The 1920s & The Great Depression

Even though the stock market crash in 1929 triggered unemployment for over 12 million wage earners, advertising and culture continued. Hard-selling, reason-why copy replaced the styles Art Deco and its opulence. Sex appeal established itself as a prominent means of advertising; scantily clad women leapt off the lingerie pages and appeared in everything, including areas where sex was never an original thought, such as with industrial products.

Clients pressured reduced fees from their agencies and greater results for their advertising, though few actually had money to advertise. In general, advertising is often one of the first things to feel budget cuts in lean times, for companies a slashed advertising budget presents immediate results in savings.

Young & Rubicam

During the depression, Raymond Rubicam helped build his agency to become a major presence in billings, second only to JWT. Rubicam built an agency of eccentric creatives, but also substantiated by research. The agency recruited the academic, George Gallup, to explore innovative advertising ideas of his own creation, thus developing the first full-time research department. With Gallop at the forefront, Y&R became the first agency to combine fresh copy with professional market research. As a result, their growth exploded throughout the depression.


The first radio commercial was aired in 1922, advertising condominiums in Jackson Heights, Queens. Consequently, two apartments were quickly sold. In the 1930s, radio hit the public by storm and advertising agencies completely by surprise. Advertising fueled the radio’s growth, just as magazines had been at the turn of the century. Radio stocks exploded, similar to the technology stocks of the 1990sRCA went from $5.00 a share to over $50.00; however, stocks eventually returned to the original $5.00 a share.

With the radio, there was a rise in client-sponsored radio programs: like the Lucky Strike Dance Orchestra, which evolved into Your Hit Parade, using the tag-line: “Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco.” Many of the radio theatre shows run in the afternoon were sponsored by detergent companies; thus coining the term ‘soap operas’ that is still used for afternoon, televisions dramas today.

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