A Revolution in Advertising

To make advertising interesting, we need a sensation; and advertising forms so large a part of our daily intellectual diet, that it seems not too grasping to ask for a change of mental food.

‘Kosy Kumfurt Karamels’ have lost their taste. ‘Sharp Snappy Styles for Serious Students’ have wearied eye and mind. ‘Mannish togs of dainty model ’ tug at the feminine purse-strings in vain.

‘We could not improve the picture — but look what we have done to the frame!’ won us by its complacent satisfaction, but now tires us by its constant repetition.

‘A prominent manufacturer who is going out of business’ has placed at the advertiser’s disposal his entire stock, which is being offered to us at ‘ merely nominal prices ’ — but for us he has retired once too often, his magnanimity no longer touches us, and we wearily thrust aside the lists of his misplaced philanthropies.

That combination of Time and Eternity, ‘Watch the clock! Our goods reduced every half hour,’ has in it that element of chance whose fascination draws eager throngs, just as do those games of hazard which come under the ban of the law. $1.98 and $7.95 no longer delude us. We have learned nationally to add and subtract, and other devices are needed to catch our wandering attention.

Why are we invited, at such vast expense to our hosts, to attend ‘Anniversary Sales’? Has the foundation of these great business houses been to us such a boon that we must accept, rather than bestow, gifts at their birthday parties? Why must we aid great storekeepers in the distribution of charity? They ‘challenge’ each other in a contest for the greater benevolence — their kindness is unbounded.

In serving the public, the department stores everywhere seem bent upon cutting one another’s throats as well as their own. In their generous offers there is no indication that they are in business for profit. Smoke, fire, and water, the traditional godsends of the trade, are left to the lesser brethren. An absorbing impulse to make ‘more room for new goods’; the uselessness of ‘broken lots’; the unexpected changes of the seasons; the earnest desire to supply to all, clothing which has ‘that distinctive look’; the things which ‘Dame Fashion ’ decrees as necessary for ‘ Milady’s Wardrobe ’; these are the obvious motives which make so kindly a spirit of giving, so large a generosity, and such willingness to spend of their hard earnings to tell us about it. The situation is not unlike universal armament, and remedies as revolutionary as the Hague Tribunal seem necessary.

The clever, shrewd, and interesting men who are at the helm in our great retail business must know that we see through their devices, and can hear, underneath their smooth phrases, the fierce beat of the engines, the driving of the factory wheels, the weary homeward march of the toilers, and, saddest of all, the pitiful struggle of the workers at seasonal trades.

We are asked to spend, spend, spend without reason, and without thought, and as the ultimate goal of our spending we are given cheapness instead of worth.

An attempt, at least, has been made to absorb the waste of the business world through Scientific Management; but Scientific Management has not yet framed its simple economic message for our daily lives. It would be ludicrous, were it not tragic, to know how utterly order and skill are lacking from the domestic arrangements of the ordinary American family.

In speaking of our national extravagance, at the banquet of the International Chambers of Commerce, the President said, ‘Let us make our budget before spending it’ —and it is a plea that would serve well as a motto for each person’s simple buying. Economists give laws which govern the average expenditure of income. It would seem as natural to take them into consideration as to accept the fact that two and two make four. To the total expenditure, clothing and rent keep a fixed proportion, while the proportion of food-cost varies in an in verse ratio to the size of the income; so that the richer you are, the smaller is the proportion of your income which goes for food, and upon the poor man falls heaviest the burden of our national juggling in food-stuffs. Dr. Engel deduces, from typical budgets, the law that clothing assumes and keeps a constant proportion in the whole; and Mrs. Ellen H. Richards, in charts prepared for the purpose, gives to clothing a one-sixth share in the family budget. Now if it be true that clothing assumes a one-sixth share in our family income, why not face the music? Here is one sixth —there are hats and coats and shoes and shirts and neckties and under-clothes for some of us, and hats and shoes and dresses and coats and corsets and gloves for some more of us, not forgetting the children, with their definite and increasing needs.

The making of a budget would place us at once in the rank of intelligent buyers and, as such, we should hold a commanding position. We are a selfrespecting people, and we ask of our merchants neither gifts nor sacrifice.

What we want is common honesty and simple truth.

What a surprise it would be to find our great stores advertising, not the same old wearisome chatter about ‘Latest Models from Paris’ (made in Hoboken), but facts about economy and expenditure, real talk about real things. Suppose that they should help us to spend our sixth manfully or womanlike — for we have to be clothed, or else return to Eden. Suppose that we should have some real plan in mind as to the sum that our clothes ought to cost, some system in their purchase. What a revolution it would make in certain phases of industry. Suppose that the advertisers should stop their lying and take us behind the scenes and tell us honestly about manufacturing, — showing us how products of skill and beauty are made by those who toil for our comfort, so that we might appreciate their real worth. People love dearly to see things made. If the great stores should put industrial exhibits into their subway windows they would be fined by the sub-surface road for obstructing traffic. It would be possible, for instance, to use a ‘Bargain Basement’ along the lines of Jane Addams’s Industrial Museum at Chicago, or to create a ‘Mechanics ’ Fair,’ — where processes were shown where mechanical and hand works, both, were exhibited, and where orders were taken.

We could go to our great stores as to museums of vital and present importance, schools for the teaching of thrift and of order in living, places where bridges of contact are built between buyer and maker. To plan such a work would need culture as true, and a vision as large, as is demanded of the head of a great university.

Such department stores might show the producers that we, the consumers, are grateful to them for their skill and for their knowledge; that we hate cheap goods and cheap labor; and that the advertiser, the middleman, builds not a wall between the two, but a roadway easily traversed. Suppose that advertisers should honestly confess to us the bitterness of the seasonal trades and the blight which they lay upon the homes of the workers and should ask us, the spenders, to help stamp out this evil.

There is now no test of excellence. A $25.00 suit may be more desirable than a $40 one. The ‘ mark-down ’ sale shows us conclusively that all the ‘values’ are fictitious. In every instance we have to gamble on our purchase. Suppose that the advertiser really told us how to judge. What a difference such a policy of bargaining and buying would make in our homes, elaborate as well as simple. Our great stores have the machinery to make for scientific purchasing, and for producing trained purchasers. What a change it would be for the shiftless, idle man and the capricious, vain woman who wander purposeless in search of ‘things’; for the eager bargain-hunter who is living on the excitement of getting ‘something for nothing’!

Not long since I had to wait for a friend on a ‘great white floor’ in my city. There was a ‘sacrifice’ sale of lace-trimmed chemises and nightgowns. The cloth was of flimsiest texture, the lace, coarse and cheap, was carelessly sewed by poor workers, the cut of the garments was vulgar, not modest, or decent, or useful.

I watched the buyers — for the most part, young girls in their teens, with faces so pretty, so sickly, so foolish, so vacant. I sent up the prayer, ‘God! Lead us not into temptation.’ Our shops seem to bid for such trade — else why do they constantly publish suggestive pictures to lower the ideals of our youth. Our idle women and our restless men are our menace, and our big stores cater to them, as though they were our pride, instead of our undoing.

What a sane and reasonable trade could be built up, if it were the fashion to use brains in purchasing and to demand thought of those we purchase from! We should speedily find both commodities, for we have brains as a nation — good brains, grown from the fine and sturdy stocks of the world; and we have sufficient education to compass such a result, if our minds were resolved to accomplish it.

There are a few small groups working on the subject of household economics. A few colleges, normal schools, and schools of domestic economy, are giving high service along these lines. There is a little experiment station at Darien, Connecticut, where Mr. and Mrs. Barnard are working on problems of household ‘efficiency,’ ‘routing,’ motion-study, and the like, and where are made tests of household appliances on the simplest scale. There is another such station in New Jersey, conducted by Louise Boynton and Georgie Boynton Child. The American School of Home Economics at Chicago provides bulletins on modern labor-saving appliances and conducts correspondence courses, with thousands of students all over the country. There may be other such honest and intelligent attempts.

Suppose our advertisers instead of publishing lists of bargains, with woodcut illustrations, such as: ‘7 doz. eggbeaters, all nickel-plated, 39 cents each — were 50 cents’; and instead of assuming that we do not know that the cost of inserting this fact is far greater than the cost of all the beaters, should really advertise facts about efficiency, honest, facts about labor-saving devices, about up-keep, and wear and tear, and repair, about the care and cleaning of kitchen utensils, about fuel and laundry work, — about all the things which go to make an ordered home. Such a store could have ‘efficiency engineers,’ men as qualified, as competent, as curators of a museum, who have insight, training, and sympathy to assist the purchaser. To be a trustworthy guide in a department store would be a useful career worthy of the honest effort of any man or woman.

How many dozen cards do you receive (and throw away) daily, which say, ’We cheerfully furnish estimates.’ Suppose that, instead of these advertising phrases, the stores cheerfully furnished real information, and were actually turning the tide so that those who sell cheap and shoddy articles, and those who make them, were both lifted out of the slough into which foolish over-production has dragged them. It would then be possible to use our artistic impulses, our common sense and our self-respect in daily purchasing — and advertising might become a fine art and a worthy science.