One problematic product category, that of curative or patent medicine, developed following the Civil War and were the first products heavily advertised on a national scale. Full of fraudulent claims, these ads promised a cure for everything. For the soldiers returning from the war with lost limbs and wounds little rural medical care available, sales of these drugs flourished. Although the Congress had been hesitant to regulate the fledging advertising market, they did pass the first legislation to control advertising claims, the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. Still advertisers could say just about anything. Most ads took the style of a sales pitch and were filled with dense copy and lacked any kind of surrounding social space or context in which the product was to be used.
During the years from 1875 through 1928, advertising ushered in what is now referred to as a consumer culture, or a way of life centered around consumption. Advertising became a full-fledged industry and agencies developed. It is important to contextualize these ads as they were created during a period of rapid urbanization, massive immigration, labor unrest, concerns over the abuses of capitalism, the first feminist movement (suffrage), motion pictures and mass culture.
By 1914 the Federal Trade Commission was enacted to prevent deception in advertising as well as protecting one business owner from the unscrupulous behavior of another. “Unfair methods of doing business are…illegal.” Also in 1914 the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) was established to verify circulation claims. Prior to the ABC, publications calculated their own circulation rates obviously creating circulation figures to suit their own needs. Once the ABC was established as an independent agent, these figures became standardized and accurate. In fact, the ABC can estimate figures such as pass-along-readers for print.
In 1916, the advertisers themselves established the Better Business Bureau as a self-regulatory committee.
Advertisers formed other organizations to improve the effectiveness of advertising such as the American Association of Advertising Agencies in 1917. The 4 A’s remains the most comprehensive organization with the majority of agencies as members.
During World War I advertising became an instrument of direct social interaction and was utilized to arouse the public regarding war-related issues and the sale of war bonds. The power to persuade through this electronic mass medium was realized.
Following the war, the “roaring 20s” were prosperous. The Victorian age was over and the great social experiment in the joys of consumption began. Modesty gave way to sexuality and the love of the modern. Advertising encouraged the consumer to enjoy life and consumption was not only respectable, but expected. The citizen became the “consumer” and advertising instructed the consumer as to how to be modern and avoid the pitfalls of this new age (i.e., Listerine mouthwash