Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Booknotes: Marketing the Blue and Gray

New Arrival:
Marketing the Blue and Gray: Newspaper Advertising and the American Civil War by Lawrence A. Kreiser, Jr. (LSU Press, 2019).

Just like today, Civil War newspapers survived on a combination of subscription and ad revenue. While newspapers and their practices have been studied in numerous contexts, their marketing feature has been consistently neglected until now. Lawrence Kreiser's Marketing the Blue and Gray is "the first full-length analysis of Union and Confederate newspaper advertising." During the war, papers "marketed everything from war bonds to biographies of military and political leaders; from patent medicines that promised to cure almost any battlefield wound to “secession cloaks” and “Fort Sumter” cockades. Union and Confederate advertisers pitched shopping as its own form of patriotism, one of the more enduring legacies of the nation’s largest and bloodiest war."

As one would expect from a scholarly study, the book examines the topic on a much deeper level than simple product and service promotion. The author "argues that the marketing strategies of the time show how commercialization and patriotism became increasingly intertwined as Union and Confederate war aims evolved. Yankees and Rebels believed that buying decisions were an important expression of their civic pride, from “Union forever” groceries to “States Rights” sewing machines. He suggests that the notices helped to expand American democracy by allowing their diverse readership to participate in almost every aspect of the Civil War. As potential customers, free blacks and white women perused announcements for war-themed biographies, images, and other material wares that helped to define the meaning of the fighting."

Given the great proliferation of newspapers and their high level of collective readership, media marketing also "helped readers to become more savvy consumers and, ultimately, citizens, by offering them choices. White men and, in the Union after 1863, black men might volunteer for military service after reading a recruitment notice; or they might instead respond to the kind of notice for “draft insurance” that flooded newspapers after the Union and Confederate governments resorted to conscription to help fill the ranks. Marketing the Blue and Gray demonstrates how, through their sometimes-messy choices, advertising pages offered readers the opportunity to participate―or not―in the war effort."

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