The goal is to get you looking at food ads throughout the 20th century and thinking about what they can tell us about history of food production and marketing. They also are a nice way to illustrate many of the themes we’ve been discussing over the last few weeks.
What to do
I’m trying to balance you having fun looking through “vintage” ads but not being totally confused about what to do. So, you have a lot of leeway in what you can do within a few parameters. The basic research method is to Google search (both text and image) a particular brand or kind of food (see below). Pick a food or a product (like baking powder) that’s used to make food or a fast food brand. Keep it food-centric: no candy, cigarettes, etc. The below approaches would work perfectly well, but you can do something else if you think it’s in the spirit of the assignment.
Search for a particular brand. Use searches like “jif peanut butter vintage ads” or “jif ads 1990s” or “quaker oats branding” or ‘organic salad mix’ or whatever.
Research a kind of product like peanut butter, and see how different brands use marketing differently.
Compare two brands over time: how are their ads similar or different?
Compare to how two kinds of food products use different ad techniques
Let your search results guide your questions (zoom in or out)
No matter what your approach, you need to make a historical argument about the ads, preferably one that analyzes change over time.
You’ll be evaluated on the sophistication of your analysis. If you don’t look at many ads, or only look at some from a narrow time span, or don’t mention the stuff we’ve been talking about in class, your grade goes down quickly.
Keep track of Google search terms so you don’t forget what you’ve already done.
For each search, keep track of what you’ve looked at and where you leave off in looking through the websites and images.
You should create your own “archive” of images. Once you find an ad that you want you consider in your analysis, save them to your computer (or Google drive or whatever). This way, you can have fun building a collection that you can more easily analyze later.
When you download files, rename the images to something that tells you what it is, like 1971-pop-tart.jpg or 1941s-cheerioats.jpg. Remember files get sorted by name, so use that to your advantage.
If you find an ad, but can’t find a date and you’re not able to approximate it (late 70s, etc), you shouldn’t use it in your analysis.
Your own cache of ads will facilitate your analysis, and you should select a 4-6 to include in your essay that illustrate the claims you make about the ads.
The formatting requirements are mostly the same as last time:
11pt Times New Roman
1” margins on all sides
NEW: Incorporate 4-6 ads into your written analysis; these should be embedded into the text at relevant places, not simply appended at the end. B&W is fine. Remember these should be historically representative, not just eye candy.
Some questions to keep in mind
Remember that your goal for the assignment to make a historical argument about the ads. Below are some questions that can help you formulate your argument. Keep in mind that maybe not all of these will be relevant to your ads/articles):
What sensibilities are the ads appealing to?
What common themes run through the ads you saw?
How cohesive are the ads? Do they use similar techniques?
Who is the audience (think about social status, race/ethnicity)
How do representations of the product change over time?
What is the rhetoric of the ads—think keywords and language?
What is the visual language of the ads?
How much do they support or contradict the arguments made in the readings?
As you think through your ads and write up your analysis, reflect on our methodology (as any good historian should). You don’t need to specifically answer these questions in your essay, but they should help guide your analysis.
Provide basic information about the brands you comment on (when founded, significant changes, etc).
What are the limitations of doing research this way?
How representative is your sample of ads?
fred gibbs ∗ history department ∗ university of new mexico