From Celebration to Procrastination: Cakes and Creativity in the 1950s

Traditionally, cakes are emblematic of significant celebration. From first birthday cakes to wedding cakes and anniversary cakes, our lives are punctuated by celebratory baked goods. Part of this is due to the communal nature of cakes; they are intended to be divided and shared between those partaking in the event. Cakes also remain a central feature of celebrations because of the perceived time and effort involved in their preparation and decoration.

Cakes are a treat steeped in frosted tradition. Even focusing solely on American culture, there are rituals surrounding cakes which are upheld with startling continuity. In many celebrations, for example, the first cut into the cake is symbolic. For birthdays, it is the opportunity to make a wish, for married couples, the communal first slice symbolizes unity (as John and Jackie exhibited below on their wedding day in 1953). And both, of course, make for significant photo opportunities.

John F. Kennedy and his new bride, Jackie, cut their wedding cake. 1953.

John F. Kennedy and his new bride, Jackie, cut their wedding cake. 1953.

Despite the symbolism and tradition associated with baking and eating cakes, however, the post-war years of the 1950s heralded an era in which cakes became every day staples for the American housewife. Thanks in large part to the entry of ready-made cake mix to the public, brands like Betty Crocker and Pillsbury began marketing their products as both celebratory and every day treats.

Cake mixes had been in development in America since the 1920s, and were almost ready for public distribution when World War II broke out. Flour manufacturers then turned their focus to developing bread mixes to feed the troops (Byrn 20). By 1948, however, men were back to work, and women who had been employed during the war were back in the kitchen. The metaphorical oven was preheated and ready-made cake mix rolled out into American stores.

The convenience that packet cake mixes provided, in combination with the availability of new-fangled appliances, made extravagant-looking cakes something that was expected of the American housewife. The promise of fail-safe cakes must have been appealing for families living in the image-conscious post-war period which followed two decades of poverty, joblessness, and war. Advertisements like the below from Betty Crocker shows seven beautiful cakes – one for each day of the week – which, it is assumed, the good housewife could whip up with ease.

"Seven days of Betty Crocker creations," ca.1953

“Seven days of Betty Crocker creations,” ca.1953

Problems arose for women (and advertisers), however, following the post-war boom in convenience products. In the case of pre-made cake mixes, the simpler baking became, the more genius had to be attributed to the housewife’s creation. Parkin notes that, during this time, advertisers capitalized on women’s feelings of guilt and inadequacies with messages of false praise in which their intelligence was heralded (51). The below advertisement for Pillsbury ready-made frosting is a good example of attempts at a forced link between convenience products and housewives’ acumen.

Source: YouTube

To a modern viewer, perhaps college-professor-turned-disc-jockey Erwin Johnson seems an odd choice to spruik frosting. To the 1950s housewife, however, the words of an educated older white gentleman would have given the product credence; if it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for your family. The fact that he repeats his words in French is further proof that he is not only educated, but cultured – contrasted again by the female host who can’t ‘talk French like that’.

Page proof of Betty Crocker advertisement, 1958

Page proof of Betty Crocker advertisement, 1958

According to Ericka Endrijonas in ‘Cooking for a Family in the 1950s’, the emergence of convenience foods in the 1950s allowed opportunity for ‘women’s personal development’ (157). In the absence of any real opportunity for ‘personal development’, however, the time saved by convenience products left a void to be filled by the housewife. This is a sentiment echoed by Betty Friedan in chapter 10 of The Feminine Mystique. Speaking in depth about ‘housework expanding to fill the available time’, Friedan wrote that many women of ‘intelligence and ability’ were frantically busy during the day, filling the time with meritless busywork (333, 336). Cooking was, of course, a significant part of this, with new and elaborate recipes delivered to housewives and retitled as a creative outlet. In terms of cake-baking, ready-mix brands were active in advertising the possibilities for their cakes. The two brochures, above and below, are representative of a string of advertisements from Betty Crocker at this time. Both detail possible creations housewives could make with a couple of boxes of ready-made cake mix.

Excerpt from Betty Crocker cake advertisement, ca.1956

Partial cover of Betty Crocker pamphlet of recipes for cake mixes, ca.1956

As with all types of food, no matter how beautifully prepared or presented, the cakes advertised to American housewives were, of course, transient. Regardless of how many hours were poured into creating ‘snowballs’ or ‘merry-go-round cakes’, the work of the housewife remained ‘largely invisible’ and the cakes were eaten and, presumably, forgotten just as quickly (Endrijonas 169). Fast forward to 2013, and Betty Crocker continues to encourage the strange combination of convenience and busywork. The Betty Crocker Pinterest site is laden with recipes for extravagant mix-based cakes. It is interesting that what was once developed as a product to save housewives time has since become a base for a thousand different types of culinary time-filling. Since the 1950s, the producers of ready-made cake mixes have attempted to reassure housewives that their work is creative, and, most importantly, valuable. In the very fitting words of Betty Friedan, this culinary busywork is, however, ‘decorated with meaningless details to conceal its emptiness’ (340).

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Anne Byrn, The Cake Mix Doctor (1993) Philadelphia: Rodale Publishing.

Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique (1963) New York: W.W Norton & Co.

Ericka Endrijonas, ‘Processed Foods from Scratch: Cooking for a Family in the 1950s’, in Sherrie A. Inness (ed) Kitchen Culture in America (2006) Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 140-174.

Katherine J. Parkin, Food Is Love: Advertising and Gender Roles in Modern America (2006) Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Sealed with a ‘Like’: Tupperware and Social Media

More than 60 years after its inception, Tupperware marketers are working hard to dispel what it says are dated perceptions of the brand (Cortese). Despite the fact that Tupperware products are still extremely successful – with a Tupperware party in progress every 2.5 seconds across the globe – the brand has, over the past five years, altered its communication strategy in an attempt to keep up with the next generation of consumers (Bax 171). Through the use of social media channels, Tupperware Brands is looking to expand its customer base while shunning traditional forms of advertising. But despite concerted efforts to update its image and to shake off its title as an ‘icon of suburbia’, Tupperware continues to target the same demographic it did in the 1950s: women caring for families (Clarke 133).

For several years, brands have been capitalising on the opportunities offered to them by social media. Primary channels include Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, but – in the very nature of the medium – new players (Instagram, for example) are constantly entering the race. These channels allow brands to gather fans and promote their products for free. In addition, brands can use advertising opportunities to promote their activity further on a cost-per-click or cost-per-impression basis (Facebook). Compared to traditional print and television advertising, this is a very low-cost opportunity for brands to exploit. Using paid activity, brands can broaden reach to capitalise on an environment where every new ‘follower’ is a potential new customer.

For a brand like Tupperware, which is seeking to revamp its image, social media encourages direct engagement in a way that traditional forms of marketing never could. Tupperware and other brands can directly appeal for feedback, gauge the popularity of products and ideas, and work to cultivate their own image. With more than 107,000 fans on the Tupperware US and Canada Facebook page alone, it is a platform ripe for the brand’s growth in the 21st century.

For more than 60 years, Tupperware has been an immensely successful, not to mention iconic, American brand. This is despite the fact that Tupperware Brands continue to avoid traditional advertising, relying instead on direct marketing, word of mouth, public relations, and celebrity endorsements (the brand, for example, sponsored Tori Spelling’s baby shower (see below)). The brand’s chief executive, Rick Goings, explained the aversion to traditional advertising, telling The New York Times that word-of-mouth endorsements “from someone you have confidence in is the absolutely best form” of marketing (Elliot).

Tori Spelling's baby shower, 2011. www.people.com

Tori Spelling’s baby shower, 2011. People Magazine

Though Tupperware’s traditional method of non-advertising still brought the brand profits of $2.2 billion in 2008, social media is helping the brand reach the daughters and granddaughters of existing customers (Bax 171). As part of the ‘cool-ification’ of the brand, Tupperware Brands is capitalising on their reputation for quality, while shying away from links to ‘your mother’s Tupperware’ (Elliot). But although Tupperware is making a concerted effort to modernise perceptions of the brand, it is sticking with a tried and true target market. The brand heavily markets its products – the vast majority of which are cooking or food preparation items – to women caring for families.

In 1843, Catherine Beecher wrote that women are ‘the responsible guardian of the health of a whole family’ (Beecher 68). More than 150 years later, Tupperware continues to spruik this persisting idea on all its social media channels. Indeed, the use of airtight containers to keep raw, healthy produce fresh is one of the brand’s primary marketing messages. This plays into the idea that women – as the purchasers and preparers of food – will invest in products which promise to maintain the healthfulness of their husbands and children.

Source: Facebook

Source: Facebook

The above Facebook post is indicative of the persistent implication that women are invested in the health of those they care for. Tupperware plastics are shown sitting on a rustic wooden table, side by side with woven baskets filled with presumably freshly-picked berries. Vibrant colouring suggests freshness, while the baskets imply a level of homemade authenticity. A post from the same day on Twitter (below) spruiks the same series of containers, while linking their use to National Fruits and Vegie Month. By mentioning National Fruits and Vegie Month, Tupperware succeeds in making this Twitter post seem less like advertising. This is important for the brand’s image because it means Tupperware can advertise its products, while leading followers to believe the brand is invested in their ongoing good health.

Source: Twitter

Source: Twitter

Similar to its efforts on Facebook and Twitter, Tupperware actively seeks engagement with female customers on its YouTube channel. From the pink logo to the persistent Sex-and-the-City-esque music, the brand’s videos cater to a female audience.

Source: YouTube

Although almost of none of the videos feature narration or text (making them perfect for global distribution), the imagery is highly gendered. This particular video is sleek and unfussy, suggesting cleanliness and hygiene. The action of packing and unpacking the cake is very repetitive, indicating the durability of the product, which is contrasted with the daintiness of the cakes (which, we assume, have been baked and decorated by the white woman in the video). And, indeed, daintiness is a theme which is carried across many of the Tupperware videos, with the invariably female actors preparing small portions of colourful, visually-appealing food in Tupperware containers – without mess, of course. These factors, in combination, solidify Tupperware’s portrayal of woman in the home: she is clean, she is healthy, she cares about her family, and she cooks with Tupperware.

Tupperware’s foray into the territory of social media is, by its own admission, an attempt to revamp the image of the brand. Despite sticking its plastic toe in the waters of social media, however, the brand continues to target the same demographic that it did 60 years ago: women with families. Capitalising on long-held ideas of females as primary food and food-product purchasers, Tupperware stays latched onto the perception of females as domestic carers in an attempt to gain a new generation of customers.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Christina E. Bax, ‘Entrepreneur Brownie Wise: Selling Tupperware to America’s Women in the 1950s’, in Journal of Women’s History (2010) 22:2, 171-180.

Catherine Beecher, A Treatise on Domestic Economy for the use of Young Ladies at Home and at School (1843), Boston: Thomas H. Webb & Co.

‘Campaign Cost & Budgeting’, Facebook, accessed 19 July 2013, https://www.facebook.com/help/318171828273417/

Allison J. Clarke, ‘Tupperware: Suburbia, Sociality and Mass Consumption’ in Roger Silverstone (ed), Visions of Suburbia (1997) New York: Routledge.

Amy Cortese, ‘Tupperware Freshens Up the Party’, July 7 2007, The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/07/business/07interview.html?_r=1& .

Stuart Elliot, ‘The Tupperware Party Moves to Social Media’, May 4 2011, The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/05/business/media/05adco.html?_r=0 .

Get Some Nuts: How Snickers Bars are Marketed as ‘Man-Candy’

Over the course of the past century, women have been the primary target for all types of food advertising (Parkin 151). This is particularly evident when looking at candy advertising, which has attempted to appeal to a seemingly special, supposed ‘biologically predetermined’ relationship between women and chocolate (Inness 14) Despite the obvious weighting towards women in the candy market, however, there remains a specific place in candy advertising for men.

As noted by Jane Dusselier in “Candy and the Construction of Gender,” the 1920s saw advertisements directed at men begin ‘characterizing candy as a valuable fuel rather than a feminine indulgence’ (Inness, 15). While women’s candy was seen as a dainty, sensual treat, men’s candy was marketed as having more of a purpose to its consumption. This trend remains true in the new millennium, as exemplified in advertisements for Snickers bars.

According to parent brand Mars, Snickers bars ‘Curb your hunger before your hunger curbs you’. The product page of the Mars website shows a thick log of chocolate, ‘packed’ with almonds, caramel and nougat being gripped, vice-like, by a huge male fist. In order to distance itself from any sort of flippant feminine indulgence, Snickers is explicitly marketed by Mars as not a sweet treat, but a realistic antidote to hunger. The ‘You’re Not You When You’re Hungry’ series of advertisements attempts to cement Snickers as a source of sustenance and useful energy.

Snickers television commercial, 2011

The above television commercial features veteran actress Betty White playing football with a group of burly young men. Once she’s fed a Snickers bar by his girlfriend (who does not eat, but merely serves the candy), he transforms into a man again, capable of carrying out his duties – that is, playing dirty, masculine ball sports.

The link between Snickers and manliness is one that is continually spruiked by Mars’s advertisers. The commercial below is from the ‘Get Some Nuts’ series of advertisements featuring The A Team character Mr T.

Snickers television commercial, 2008

This particularly television commercial features a man in brief yellow shorts speedwalking down a suburban street. From atop a military vehicle, Mr T yells that the man is ‘a disgrace to the man race’ and shoots Snickers bar from a bazooka gun until he begins to ‘run like a real man’. The contrast between Mr T and the object of his temper is stark. Mr T is a large, black man with an authoritative voice and presence, while the speedwalker – that is, the one who needs to ‘Get Some Nuts’ – is slim, white and effeminate.

The contrast between Mr T and his presumably less-masculine counterpart was certainly not a coincidence. Such a comparison draws distinctions about what constitutes a ‘real man’, and what doesn’t. Ultimately, the advertisement was pulled by Mars after the Human Rights Campaign accused the band of perpetuating ‘the notion that the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community is a group of second class citizens and that violence against GLBT people is not only acceptable, but humorous’ (Sweeney). The fact that the speedwalker was seen to be effeminate was both a critique of his masculinity and sexuality.

Compare Snickers to a contemporary candy bar that’s marketed specifically to women, such as the Fling bar, also by Mars. The Fling bar, a ‘shimmering, indulgent…treat with under 85 calories per stick’, is marketed with the tagline ‘Naughty… but not that naughty’.

Fling Facebook post, 2009

Fling Facebook post, 2009

The name suggests an illicit affair, addressing but then disregarding feelings of remorse, claiming ‘you can indulge without feeling guilty’. In comparison, the Fling bar and the Snickers bar respectively exemplify the relationship women and men are supposed to have with chocolate. While men are encouraged to eat – ‘You’re not you when you’re hungry’ – and, indeed, they are shown ravenously taking open-mouthed bites of huge Snickers bars, self-denial and guilt are used as drawcards for candy marketed towards women.

As exhibited by the marketing of Snickers bars, ’men’s’ candy is about self-satisfaction with wild abandon, with no second thought to denial or restraint. For Snickers-eaters, chocolate is supposed to be about satiation – the satisfaction of hunger. A 2011 study by Anschutz et al found that men are less likely to be concerned about their snack food intake, and more likely than women to respond to exposure to food advertising (Anschutz et al, 256). This is potentially because food advertising that targets men doesn’t reference guilt, shame or indulgence the way ‘women’s’ candy does. For men, the devouring of chocolate is not about indulging in a wicked treat, one so illicit that it can be compared to an extra-marital affair. For advertisers targeting men, such as Mars Snickers bars, this perceived lack of restraint works in the brand’s favour.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Anschutz, Doeschka, Rutger, Engels, van der Zwaluw, Carmen, van Strien, Tatjana. Sex differences in young adults’ snack food intake after food commercial exposure, Appetite, 56 (2011) 255-260.

Dusselier, Jane. Bonbons, Lemon Drops, and Oh Henry! Bars: Candy, Consumer Culture, and the Construction of Gender, 1895 – 1920 (13-50), in Sherrie A. Inness (ed.) Kitchen Culture in America (2001) Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Parkin, Katherine J. Food is Love: Advertising and Gender Roles in Modern America (2006) Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Sweeney, Mark. Mr T ad pulled for being offensive to gay people, The Guardian, 2008, web, July 1 2013.