Ellen Wayland-Smith

 

On her book The Angel in the Marketplace: Adwoman Jean Wade Rindlaub and the Selling Of America

Cover Interview of October 28, 2020

A close-up

One of the chapters I had the most fun writing was Chapter 7, “Believing in Betty Crocker,” if only because the advertising strategy Rindlaub devised to sell cake mixes is so shocking to twenty-first century feminist sensibilities. Rindlaub’s ads assured the anxious housewife that baking a cake would cure all manner of family and social ills, from mending quarrels with her husband to keeping her children from becoming “juvenile delinquents” (that peculiar 1950s bogeyman). After the success of her “Back Home for Keeps” advertising campaign for Oneida silverware in 1942, Rindlaub would go on to repeat the winning formula in most of her subsequent work: deploying what she called “heart-tug” or “love-and-kisses” appeals to women’s tender, caretaking instincts.

Rindlaub believed that as creatures “naturally” drawn to caretaking, women couldn’t help but worry about big-world problems like nuclear war and poverty and crime, but didn’t have the tools to confront these issues head on. She gave housewives a way to feel useful, to feel they were doing the “right” thing, by simply buying a cake mix and making their own little family circle a bit happier. She tutored women in the sentimental language of capitalism and offered them a script that helped them square their inherited sense of Christian feminine virtue with the cold, unequal logic of the market. This was Rindlaub’s true talent. She could say these preposterously corny things and somehow make them sound heartfelt.

The overtly sexist content of these 1950s ads hasn’t aged that well, but the use of vague, “timeless” sentimental appeals to blunt political criticism or downplay analysis is still one of the most potent tricks in populist politics. The advertising industry played a huge role in shaping American political discourse and the language of presidential political campaigns—a topic I cover in a chapter analyzing campaign sound-bytes Rindlaub wrote, at BBDO’s behest, for Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1952 presidential bid.