New & Improved

Advertising in America

'Toward Los Angeles, Calif.,' by Dorothea Lange, 1937. Library of Congress.

‘Toward Los Angeles, Calif.,’ by Dorothea Lange, 1937. Library of Congress.

On the first of February, more than 100 million Americans will tune in to watch the two best teams in the NFL vie for the national championship — and to watch advertisers duke it out during the commercial breaks. For the country’s top ad agencies (not to mention NBC), the Super Bowl is huge business. This year, a 30-second spot costs a record-setting $4.5 million. But if you were looking to buy one, don’t bother: the lineup is already in place.

On this episode, Brian, Ed and Peter will tackle the history of advertising in the United States. Did colonial pamphlets and newspapers even have ads? How did social psychology make its way into the advertising landscape? And what ever happened to Mikey? We’re working on stories that answer these questions, and others that tackle epic ad campaigns of the 20th century — selling Americans everything from humble soft drinks to budget-busting trips to the moon.

Help us sell this show! Are you a real Mad man — or woman? Ever sold ads for a living? What is life like in the industry? Do you have a favorite jingle from your childhood? Any particular ad that you’d love to get the back story on? And what about when ads turn into landmarks, literally — are there any old billboards or murals in your town that have become a part of its living memory? Share your stories with us below. Or, if you’re feeling shy, drop us a line at




Comments (3)

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  1. Anne D.

    Given how entrenched advertising is and how much the advertising model (create a desire for the product, then sell the product) is in American culture, I would love to listen to this show. I’m also interested in the following question: what would American culture be like if advertising were less prevalent or more heavily regulated.

  2. Mariana

    I’m fascinated with advertising as part of the national identity. Like how NASCAR advertising is almost part of the sport. Or how Coke Cola seems like it’s marketed in part because it’s American.

    What are the circumstances that cause products to be included as part of the the American Identity.

    On a side note – what about advertising that becomes more than advertising? Like the Citco Sign in Boston (there are no Citco stations in Massachusetts) or the Hollywood sign in CA (that advertised a housing complex). Is that a uniquely American thing and did it happen at one period of time?

  3. Shane C.

    I’m curious to know about the financial relationship between popular media (film, radio, magazines, TV, online media) and advertising. Did popular media just look like a good place for ads once ads were developed, or did the rise of advertising actually always finance and shape popular media. In other words, has popular media actually always been primarily a vector for advertising, where the media content is published/produced mainly to get you to watch the ads?

    Also, a note: You might want to take a look at David Foster Wallace’s essay, “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” for its really amazing deconstruction of the difference between art and advertising. It’s a great part of an incredible essay. And shorter than Infinite Jest.