“Consumer Engineering”. Mid-Century Mass Consumption between Planning Euphoria and the Limits of Growth, 1930s-1970s

26.-28.03.2015, Konferenz, Universität Göttingen

Conference at the University of Göttingen
Conveners: Gary Cross (Pennsylvania State University), Ingo Köhler (Göttingen), Jan Logemann (German Historical Institute)

"Consumer engineering" as a concept has been central to both proponents and critics of mid-twentieth century American mass consumer society; capturing aspirations of unlimited growth and abundance as well as concerns about wastefulness and consumer manipulation. The term "consumer engineering" was coined by marketing experts during the Depression of the mid-1930s and referred to creating consumer demand through the appearance of product innovations, new color variations, creating new applications and finding other ways of "making goods desirable." Consumer engineering also rested on the assumption that companies could create demand by better understanding the psychology and demographics of consumers. Expanding existing knowledge about consumers and their psychological motivations became paramount. "Consumer engineering" put "the consumer" at the center of corporate marketing strategies ranging from pricing to product innovations and advertising. To critics of postwar mass consumption, however, "consumer engineering" embodied marketing trends which created wastefulness through "planned obsolescence" and which "duped" consumers into participating in a never-ending "rat race" of acquiring an ever-growing array of material possessions.

Contact: Jan Logemann ( logemann(at)ghi-dc.org)

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