There has been a very peculiar relationship between alcohol and the American public, that was at work in the years of the Volstead Act (1919 – 1933), better known as the prohibition.
When the ban that made illegal the “production, sale, and transport of ‘intoxicating liquors’“ was finally lifted, Americans no longer had to celebrate, party and drink in speakeasies, at secret house parties or home alone, with expensive low-quality liquor from abroad that was imported illegally and consumed plentiful.
The book at hand documents not only the history of 20th century American alcohol marketing before 1919, but mostly the fresh start advertising agencies had when in 1933 branded alcoholic beverages were officially on sale again.
As the book also devoted its richly illustrated pages to another unhealthy activity, tobacco smoking, the many interesting, funny, and partly absurd commercial slogans and aggressive sales strategies of the entire 20th century for the two products are documented.
The timetable at the bottom of the essays pages refers to important political and cultural events, while contemporary advertisements display alcohol and tobacco in mostly lavish, luxurious and expensive environments that were promoted as the natural emotion and experience that went into the purchase of those products.
So many good-looking women, attractive men, exotic venues and costly hobbies create the background for a century of advertising history for the main actors of the hundreds beautiful ads: products that were to be inhaled or consumed in style with ice cubes.
The texts turn to the different and sometimes controversial approaches of each decade when fresh strategies to get the attention of new customers, be it to have women interested in smoking in the 1930s or find a new target group in African Americans in the 1960s and 1970s. Many American household products such as Marlboro, Lucky Strike, Chesterfield, Jim Beam, Schlitz and so forth can be studied on almost 400 pages, while both the product’s image and its design slightly changed throughout the years, which had to do with dynamic fashions, as well with the successful/unsuccessful strategies of the two rather unhealthy products’ manufacturers and their advertisers.
So did many famous actors of decades long ago, who for a time were paid handsomely by the industry to promote drinks and cigarettes. And to be honest, resisting the glamorous and easy way of life portrayed here on five pounds of ads must have been rather difficult back then. Many of the colorful advertisements are true works of art.
Editor Jim Heimann one more time was responsible for the book at hand, as he was already the man behind many other heavy TASCHEN volumes that were devoted to American marketing, lifestyle and mid-century art.
The texts of the volume were provided by Steven Heller, author of 120 books on graphic design, illustration, and Allison Silver, writer and editor. The title comes in the typical Taschen multilingual edition and offers identical texts in French, English and German.
Review by Dr. A. Ebert © 2018
Jim Heimann (ed.), Steven Heller and Allison Silver. 20th Century Alcohol & Tobacco Ads. 100 Years Of Stimulating Ads. Taschen, 2018, 392 p., ISBN 978-3-8365-6652-0