Historical Ad Study

I found this assignment to be particularly difficult. Finding originally advertisements for the early American typewriting machine proved to be fruitless until I began using the Duke University Libraries Rare Books and Manuscripts service. Even using Duke’s website I still had to narrow my search to a specific company. I thought of one of the most famous typewriter companies in the world, Underwood. Underwood typewriter’s are world famous and so are many of their advertisements. For the purpose of this assignment, however, I searched for the oldest typewriter advertisements I could find. The era I ended up in was the 1930s and the advertisements that I was able to find would be commonly seen on billboards throughout the United States. While I do not find these advertisements to be persuasive to 21st century consumers, by looking at these advertisements through the lens of a 1930s shopping young urban professional I can see how these advertisements were effective.

The first advertisement that I analyzed was titled “Quiet! Underwood Noiseless Typewriter” and was very cute. The advertisement has in bold letters the word quiet.Playing on the assumption that everyone appreciates silence when they are working, this advertisement gets the attention of consumers through this effective appeal to the consumers preferences. When describing a typewriter, quiet is critical. Remember how annoying it is when the person next to you in class is constantly tapping their pencil on their desk, well imagine that tenfold when an office is filled with people type away on typewriters. It sounds like a hive of angry bees are about to attack. For people purchasing a new typewriter, quietness was definitely an attribute that people looked out for. The advertisement has a small mouse scurrying across the page. The mouse is used to emphasize the quiet pitter patter of the letters typing on paper. Even though mice are repulsing to many people, it was well known in the 1930s that mice are quiet animals. With this knowledge, it was very smart for the ad to make use of a mouse to emphasize how quiet the typewriter is. Also the advertisement is very simple, clear, and does not need anything flashy to encourage consumers to buy their typewriter.

The second advertisement I found is titled “Underwood Portable Typewriters”. Most typewriters were incredible heavy and could not be easily transported from place to place. By portraying a young woman easily carrying her Underwood typewriter along with her little purse, was an effective way of telling consumers, “It’s so easy a little lady could carry it!”. The advertisement makes use of the archaic assumption that women are the weaker sex, and gives the Underwood typewriter credibility that men can carry the typewriter easily too. Women commonly worked as secretaries and other positions where their work consisted of a considerable amount of typing. As well as showing how light the typewriter is, the advertisement effectively emphasizes that this typewriter is perfect for the working women who is shuffling back and forth from work and home. While the advertisement looks like it is be marketed for young women, it reaches a much wider audience of all consumers who have to type immensely and need their typewriters at home and at work. The typewriter in the advertisement looks wrapped up like a gift, which is telling consumers that the Underwood typewriter would make a wonderful gift. I think the ad effectively does this by showing how happy the woman in the advertisement is to have a brand new portable Underwood typewriter.

The third advertisement I found is titled “-nice going! Underwood Portable”. I did not find this advertisement to be effective at encouraging the average consumer of the 1930s to purchase the Underwood typewriter. The advertisement has a young boy using the typewriter and saying “nice going”. If I was a consumer in the 1930s, I would think that Underwood was giving themselves a pat on the back for their product. This advertisement does not add any credibility to the functionality of the typewriter at all. I also do not see the connection between a young boy saying nice going and how portable a typewriter is. Maybe if the boy was holding the typewriter as if it were very light the advertisement would make more sense. I also considered that the boy was congratulating people for purchasing the Underwood typewriter because he thought it was a good product. Still, the advertisement is overall confusing and does not achieve the goal of peaking consumer interest in the Underwood typewriter.

The first two advertisements I discussed were great examples of successful advertisements from the 1930s because they clearly explained why Underwood typewriters were more desirable than other typewriters. With the combination of the “Quiet” and “Portable” advertisements, I am confident that Underwood collected a considerable amount of business. Even though the third advertisement I introduced was not persuasive to me, I think that the individuals responsible for making the Underwood typewriter advertisements had a good understand of American society in the 1930s. This assignment made me realize how advertisements really target widely perceived stereotypes in order to coax consumers to purchase their products. For example, I think having a child carry the portable typewriter in the second advertisement, “Underwood Portable Typewriters”, as opposed to a woman would have expressed the idea that the typewriter is light and would not portray women as weak while doing so. Ultimately, I think it is important to be in touch with the way people are reacting to advertisements in order to see how effective advertising campaigns are. I do not have the statistics on Underwood typewriter sales were in the 1930s in response to their advertisements, but if I was to continue my research that is definitely something I would be interested in seeing.
Underwood. “Quiet! Underwood Noiseless Typewriter”. 1930s. outdoor advertising.Duke U.Rare Book and Manuscript Lib. Ad*Access. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.
Underwood. “Underwood Portable Typewriters”. 1930s. outdoor advertising. Duke U.Rare Book and Manuscript Lib. Ad*Access. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.
Underwood. “-nice going! Underwood Portable”. 1936. outdoor advertising. Duke U.Rare Book and Manuscript Lib. Ad*Access. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.


One thought on “Historical Ad Study

  1. I certainly agree with you that this assignment was difficult to approach, but I think you handled it well. Your analysis of the first two articles is exceptional. You definitely caught on to how marketers for the company played upon stereotypes of the time and consumer values. Without certain background knowledge, I personally learned new values and stereotypes of the time of the advertisements I evaluated. Did you find this to be true also? Additionally, I too think it would be interesting to do further research on your object to see just how effective the marketers were at producing sales for the product.


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