Jewish Mad Men: Advertising and the Design of the American Jewish Experience.

Author:Baskind, Samantha
Position:Book review

Jewish Mad Men: Advertising and the Design of the American Jewish Experience. By Kerri P. Steinberg. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2015. xvi + 219 pp.

Kerri Steinberg's original study arrives at a propitious moment, when advertising has been propelled into national consciousness by the popular television show Mad Men (2007-15), from which she derives her book's title. She argues that advertisements tell stories and aims to flesh out the meaning of those stories vis-a-vis the history of American advertising, the efficacy of specific advertisements as a mode of persuasion, and the reciprocal relationship advertising has apropos the American Jewish encounter. As Steinberg writes, "Ads reference how Jews both absorbed and influenced the broader history and culture of America" (4). That is to say, Steinberg parallels advertising campaigns, from the late nineteenth century through the current time, to the Jewish experience of immigration, assimilation, mainstream acceptance, suburbanization, and pluralism. All of these discussions are aptly realized and further grounded by Jewish communal priorities and their intersection with advertising-including support of Israel, social justice causes, the revitalization of Jewish affiliation, and stemming intermarriage.

With an eye toward jingles, taglines, copywriting, and design, the book's broad sweep examines early ads in Jewish publications like the American Israelite and the Jewish Daily Forward to contemporary campaigns exploiting the possibilities of billboards and other, newer outlets. The advertisements that Steinberg investigates-through subject, context, and style-took three major tacks: efforts directed at Jewish consumers, trying to make "non-Jewish" products appealing (e.g., Maxwell House Coffee); attempts to mainstream so-called Jewish products (e.g., Manischewitz wine and Levy's Real Jewish Rye); and more recently, endeavors to market specifically Jewish products to Jews, especially in non-traditional media (e.g., J Date).

Several major players impacted Jewish advertising, notably Albert Lasker, Bill Bernbach, and the underappreciated pioneer Joseph Jacobs. A fair portion of the book offers biographies of these pivotal figures and describes their marketing strategies. Jacobs, head of the Joseph Jacobs Organization, was essential to establishing a Jewish market. Among his organization's best known enterprises were the creation of the ubiquitous "K" and "OU" symbols to designate...

To continue reading