I read an article last week titled, “Making, and Eating, the 1950s’ Most Nauseating Jell-O Soaked Recipes.” The article shares funky Jell-O recipes popular with my grandmother and quotes Laura Shapiro author of Something From the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America: “At the war’s end, packaged food companies realized they had to convince domestic consumers to purchase their wartime products or risk shuttering their businesses. [These companies tried to] persuade millions of Americans to develop a lasting taste for meals that were a lot like field rations.”

Let’s look at this concept from the beginning: Gelatin was invited at the end of the 19th century, however the gooey concoction was unsuccessful due to poor marketing efforts. It wasn’t until the early 20th century, when Jell-O came out with fruity flavors (cherry and peach) that Jell-O was recognized as “America’s Most Famous” dessert.

Once Jell-O earned some credibility as a dessert, General Foods Co. introduced savory flavors such as celery, mixed vegetable, Italian salad, and seasoned tomato to the world of molded gelatin treats. The tricky part – marketing these zesty flavors.

Salad-Flavored-Jello-Ad001-720x1024

The function of the above advertisement:

  • Provide information about the product
  • Explain how lifestyle benefits of the product

The text at the top of the advertisement reads, “Now that Jell-O has put salad flavors into gelatin, you can put anything into gelatin salads.” Just like Shapiro explains, the advertisers behind the savory Jell-O campaign attempted to persuade Americans to develop a new taste for a food that wasn’t all that popular.

Because savory Jell-O was introduced as an entirely new concept in the 1950s, advertisers needed to provide information about how/why the consumer needed this new product. The advertising team behind the campaign use images of fish, tomatoes, celery, chicken, shrimp, cucumbers, carrots, lettuce, onion, egg, and green pepper with arrows pointing to the green Jell-O mold to convey how savory Jell-O is to be presented and consumed. As a transformed product, the Jell-O brand managers need to teach consumers how to integrate gelatin into their dinner options.

Advertisements are the cultural mediator between people and commodities. This especially holds true for new products or existing products trying to reinvent themselves. In the case of Jell-O, the brand attempts to assign new meaning to their gelatin by shifting from a dessert product to a dinner product. The bottom right corner of the advertisement reads, “Get new Jell-O Salad Gelatin, it’s the first and only gelatin created exclusively for salads. You’ll never again make a gelatin salad that’s a dessert at heart.”

It seems as if the Jell-O advertisement uses the product-information format described in Social Communication in Advertising. Leiss, et al. write, “The product is the center of attention and the focus of all elements in the ad is explaining the product and its utility” (175). In this format, the brand name (Jell-O), picture of the product (green mold), special offer (coupon) and text is used to describe benefits, characteristics, performance, and construction. Now, if they could only do something about the taste.

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