Understanding  cultural values, beliefs, interests, and symbols Advertising in the 1950's


Have you ever tried to help one of your grandparents program a VCR? Does your grandfather peer over your shoulder and ask you, "Is that the Intermat?"as you Instant Message three friends, download MP3s, and surf the web? Have you ever considered why your grandparents may be so bewildered (and perhaps intimidated) by the modern technology that you consider a common place necessity?

Before you jump to the conclusion that your grandparents are ignorant, frozen yogurt obsessed aliens who forget how to read when handed an instruction manual, remember most of them were born into a world where the automobile was a luxury. What if I told you that in twenty-years you will take your family to a luxury resort on the Moon for a vacation? Sound ridiculous? What would it take to convince you that such a trip was possible and actually better than going to Tahiti?

Advertising is the primary way that companies convince you to buy their products and services. Advertising serves two purposes. First, a successful advertisement educates you about the product. Why would you buy a product, if you don't know what it does? Second, advertisements appeal to your interests, insecurities, and desires to convince you that the product is not only useful, but necessary.

There are three graded parts to this project:
1. analysis of a 1950s ad
2. Production of a new ad targeted at a specific audience. (group grade)
3. analysis of a contemporary ad

••••• See the WebCT calendar for due dates. ••••••

Project procedure

You will take on the role of an advertising agent. You are part of an exclusive team responsible for a new multi-million dollar contract to develop an ad that relates to your target audience: 60-80 year old Americans. To successfully fulfill your contract, you must first examine and interpret advertisements from the 1950s to determine what values, beliefs, interests, and symbols were important and understood by your grandparents. Then, you will create an advertisement that creatively mimics the style of 1950s advertisements. Your campaign will market a modern technology, but present it as if it were from the 1950s in order to appeal to your target audience.

Your advertisement must:

  • address the values, beliefs, and interests implicit in 1950s advertisements
  • educate your audience about the function and usefulness of a modern technology

Maybe you will be able to convince your grandparents to buy a DVD player. Then you won't have to help them record The Weather Channel anymore....

Part 1 and 2

  1. Before you begin, review the following sites to learn about advertising strategies and logical fallacies. You may want to print out the information contained in these sites for future reference.

    Site Description
    The Advertising Depot
    A crash course on advertising techniques and strategies
    Media Awareness Network Strategies commonly used in commercials, but applicable to print
    Marketing Survival Kit The Psychology of Selling
    Logical fallacies A list of the most common fallacies used to persuade

  2. Working with the other members of your marketing research team, consult the following resources to familiarize yourself with the look, feel, and content of 1950s advertisements. You may find that some sites do not work. In that case, you will need to find other sites with examples of 50 ads. Each member of your group should select one ad to analyze.

    Site Description
    Database of advertisements, arranged by category
    AdFlip.com Large archive of classic print ads
    Bamboo Trading Company Collection of ads available for purchase - click on vintage ads on the right side
    a range of examples

  3. Print one copy of the Analyzing Ads Worksheet for each member of your group. Fill out each field in your copy of the Analyzing Ads Worksheet. 1. Individually, send your analysis worksheet and a copy of your ad in WORD to me via a labeled attachment in regular (not webct) email.

  4. Once everyone completely fills out their worksheets, your research team will meet to discuss characteristics found in the ads. Everyone in the group analyzed a different ad. You are now part of a marketing production team. As part of the marketing production team, you will review each team-member's research and, together, document similarities on the Production Worksheet.

  5. As a group pick a modern, technological product, such a cell phone, digital camera, DVD player, etc.

  6. Using your Production Worksheet as a resource, collaborate with the other members of your group to develop a creative, informative, and convincing ad for the product you selected. Remember, your ad must:

    • address the values, beliefs, and interests implicit in 1950s advertisements

    • educate your audience about the function and usefulness of a modern technology
2. Choose one person in your group to send your group ad (created in Word) and group production worksheet to me as a labeled attachment via regular email. MAKE SURE YOU IDENTIFY YOUR GROUP in the document in order to get credit.

Project Evaluation - grading device












Quality of Analysis on analyzing ads Worksheet


Identified at least one explicit stereotype or symbol. Correctly identified most explicit stereotypes and symbols. Correctly identified explicit stereotypes and symbols; identified logical fallacies. Correctly identified implicit and explicit values, stereotypes, symbols, and logical fallacies.


Use of Persuasive Techniques


At least one explicit appeal is made to an audience. Several explicit appeals made to an audience. Explicit stereotype, symbol, and logical fallacies evident and directed to target audience. Explicit and implicit stereotypes, symbols, and logical fallacies evident and directed to target audience.


Presentation in 1950s Style


merely copies example of 1950s ad.
Design modifies existing elements of 1950s ad example. Design creatively interprets 1950s ad style. Well crafted design uniquely and creatively re-imagines 1950s ad style.


Educates about Function and Usefulness of Product


Product identified in ad. Product identified and briefly described. Product identified, described, and explained. Product, identified, described, explained, and made relevant to audience.


Ad based on Production Worksheet (PW) Analysis


Ad exhibits at least one explicit stereotype or symbol identified in PW. Ad includes multiple stereotypes and symbols identified in PW. Ad includes stereotypes, symbols, and logical fallacies appropriate to the 1950s as identified on PW. Ad includes implicit and explicit values, stereotypes, symbols, and logical fallacies appropriate to the 1950s as identified on PW.
Total Points:

 Grade equivalent: 20 = A, 15=B, 10=C, 4=D

Part 3

Now that you have a better understanding of what life was like in the 1950s, what do you think your kids and grandkids will say when they look back at the advertisements of our current decade?

Apply the principles that you learned about logical fallacies and advertising strategies to contemporary advertisements. You will have plenty of resources, since we are barraged more than ever with advertisements from TV, magazine, buses, billboards, web page pops and banners, etc. What are the values important to our culture today?

3. Analyze a current ad, using the same analyzing ads worksheet as before. Paste your ad and your analysis into Word and send as an attachment via regular email to me.

Credits & References

This is an adapted assignment originally designed by Rob Tirsbier. Many thanks to Bernie Dodge and the students of EDTEC 570 in the fall of 2002, who provided support, encouragement and feedback during the creation of this WebQuest.

Permission is hereby granted for other educators to copy this WebQuest, update or otherwise modify it, and post it elsewhere provided that the original author's name is retained along with a link back to the original URL of this WebQuest.