Historical Ad Analysis: Microwaves

Today, most homeowners  know to buy microwaves. They speed up the cooking process greatly and broaden the array of foods that homeowners can make as some foods are now produced specifically for microwave cooking. Taking a moment to consider popular products advertised, I realized that I’ve never seen a microwave ad. However, this was not always the case and the understanding to buy a microwave did not always exist. A few decades ago, manufacturers advertised their microwave appliances in order to sell their novel products.

Ward-Elkins specifically markets their Amana Radarange microwaves. The advertisement that I looked at, a billboard, takes a simplistic approach. It only displays the most important information and does so boldly. The product, a microwave, is named in a large, eye-catching font. It is paired with an image of the product on the right. However, the image appears somewhat cartoonish, not an actual photograph. I think this is a daring move of Ward-Elkins to make. Customers like to see exactly what they are buying so that they can ensure its credibility and aesthetic appeal. Ward-Elkins then writes the company name in the bottom left corner. The color of the font, yellow, stands out against the blue and brown hues of the rest of the billboard. Their decision to use such a scheme makes sense because ultimately, the company wants to sell itself. Lastly, and arguably most importantly, the price is listed in large letters right underneath the product image. Price can often be the “make or break” factor in a consumer’s decision to buy a product. By clearly displaying the microwave price, the advertisement gives viewers a straightforward reason to purchase (or not purchase) the microwave. In this advertisement, Ward-Elkins uses a simple color scheme and only includes the four most important characteristics of the product on the billboard. It uses large and bold fonts to catch the eyes of people driving by the billboard, which is raised high off the road. The advertisement assumes that viewers know microwaves’ function. It doesn’t’ list the dimensions of the microwave either, which could be important for people who have limited counter space. I think the nature of the ad—a billboard that potential customers stare at for five seconds as they approach and drive past it—calls for the company to only include extremely necessary information and communicate such information with as few words as possible. Including too many longer phrases would not allow the viewer to take everything in. The advertisement makes the product appear flashy, with the shadow effect of the word “microwave,” and affordable, with the price proudly displayed. I think that Ward-Elkins created a successful billboard advertisement.

Another billboard advertisement that I chose to analyze markets a microwave sold by Whirlpool.  Similarly to the Ward-Elkins advertisement, this billboard uses large, bold fonts and incudes very little information conveyed in extremely short phrases. A picture of the microwave takes up the left side of the billboard. Then, on the right, the ad markets the product as small and compact, stating that it “fits any kitchen!” This is important because one feature of microwaves that people enjoy is their small size. Lastly, the advertisement names the product and company. The billboard is extremely objective, with only a picture, vague description, and company/product name. Analyzing the description of size some more, I think it’s ironic that Whirlpool includes this phrase. Companies try to avoid making broad generalizations in fear that some customer will not have the aforementioned experience, and then the company gets in trouble. However, ignoring the fact that the company perhaps should not have said this, I think the rhetoric is extremely successful. Their claim that the microwave will fit in any space sells the product to almost anyone with a space for it. People who might be turned away from buying large appliances will not feel that way about the Whirlpool microwave. One important part of consumerism is not included on the advertisement—the price. This is unlike the Ward-Elkins advertisement. The Raytheon microwave advertisement does not name a price either.  By not including the price, Whirlpool forces any interested customer to investigate the ad further. Then, while perusing the Whirlpool catalogue, customers are further exposed to the products. In this sense, the billboard begins an extended advertising process. On the other hand, people might not care enough or remember to research the product further if they aren’t positive that they can afford it. The only way to positively ensure that viewers could afford the product is to include the price on the ad.

Raytheon Manufacturing Company publishes an advertisement that markets literal microwaves. It’s futuristic in a sense; it strikes me as “sci-fi,” yet it also grounds itself in the past. It mentions the “Yucca Flat atomic explosion.” Very few advertisements would reference the Hydrogen bomb, especially when such ads are trying to sell something that could be used every day (television sets and radar magnetron sets). The bomb, traditionally associated with feelings of fear and violence, takes an aggressive stance in marketing microwaves to the public, explaining how microwaves can help communicate even the “most powerful” images or help cure patients in hospitals, taking a beneficiary perspective. I am surprised that the advertisement would make its biggest image be a bomb explosion for the disturbed emotions it may initiate. However, the image conforms to the text’s ethos. The advertisement is interesting in that it appears to sell the literal microwaves more than the kitchen appliance specifically. The advertisement assumes that customers want to stay up-to-date on the news. The advertisement that consumers should buy into Raytheon Microwaves because they deliver fast, sharp, and a “ringside seat” experience for important news. In a decade when the world made great scientific leaps and took part in global affairs, staying abreast of the news was necessary. (And it still is today—imagine having no access to any news source!) Yet the advertisement also recognizes the people who prefer to watch football and spend more time focusing on what’s going on in their personal lives. Raytheon mentions the fact that the microwaves come in compact units. Raytheon appeals to people with all types of interests in order to sell them their microwave units. Lastly, Raytheon includes a “Guaranteed by Good Housekeeping” stamp to give the television an additional stamp of credible approval.

Each of these advertisements makes a bold move and includes things that the other advertisements do not. The Ward-Elkins advertisement does not include a real picture of the product. Instead, it includes lots of vital facts about the product. In addition, of the three advertisements I studied, this is the only one to mention a price.  The Whirlpool advertisement includes an appealing, yet broad, claim. It shows a picture of the product. Also, similarly to the Ward-Elkins billboard, the advertisement assumes that people know microwaves’ use. The Raytheon advertisement mentions the hydrogen bomb, a precarious topic. However, it uses includes two real pictures of the products it wants to sell.  This ad was published in TIME Magazine. Therefore, it warrants more text since people flip through magazines to read stories. On the other hand, the other two advertisements appeared on billboards. For this reason, they stick to using as few words as possible and flashy images and text.  Each advertisement uses characteristics of advertising and design that fit well with the space on which the advertisement is displayed. Although microwaves and their ads have since been updated, these advertisements’ rhetoric is successful in continuously selling the products. After all, almost everyone now owns or has easy access to a microwave.

Works Cited:

  • Ward-Elkins. “Microwaves” [SLA0417]. Advertisement. 1983. Duke University Rare Book and Manuscript Library. OAAA Slide Library. Web. 23 Nov. 2014.
  • “Fits any kitchen! Whirlpool Microwave ovens” [SLA3880].  Advertisement. 1984. Duke University Rare Book and Manuscript Library. OAAA Slide Library. Web. 23 Nov. 2014.
  • Raytheon Manufacturing Company. “TV spot news—by Raytheon Microwave” [TV0282]. Advertisement. Time 1953: Duke University Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Ad*Access. Web. 23 Nov. 2014.

2 thoughts on “Historical Ad Analysis: Microwaves

  1. You have analysed the advertisements from various angles, understanding the physical appeal, content, target audience and medium. You have also managed to compare and contrast the ads, describing the strengths of each one and explaining the possible rationality behind them.


  2. I appreciate your comparison of the different methods each brand chose to utilize in promoting their products and their uses. You provided a detailed description of the ads and commented on whether or not you felt the ads were successful. I always wondered why certain ads were so simplistic in nature, but you were able to inform me through the essay that the viewer doesn’t have much time to comprehend most of the information displayed on billboards or such. The essay effectively addressed the prompt and showed your great writing abilities.


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