Consumer Engineering, 1920s–1970s: Marketing between Expert Planning and Consumer Responsiveness

In the middle of the twentieth century, a new class of marketing expert emerged beyond the familiar ad men of Madison Avenue. Working as commercial designers, consumer psychologists, sales managers, and market researchers, these professionals were self-defined “consumer engineers,” and their rise heralded a new era of marketing. To what extent did these efforts to engineer consumers shape consumption practices? And to what extent was the phenomenon itself a product of broader social and cultural forces? This collection, arising from a GHI conference, considers consumer engineering in the context of the longer history of transatlantic marketing. Contributors offer case studies on the roles of individual consumer engineers on both sides of the Atlantic, the impact of such marketing practices on European economies during World War II and after, and the conflicted relationship between consumer activists and the ideas of consumer engineering. By connecting consumer engineering to a web of social processes in the twentieth century, this volume contributes to a reassessment of consumer history more broadly.

Consumer Engineering, 1920s–1970s: Marketing between Expert Planning and Consumer Responsiveness, edited by Jan Logemann, Gary Cross, and Ingo Köhler is available from Palgrave McMillan in GHI’s series “Worlds of Consumption.”