Cold War Fifties & Advertisements Essay

The Cold War is one of the longest and most dangerous wars which threatened the world. It was a period of tension mostly between the US and the USSR which basically represented the tension between democracy and communism. It was a period also of propaganda for both sides, with parties at opposite sides of the fence wanting to gain political and psychological advantage over the other. One of the elements in society which expressed the disparities between democracy and communism are the advertisements shown during the 1950s Cold War era. These advertisements were actively bent on promoting their ideals against the other political power. In the US, these advertisements were very much against the USSR and were bent on expressing opinions against the communism. During the post-World War II era, these advertisements gained much popularity and support from the masses. The government authorities were also eager to support these advertisements even if they portrayed inaccurate details about USSR and communism. This paper shall further explain and provide support to the idea that these advertisements increased the tension between the US and the USSR. This paper is being conceptualized in order to establish a scholarly and academic discussion of the thesis and the subject matter.


The thesis of this paper is: that the 1950s Cold War Advertisements were used as propaganda by the US to sell the war to the American people. The 1950s Cold War advertisements depicted scenes and images which were very much anti-USSR and anti-communism. Three reasons why this thesis is true are based on the following explanations: 1. these images were supported by the US government even if they were inaccurate depictions of USSR and of communism; 2. these advertisements focused on gaining support for the Cold War; and 3. these images nurtured the image of the USSR and communism as evil and threats to American democracy and world peace.


These images were supported by the US government even if they were inaccurate depictions of USSR and of communism

The Cold War advertisements were used by the US to sell the war to the American people. The advertisements which were posted during the Cold War period had the backing of the US government. The US government used advertisements in order to fuel further the feelings against communism and the USSR. An ad from Scot Tissue Towels reads: “Is your washroom breeding Bolsheviks?” and another advertisement for “truth dollars” reads: “Sure I want to fight communism—but how? With truth dollars—that’s how! The ad goes on to say that the truth dollars “fight communism in its own backyard – behind the Iron Curtain. Give truth dollars and get in the fight”. These are just some of the many images portrayed in advertisements in the US and even in Europe where the silent war was being fought against communism. The ads clearly portrayed an active encouragement for the general public to support the Cold War, to even share their dollars in order to help fights its cause.

Inaccurate portrayals of communism provided further support for the Cold War. In one of the ads, the Bolsheviks were equated to bathroom germs. That association presents a picture of the Bolsheviks as dirty and dirty, people who have to be wiped off and cleaned off thoroughly. This image is a promotion of the anti-communism stance which the government has sought to maintain and legitimize in the general American public.

In a discussion by Herman, there was a political and a pathological fear of invasion during the Cold War era. This fear translated to the advertisement and educational media with tuberculosis mentioned as coming from bayonet-wielding Japanese. The drive towards preventing germ invasion worked towards controlling the invading alien, “it also united the nation against pathological organisms foreign to the American social body that were nonetheless native to it—communism and feminism”. Hence, the concept of communism became an internal threat which had to be fought at all costs, and this included advertisements portraying communism in a less than favorable light. However, these depictions of communism equated with germs are very much untrue and inaccurate. Germs do not exclusively come from communists and from bayonet-wielding Japanese. They can come from anyone and even anything.

These advertisements focused on gaining support for the Cold War

The US’s commitment to the Cold War in Asia was also portrayed in American advertisements. The China Chinese Fund (CCF) conceptualized an adoption plan which was able to gain much acclaim in fighting Asian communism. The print ads for CCF appealed to the readers in the performance of a specific action – that of committing personally to the Cold War in Asia. In many American magazines, they expressed the need for adoption as a means of fighting the Cold War. In effect, the “advertisements kept pace with the changing focus of the Cold War, offering children from Taiwan, Korea, and India to American readers. Instead of merely feeling familial ties to the people of Asia…these advertisements urged readers to act on their feelings and become parents to an Asian child”.

The advertisements were used to further support the US in its fights against communism and everything it represented. Living in the US during the 1950s meant that one would see various advertisements of freedom and democracy in the television, newspapers, magazines, busses, and other public transportation. Many Americans were in fact enticed to sign freedom scrolls, to attend charity events, to distribute leaflets all in the name of Radio Free Europe and its fight against communism. The ads of Radio Free Europe were on basically “winning the hearts and minds of Americans in the ideological struggle against communism”. These ads became powerful change management tools of the US government as it gave the people – the average Joes – a feeling of belongingness or a common cause which, in this case is communism. In order to gain support for the freedom crusade under the Radio for Europe, the services of then actor and future US President Ronald Reagan. In the advertisement for Crusade for Freedom, Reagan highlighted the importance of the financial contributions given by the Americans in penetrating the Iron Curtain, in revealing the lies of the USSR, and bringing a message of hope to the people trapped behind the curtain. At one point during the Crusade for Freedom being fought by Radio for Europe, ‘ballooncasting’ was adopted as a means of transmitting information to the people behind the Iron Curtain and to eventually deliver the truth the them. The message in the Radio Free Europe broadcasting at this point carried the advertisements which helped further the goals of the crusade. Various actors and TV personalities at that time were also called in to participate in the causes of the Radio Free Europe. These personalities were by themselves advertisers for the cause of democracy – specifically in opposition to the ideals represented by communism.

These images nurtured the image of the USSR and communism as evil and threats to American democracy and world peace

Advertisements in the 1950s first provoked the reader’s anxiety about communism and then offered adoption as a means of defusing such anxiety. A picture of a starved boy and a middle-aged man would dominate such advertisements, and below are the words, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The concerned authorities would present the vivid facts to these families, presenting children who have suffered from the wars and who have now been orphaned by it. These advertisements sent across the image that it was the responsibility of the American people to help these children – to drag them away from their poor and abandoned conditions in these communist countries. The message was further emphasized on these children being vulnerable to these communist forces as new recruits, thereby making them eventual threats to the US national security. Concerned authorities boldly expressed that “the hungry children of the world are more dangerous to us than the atomic bomb”. The advertisements thereby set forth a close association between communism and the atomic bomb – two things which were certainly major concerns for Americans. In effect, the image of communism in the advertisements further portrayed it as a force which has a negative impact on the family. It was therefore one which deserved all the “danger” labels which was placed on it.

In the post-war period, the demand for metals increased. Copper, which was on low demand during the depression era, increased in demand during the post-war period. This increase was mostly attributed to the growth in the consumer economy as well as copper use by the military in fighting the Cold War. Due to fears that such demands would suddenly return to depression-era low demands, the copper companies scrambled to come up with advertising which would entice the public to avail of copper-products. One of the techniques employed to sustain demand was to associate copper with the fight against communism. The copper ads now shifted from a more utilitarian theme to more nationalistic goals. One such ad associated copper with the ringing of the Liberty Bell. “Suggesting copper’s role in the ideological battles of the emerging cold war, the ad notes that telephones, telegraphs, radios, and televisions all depended on copper to carry the ‘voice’ of freedom”. The ads also portrayed the importance of family activities which can be carried out with the help of copper, including father/son activities. The use of copper by the military was also highlighted and pointed out as superior to consumerism. Once the world was made safe, consumerism could now be employed by the American people; but in the meantime, the use of copper was given full support by the American people.

1950s advertisements were also used as a means to instruct the American people about the dangers posed by communism. When tensions between USSR and the US started increasing during the post WWII period, what was believed to be propaganda by the War Department was seen. Such alleged propaganda was seen in the advertisements which were enticing the people to buy things they did not really need. It was even believed that these ads were part of the practice of subliminal messaging where messages were sent to the viewer or listener – a message which he or she would act on at an immediate or later time. Subliminal messaging aside, one of the most popular advertisements in the 1950s involved advertising for bomb or fallout shelters. The sale of these shelters reached its peak in the 1950s and it slowly eased with the passage of time. In effect, the advertisements became a means for the people to “purchase their peace of mind”. The government and the manufacturers capitalized on this need and they were able to make a healthy profit from such need.

The advertisements and documentaries supported by the US government set forth that building bomb shelters was an effective way for Americans to protect themselves against communism and a possible nuclear attack. Taking advantage of this American propaganda, different construction companies were keen in taking advantage of this American paranoia and started brandishing their skills and capabilities in building bomb shelters. The communist and nuclear threat became a vivid reality for most people in America – even to its schools where children were taught emergency bomb precautions and procedures. When President Kennedy addressed the nation in 1962 and spoke about the buildup of Soviet missiles in Cuba, he made the nuclear threat a major risk and concern. With these concerns, the advertisements now implied more than just support for consumerism, they became serious considerations for the people – one which they now believed they should take seriously.


Based on the above considerations, there is a strong support for the thesis which states that the 1950s Cold War Advertisements were used as propaganda by the US to sell the war to the American people. The images portrayed in the advertisements showed inaccurate depictions of communism and of the USSR, and yet these ads were supported and not even sanctioned (for inaccuracies) by the US government. These ads also portrayed images which sought to provide support for the Cold War. The more that the people saw these images, the more that they were enticed to support communism. Finally, these images further nurtured the image of communism and the USSR as sources of evil and of threats to the American people. In effect, the above points indicate that the 1950s Cold War advertisements served to fuel the tension between the US and communism and the USSR. The more that people watched these ads, the more they supported the Cold War and the more that they developed negative feelings for communism and the USSR. Some of the images may range from the most subtle to the most blatant, but they still serve the purpose of the US propaganda against communism and the Cold War.

Works Cited

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