Advertising, Global Concepts of Hygiene, and the Making of Disciplined Consumers, 1918–45

AHA Session 107
Friday, January 7, 2011: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Grand Ballroom Salon C (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
David Ciarlo, University of Colorado
David Ciarlo, University of Cincinnati

Session Abstract

In the early twentieth century, consumer-oriented forms of capitalism became truly global in character, reaching from Europe and America to colonies and dependencies in Asia, Latin America and Africa. Advertising was at the forefront of the efforts to advance new forms of consumption. In some cases, advertisers tried to create disciplined, modern consumers who would purchase brand-name products rather than locally produced goods. In markets characterized by intense competition, on the other hand, advertisers typically sought to re-educate buyers into seeing the importance of choosing certain brand-name products over others.    

A central aspect of global advertising campaigns between 1918 and 1945 was the promotion of transnational standards of hygiene and cleanliness. To use Arvind Rajagopal's phrase, advertisers of soap in a variety of places were involved in “pedagogical projects” to instruct consumers about the germ theory of disease causation, the importance of cleanliness to the health of children, the need to combat “body odour,” and the value of clean clothes to success in the workplace. But the fashioning and refashioning of hygienic standards acquired a particular power in specific places when advertisers built campaigns linking the discourse of global science to broader social and political projects that were acquiring salience in specific local and national contexts. These included the development of concepts of racial purity, the formation of ideas about domesticity and conjugality, and the growth of eugenic notions about the importance of producing healthy offspring who could serve their countries. The reshaping of bodily practices, in other words, was linked to the disciplining of the family and the nation. As political contexts changed, as old appeals lost their salience, and as new companies sought to enter into competition with established firms, advertisers altered the character of their marketing appeals. But in so doing, they often recast rather than abandoned pedagogical approaches grounded in global concepts of modern hygiene.     

The proposed panel seeks to look at these developments in a comparative fashion. The three paper-givers will examine advertising of soap in three different national contexts: western India between 1918 and 1945, Great Britain during the 1920s, and Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945. Each of the papers examines changes in the marketing of soap over time, as advertisers adapted the nature of their campaigns to new economic, political and cultural realities. By bringing together studies on different national contexts, we hope to understand better both the circulation of concepts across geographic boundaries and the ways these concepts were modified as advertisers tried to build consumer markets in particular places. Our discussant, David Ciarlo, will explore in his comments the relationship between new forms of commodification, transnational notions of hygiene, and the making and remaking of modern consumers. We expect the panel will have a broad appeal to scholars interested in the development of global capitalism, patterns of cross-cultural consumption, and the history of medicine.

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