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NameAdvertising meets war and survives
TitleCarl Crow Papers (1913-1945)
AuthorCarl Crow
CollectionWestern Historical Manuscript Collection
Sub collectionCompositions and Notes Series
Reference Numberf-29
Repository typeArchive

Article by Crow about the ambivalent relationships between war and advertising : ‘It goes without saying that war doesn’t promote advertising but experiences in China show that neither does war destroy it’. War (…) has a deadening but not a paralyzing effect on business’ (…) Business in fact is neither paralyzed except in the exaggerated phrase of newspapers. 

One one hand, Crow first highlights the most obvious negative outcomes of war: 

  • Severe restrictions on the shipment of all foreign goods by the Japanese 
  • American business men prevented from visiting their branches in Nanking or Hangkow
  • difficulty to visit the warehouses in Shanghai if they are within the area of Japanese military control
  • destruction of property
  • killing of people
  • British ships tied up

On the other hand, he reveals its unexpectedly positive impacts on business: 'Yet business carries on - not as so far as volume goes, but much as usual in the kind and class of goods purchased and the methods of merchandising.  Advertising continues to play the same part as before’. 

Daily (12p) and Sunday (18p) editions of North China Daily News are filled with ads, but of smaller size : ‘All of the old regular advertisers are represented, but many of them are using smaller spaces’. ‘War has not changed the class of advertisers to any material extent. Cold cream, lipsticks, infant foods, beer, cigarettes, safety razz blades are all advertised just as they were a few years ago in the days of peace and a comparative prosperity (…) There is little motorcar advertising, probably because the dealers are so busy selling cars to the Japanese army. Chesterfield cigarettes are advertised just as they have been for the last eighteen or twenty years. But the most interesting and significant development came in the outdoor advertising field. While there is a smaller volume of newspaper advertising, there is more outdoor advertising than ever before, because it has acquired a new importance (mainly because of the Japanese censorship upon Chinese newspapers) (…) The daily papers no longer covered the field and the result was a sudden and unexpected demand for outdoor advertising (…). Denied the use of one medium, advertising turned to another, as naturally as water flows around an obstruction (…)'

'A great many of my friends in New York appear surprised when I tell them that the advertising business in Shanghai is still carrying on. There is no reason why it shouldn’t. War doesn’t stop the demand for goods. People continues to smoke cigarettes, brush their teeth and eat cereals for breakfast. They usually smoke more cigarettes and, in fact, spend their money more freely in wartime for things which are not absolutely essential (consumers’ paradoxical - irrational attitudes in wartime: consumption as a relief against sufferings?). With destruction destruction of property going all about them and with restrictions on the withdrawal of money from banks, the only sensible thing to do with appears to be to spend it. With the excitement and dangers of war it is natural that men should seek relief and possibly a feeling of security in the company of others (…)

'We placed an advertisement for an enterprising Chinese contractor who advertised that he would erect the barricades and charge a monthly rental. He made a small fortune, for it was necessary to keep them up for months, and he had covered his costs in the initial payment.  Dangers increased rather than decreased but within a week or two everyone had settled down to a news routine, doing business on a war-time basis’ (…). ‘It was the export manager safely at home who got jittery about business. Some of them must think that once a war starts everyone must crawl into a dug out and stay there for its duration (ex associated agency in New York who cabled to cancel all advertising in Harbin)’. 

‘Of course the present war in China is a much more serious matter. From the very attack in Shanghai it as apparent that it would be. I didn’t wait for cabled instructions but canceled all advertising which were placing on directt orders from New York. A few of local advertisers trimmed their appropriations a little and waited to see what their competitors would do, but none of them cancelled his advertising entirely. It seems to me that the war in China has given advertising the acid test and that it has stood it. Even during the days when Shanghai was surrounded by war and every street was full of refugees and wounded were brought in by the truck load and the air was full of the foul odor of the war, advertising continued to be an essential cog in the wheel. The local advertising agencies as well as my own continued to write new copy and make new layouts. It sill played its unobtrusive and unrecognized part in the making of sales. And sales in some lines steadily increased. There was a boom in the sale of photographic goods for there is nothing like a war to spur the amateur photographer to activity or to provide new opportunities for the military spy. And there is no reason to believe that advertising will not continue to play a part - a very important part in the trade of China. It is quite obvious what the policy of a victorious Japan would be to destroy the trade of other countries. Every governmental department is now hampering this trade in every possible way and each advance (p.7) in Japanese power will mean more and more restrictions. They will be limited then as they are now, merely by Japan’s ability to enforce them. Japan is not alone in a policy of this sort. There are a number of other countries which are carrying out the same nationalistic program. They will increase in number as and if the rule by totalitarian states increases. 

The most common device is high tariff barrier (…). Devices of this sort can be used very effectively on commodities such as steel or cotton or on certain manufactured article. But they will be the least effective in the case of proprietary gods which have established a wide consumer acceptance by means of advertising. The Chinese may in time forget his aversion to Japanese goods and wear a shirt made of cloth produced in Osaka, but it will take him a much longer time to change his preferences in tooth pastes or to accept a Japanese electric refrigerator in place of one of the American makes which he has been using in Shanghai. What is true of the Chinese is equally true of customers in many other parts of the world. 

American trade more than that of any other courtly, has been built up on trade marked brands popularized by advertising, and usually sold at a higher price than competing articles. So far, no nation has been able to destroy that trade, though they can kill or hamper out exports of wheat or cotton or oil. Japan has for more than a generation maintained a government tobacco monopoly which is protected by an import duty of almost 400% and severe import regulations against all imported brands of cigarettes. Yet it (p.8) has always been possible to buy all of the well known American brands in Japan. And if one doesn’t mind dealing with smugglers, it is usually possible to get them at a very reasonable price. It would be difficult to excel the ingenuity of the French in devising tariff schedules which will give French manufacturers a monopoly in French colonies yet there are prosperous American motorcar agencies in all of them. Advertising may some day be recognized as the strongest ally of free trade - it promotes free trade by the most natural method of all - a direct appeal from the manufacturers to the consumer. 

In every country in the world we found the products of American manufacturers, with trade marks or brand names which have been made famous by sound manufacturers baked up by advertising appropriations running into millions of dollars. They include thousands of items, running from lip sticks to motor cars. Hostile tariff wall and trade restrictions may injure our foreign trade, just as the war in Shanghai has injured it, but these items will be the last to suffer’. 


The article was published in Printers' Ink Monthly on April 6, 1939. Draft available in Carl Crow Papers, State Historical Society of Missouri, Columbia, Missouri. The published article includes two pictures : 

  • Photo by Ewing Galloway - Caption : ‘On the edges of a freight yard where supplies for the fighting men continue to carry their messages to the public. Note the Chesterfield poster in the foreground’ (p.13). 
  • Pix Picture. 'The Japanese sun flies against a background of poster billboard in war-torn Shanghai'
Keywordspaper ; personal ; archive ; missouri ; war ; advertising
Subjectwar, advertising
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