Book Review: The Ads That Won the War

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Mad Men did their part

This really should have been a fascinating book to look through. WW2 is obviously one of the great events of the last century and ad agencies churned out thousands of colorful shouts that appeared in the huge selling consumer weeklies and trade publications.

Ads in the Forties were still in the age of the illustration and as these pages show the war was the ideal situation for the top commercial artists to show their stuff and keep morale high with very realistic paintings of servicemen and equipment in action.

The problem with the hundred or so ads in the book is that their reproduction is pretty scrappy. They look not much better than reasonable color photocopies but with a light orange cast over them and as such they look dull and bland (ads should be reproduced by separating the art from the headlines and text so that these can be printed on a very light grey background or nothing except a thin black line to create the shape of the original ad). I was made aware of this sloppy reproduction when comparing the book with the WW2 ad section in Taschen's excellent All-American Ads of the 40s. Here the 150 ads, all in color, have been reproduced correctly and they look a treat.

The book's title implies that this it is primarily about ads but Nelson's text, interesting though it is, covers the wider aspects of wartime production, the home front and the progress of the war years to victory and too little about the ads and especially details on the artists who created them.

I prefer to see these fascinating ads in the Taschen book where they give a much better impression of how Madison Avenue did their part.

The Ads That Won the War is available at Amazon (US | CA | UK | DE | FR | IT | ES | JP | CN) and Book Depository

The Ads That Won the War - 02
The same ad reproduced in the Taschen 40s All-American Ads (left). Brighter colors and the original magazine page comes out as white instead of a slight orange.

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Wartime ads in the Taschen '40s All-American Ads'.

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Extremely boring title spread. It surely cries out for a graphic of some sort on all that white space.

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Right: you can see how the original magazine has just been folded to show the ad and the white paper looks slightly orange.

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How much better this spread would look with the ad artwork large and a small reproduction of both ads.

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