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The business of government is advertising: The symbiotic relationship between Washington and the (war) Advertising Council, 1945-1947

Inger L. Stole (Department of Communication, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana-Champaign, USA)

Journal of Historical Research in Marketing

ISSN: 1755-750X

Article publication date: 10 October 2018

Issue publication date: 3 December 2018




The purpose of this study is to analyze the increasingly congenial relationship between business and government that developed in the immediate post Second World War period. This study explores the subtle, but systematic, uses of advertising for propaganda purposes to secure American political and commercial world dominance. It locates the relationship between the US Government and the Advertising Council as key components in a strategy to blur the lines between political and commercial messages. In addition to study the relationship between the two stakeholders, the study identifies some of the implications for both.


Scholarship on the government’s postwar relationships with other organizations is relatively scant and few other scholars have focused on the advertising industry’s role in this transformation. This paper draws on trade periodicals and newspaper accounts, and relies on archival material from the Arthur W Page and the Thomas D’Arcy Brophy collections at the Wisconsin State Historical Society and the Advertising Council’s papers at the University of Illinois. Charles W. Jackson papers, located at the Harry S. Truman Library, and the papers of Office of War Mobilization and Re-conversion, deposited at the National Archives, have also been consulted.


The Advertising Council’s “Peace” and “World Trade and Travel” demonstrate an acceleration of collaboration between business and government that continued into the postwar era. It shows the government’s willingness to trade on the Advertising Council’s goodwill and to blur the lines between political and commercial messages, in what can accurately be characterized as a duplicitous manner. Key conclusion includes a willingness among Washington’s policymakers to propagandize its own citizens, a strategy that it commonly, and disparagingly, ascribed to the Soviet Union, and a Council so willing to appease Washington, that it was putting its own reputation at considerable risk.

Research limitations/implications

This paper is based on a study of two campaigns (“Peace” and “World Trade and Travel”) that the Advertising Council conducted in collaboration with the US State Department. While these were the first campaigns of this nature, they were not the only ones. Additional studies of similar campaigns may add new insights.

Social implications

Recent political events have brought propaganda and government collusion back on the public agenda. In an era of declining journalism credibility, rising social media and unprecedented government and commercial surveillance, it is argued that propaganda demands scholarly attention more than ever and that a historical study of how the US Government collaborated with private industry and used advertising as a propaganda smokescreen is particularly timely.


This study adds to the scholarship on advertising, PR and propaganda in several ways. First, it contributes to the understanding of the advertising industry’s important role in the planning of US international policy after the Second World War. Second, it demonstrates the increasingly congenial relationship between business and the US Government that emerged as a result. Third, it provides excellent insights into the Adverting Council’s transition from war to peacetime. The heavy reliance on archival material also brings originality and value to the study.



Stole, I.L. (2019), "The business of government is advertising: The symbiotic relationship between Washington and the (war) Advertising Council, 1945-1947", Journal of Historical Research in Marketing, Vol. 10 No. 4, pp. 358-382.



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