Has the selling of the 1950’s nuclear family finally reached it’s expiration date?
In a consumer culture of unlimited choices, Madison Avenue has long sold only one brand of the American family…and it is now a bit shopworn.
Never was the notion of the idealized nuclear family more potent or more seductive than in mid-century America. The much cherished, deeply engrained ideal of Mom, Dad, Sis and Jr. was solidified into our shared iconography in the post-war years when America went on a binge of family life.
The Mad Men of mid-century Madison Avenue cleverly created advertising campaigns calculated to sell the perfect family along with the American dream.
Images of the nuclear family exploded in advertising, scattering its potent assumptions of family deep into our collective psyches. And like a toxic overspill, remnants remain in each of us today.
Hawking the romanticized family as much as they sold brand loyalty to beer, cameras, or soft drinks, the ads both reinforced and reflected the fairy tale suburban life, offering a blueprint to the newly minted post-war middle class, living out the American dream.
The Nuclear Family Takes Off
One popular ad campaign was a series of advertisements from 7 Up that created the picture perfect expression of the nuclear family who were as wholesome, bubbly and saccharine sweet as the soda pop itself.
Long before 7 Up was the “wet and wild” happening beverage for the “now generation” it was “The All Family Drink,” the perfect beverage for the perfect suburban family.
The ads which ran from the late 1940’s to the late 1950’s served up an idealized mid-century America enjoying their post-war promises of prosperity, while engaged in happy family living.
Share the Family Fun
The idyllic snapshots of the American dream family that 7-Up used in the ads all portrayed an eerily homogenous landscape of spacious suburban homes and smiling, prosperous, cheerful, Anglo-Saxon families enjoying fun times together in their suburban rumpus rooms and backyards.
Naturally 7-Up was a regular part of family fun.
This “Happy Family Living” was the image that most advertising and entertainment seemed determined to project and one which served as a template for the idea of family.
TV’s June and Ward Cleaver or Jim and Margaret Anderson-no slouches when it came to the nuclear family- would have fit right at home in any of these dozens of tableau’s of the American dream.
All in the Family Drink
They really meant it when they suggested that sparkling clear 7-Up was the “All Family drink.” Several ads were directed at the playpen set. Because 7-Up was so pure, so good..so wholesome “…folks of all ages including little tots can “fresh up” with as much 7 -Up as they want, and as often as they want.”
Enjoy Good Times and Togetherness
Funs a Poppin’ With 7-Up
Pow Wow With 7-Up
The advertising of those years have done so much to shape our impression of the era.
In the process, they came to crystallize some of the great American self delusions of the 1950s. By 1969 even Mad Men’s Peggy Olson wondered “Do family’s like this really exist anymore? Are there people who eat dinner and smile at each other instead of watching TV?”
Today as the very definition of family has gone through transformation allowing for more diversity, some still cling to the dusty and outmoded notions of the nuclear family that are as outdated as these vintage images.
© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.