Selling to our Emotions: How Advertisements Shape our Lives

By: William Whitehurst

Cig Ad

“[Viceroys],” [1950]. Image Courtesy of [assetd]

Advertisements, in many ways, are an enormous part of our everyday lives. Not only do they keep you in touch with what the latest and greatest products and services are, but they also create and display American normalities and ways of living. Over time, companies and advertising agencies became smarter in the selling of their products. They finally found that selling the idea of better living and selling to people’s emotions are the most effective ways to gain and retain the attention of people viewing their ads. “General Electric was not alone, either in these outlandish promotional schemes or in its efforts to develop a successful compression refrigerator; the other major refrigerator manufacturers, just as anxious to attract consumer attention, were just as willing to spend money on advertising and promotion. The electric utility companies, which were then in a most expansive and profitable phase of their history, cooperated in selling both refrigerators and the idea of mechanical refrigeration to their customers” (Cowen 138).


“[Bell Telephone System],” [1954]. Image Courtesy of [apopofpretty]

This advertisement, by the Bell Telephone System, is a portrayal of women in the home. The ad shows a woman in the kitchen on her brand new pink telephone. Her two children, boy and girl, are happily helping her bake a chocolate cake while she takes a brake from cooking to use her new phone. This is a very interesting ad because it is not telling women that they should have this telephone, but it is implying that women need a kitchen extension phone. If they do not have one, then they will not be as happy as the woman in the picture. Woman also will apparently not be able to run their home properly nor be able to keep the biscuits from burning if they do not purchase this convenient phone, as the ad suggests. The ad then goes on to conform to the typical gender norms by saying, “Since the kitchen is where you spend so much time, it makes sense to have a telephone handy.”


“[War Bonds],” [1941]. Image Courtesy of [dailystormer]

This advertisement is very interesting because it is a propaganda poster that was used to instill fear into Americans during war times. In times of war, fear is the easiest emotion to sell to. In this ad, it is clear that the creator had every intention to use fear and shock value as their main attention grabber. No one would want their wife under attack, therefore, the only way to save her and protect your family would be to invest in war bonds. This, in turn, would “Keep this horror away from your home.”

Good advertisements make you believe that if you buy their product, it will in some way enhance your standard of living and make you feel more comfortable at home than ever before. “In the postwar years, investing in one’s own home, along with the trappings that would enhance family life, seemed the best way to plan for the future. Instead of rampant spending for personal luxury items, Americans were likely to spend their money at home” (May 157). Being that the home is a person’s personal domain and the place they feel the most comfortable, it would only make sense that companies appeal to this and exploit the emotion of feeling comfortable at home.

Hoover 115

“[Hoover 115],” [1949]. Image Courtesy of [kcmeesha]

This advertisement is an ad that is clearly intended for women. The main message of this ad reads, “Lucky the Lady who owns the handiest cleaner in America.” This is a very interesting ad because not only does it define women as the only people who should be vacuuming and cleaning, but it also suggests that buying this vacuum cleaner is essential for your home and your happiness. According to the ad, “You’ll be happier with a Hoover.” The ad then goes on to tell all the women reading it that it “will really be your pet” and that it is very manageable and easy to use. However, the most interesting part of the ad is where it reads, “Yet what a man-size job the new Hoover 115 does!” This is intriguing because although this ad is targeted toward women it goes on to say that it does a man-sized job, to infer that it is powerful and strong, like a man, and does a good “man-sized” job. This further speaks to the gender roles and ways that advertisements shape our lives.

Instead of analyzing the product or service that is being advertised, people are more concerned with the name brand, how popular it is, and if other people will like the item when they buy it. It has become more about whether it will boost your socio-status than if the product is actually good or not. “In 1964, the comedian Alan Sherman came up with a recipe for achieving instant stature in the suburbs, ‘Just paint your grass,’ he advised. Sherman was joking, but as Newsweek reported, the quest for perfection was no laughing matter: ‘Last week an easy-to-apply green grass paint was selling in some 35 states’” (Steinberg 70). From what kind of vacuum one has to how green their grass is, pursuing the perfection of home is always something that every homeowner is chasing. This is all thanks to advertising and is the reason why domesticity can be understood as an act of consumption.


1. Ruth Schwartz Cowan, “The Roads Not Taken: Alternative Social and Technical Approaches to Housework,” in More Work for Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Heath to the Microwave (1983)

2. Elaine Tyler May, “The Commodity Gap: Consumerism and the Modern Home,” in Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era (1990)

3. Ted Steinberg, “The Color of Money,” from American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn (2007)





This post was completed as part of assignment on how the idea of home and the concept of domesticity has been used in marketing during different historical moments and in the present. For additional information on the assignment, please visit:


3 thoughts on “Selling to our Emotions: How Advertisements Shape our Lives

  1. Emotions control much of a persons reactions and thoughts, so it makes perfect sense to attack the emotions of a person in an advertisement. The ad with the war bonds was extremely interesting to me. I have seen ads targeting happiness and love, but never fear. Interesting how advertisements also use the time periods and current events around the world to influence their buyers.

  2. The connection with propaganda and gender roles is alarming. Advertisements seemed to target women in portraying their necessary domestic lifestyle. Even when an advertisement seemed to be targeting males, it was actually making sure that the women were being targeting with protection. The propaganda in ads seemed to be focused around women.

  3. I truly agree with your point on the telephone ad. It really points out to the norm about women not only preparing food and being in the kitchen all the time, but the fact that they also take care of the children and do all the work within the home. It’s also interesting for an ad to point out, such as the vacuum one, that it does a man’s job but a woman is still doing the cleaning.

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