it the largest aspect of the advertisement to still assert the importance of the radio. At the bottom the words “America’s Oldest Manufacturer” is written in cursive to convey the prestige and reliability of the company using ethos. Overall, the ad takes the “no frills and thrills” approach, selling the product by implying that they don’t beat around the bush and neither do their radios.

Collectively, the ads speak a little about the time in which they were printed (1940s-1950s). In the first two ads (Sentinel and Arvin), the images are of Caucasian or white middle-upper to upper class Americans, letting the reader know that these products were not targeted toward minority races or working class individuals. The companies in these ads boasted of high quality radios that cater to every whim, whereas the last ad does not target any specific race or class and uses efficiency and size to sell. At large, the advertisements reveal how climbing the social and class ladder was critical during this time; each one vaunts to upgrade the consumer by giving them only the very best radio convincing them that quality people own quality radios. Jointly, the advertisements portray how regardless of the social strata that one may belong to, buying their quality radio is a way to declare that you are a quality person, and owning one could reinvent your social status.

Works Cited

Sentinel Radio Corporation. “Wow! What a Radio!” [R0040]. Advertisement. Capper’s Farmer. 1945. Duke U. Digital Collections. Ad*Access. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.

Arvin Radio. “Arvin: Velvet Voice Radio” [R0074]. Advertisement. Better Homes and Gardens. 1951. Duke U. Digital Collections. Ad*Access. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.

Howard Radio Company. “Treat Yourself to the Best with this Beautiful New Howard Radio” [R0114]. Redbook. 1947. Duke U. Digital Collections. Ad*Access. Web. 24 Nov. 2014


One thought on “Historical Advertising Study: “WOW! What A Radio!”

  1. Great choice of ads, I appreciate how they were all “old ads” that came from soon after your object was invented. All of them evoke a deep sense of nostalgia. Also, I appreciate how you organized your essay. It’s a very easy read and follows and coherent thought process. How do you think the old advertisement for ads compare to the contemporary ones? It would be interesting to add a paragraph about this at the end of your essay.


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