The refrigerator, in one form or another, has been around for a long time. Originally it was simply an ice box, and food was kept cold only by the ice that it was physically near or on. Scientific advances made more efficient refrigeration possible, culminating in the modern refrigerator. From our modern point of view, this looks like sort of a no-brainer. Given all we know about the refrigerator now, everyone knows its something you have just got to own. But back when it was relatively new, innovative technology, the question of how to market it still remained.
This ad is from the Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA) collection, dated between 1934 and 1941.
In this first advertisement, it might initially be hard to see what’s important. There’s a penguin, which is clearly there so the consumer will associate this specific brand of refrigerator with cold, but that’s nothing groundbreaking, or even marginally interesting really. The ad also mentions the pricing of the refrigerator and the “easy terms,” but again, that’s pretty standard in most advertising. The only thing that’s left is the phrase “In a million homes.” And in this already simple phrase, there’s one key word that stands out and makes clear who the target audience is: homes. This refrigerator is for your home. It’s not marketed as being in a million houses, owned by a million individuals, or having sold a million of them. Home is a word that makes everyone feel comfortable, and it brings up images of home cooked food and family, which is the important thing that the word home appeals to. This refrigerator ad is subtly saying that it won’t just be a part of your house, but also your home and even your family.
Again from the OAAA, this ad is undated. Based on the drawing style of Blondie and Dagwood, it seems to be more recent (much closer to 1990 than 1930), but no specific date is given.
This second advertisement depicts two iconic cartoon characters: Dagwood and Blondie from the comic strip and film series Blondie, created by Chic Young back in 1930. Interestingly, Dagwood and Blondie started out as wealthy boyfriend and girlfriend, but during the Great Depression, they lost their money and got married to make the strip more relatable. Since then, they have been seen as the iconic married couple living in the suburbs with their children. And who better to advertise a refrigerator? Just as with the last ad, this is designed to appeal to a sense of home and family, because in the end, that’s really who buys a refrigerator. Single people certainly buy refrigerators, but so do newly married couples looking to start a home and a family. Dagwood and Blondie represent a comfortable, happy home, and so are perfect for a refrigerator ad.
This ad is listed (again undated) in the OAAA collection from 1885-1990, but based on the woman’s hair, 1950-1960 seems like a good range.
In this final ad, much like the first ad, it’s not immediately apparent what’s relevant and interesting. The text makes clear the advantages of the particular refrigerator: it brings ice right to you! But again, the question is who this is being marketed to. The answer seems to be women like the woman in the picture, but who is she exactly? She appears to be young and attractive, she has a modern (for the time) look, and upon close inspection, she is wearing a ring. She’s married! That’s hugely important, because once again, this is appealing to the married home. It also appeals to each individual member of the home. Men would see this ad and think that owning that refrigerator would somehow get him a beautiful girl like that. And women looking at the ad would think that owning that refrigerator would make them young, beautiful, and modern. This is a slight variation from the previous advertisements that seemed to appeal to the family and home as a whole, but it is still quite effective and appeals to the same group, but in a slightly different way.
Between all three of these ads, one thing really remains the same: the appeal to the family. It seems that since its early days up to more modern ads, refrigerator ads have been targeted towards homes and families. This seems to indicate that it works, and that the people buying refrigerators really are people who buy into these ads, or in other words, are part of the home and / or family depicted or hinted at in these ads.
Gold Seal Coldspot Refrigerators in a Million Homes <http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/oaaaarchives_AAA7263/>.
End Defrosting Forever With a No-Frost Modern Refrigerator. <http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/oaaaarchives_AAA1891/>.
New Side-by-Side Refrigerator. General Electric delivers ice to your door! <http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/oaaaarchives_AAA2316/>.