17th Oct 2012
Globalizing Ideal Beauty: Women, Advertising and the Power of Marketing by Denise H. Sutton
Globalizing Ideal Beauty is the first book by Dr Denise H. Sutton, a lecturer at the Fashion Institute of Technology who currently working on her second book about reading and writing romantic fiction.
In Globalizing Ideal Beauty, Sutton explores the advertising company J. Walter Thompson (JWT) during the peak of its’ influence in America – from the early 20th century until the 1960s.
Sutton focuses on a group extraordinary women from the higher echelons of society who were prominent in the suffragist movement, and later came to hold positions of power at JWT, creating marketing campaigns which had, and still have, huge global resonance.
These women worked on advertising campaigns for women’s beauty products, using their particular understanding of what appealed to women at the time.
Their strategies were so successful that many of the techniques they developed are still used today.
The subject is an intriguing one, and by referring to particular case studies such as a Pond’s Cream campaign which the women of JWT developed and ran successfully for many years, and which increased the brand’s popularity immensely from the 1920s onwards, Sutton succeeds in keeping the reader engaged whilst illustrating the enduring popularity of the campaigns.
She also draws striking and pertinent comparisons between these campaigns and the advertising which we see around us today.
Whilst this book is an academic study on a particular time in the development of advertising, it is also, in a broader and more universally relevant sense, a study of the women copywriters themselves, and the boundaries of class and gender which they simultaneously fought against and exploited for the purposes of their adverts.
Sutton discusses the ways in which class, gender, race, sexuality and aspirational living were used to create powerful adverts by these women, in their changing and volatile world.
She explores not only the importance of these women in taking steps forward for women in the workplace, but also their part in perpetuating the mythology of class and the idealized form of beauty mentioned in the title.
As a history of the commercialisation and exploitation of beauty, the book is relevant and also poignant. The conflict between ethics and commercialism in which the women were caught up is of particular interest, as Sutton writes:
“While they struggled for the right to vote and for entry into the business world by marketing their feminine intuition, these women also manipulated the emotions of the female consumer.”
However, unsurprisingly for an academic, Sutton’s language feels at times industry-weighted and, to the layperson, occasionally inaccessible. All in all, Globalizing Ideal Beauty is an engaging, though at times rather dry, book about the ongoing and ever-present question of the worth of beauty and the power of advertising.
Globalizing Ideal Beauty is published by Palgrave Macmillan, and is available now in paperback direct from the publishers, priced at £16.99.
Recommended for: Anyone interested in social history, the commercialism of beauty, and the advertising industry.