Tuesday, October 23, 2012

"I dreamed I was an advertising student in my Maidenform bra"

Assignment # 1: Advertising Campaign Critique
Danielle Pitt (208045460)
Advertising -The Growth of a Twentieth Belief System
Dr. Natalie Coulter
 October 23, 2012


As suggested by Lyons (2005) advertisements both mold and reflect life (p. 322). With these words in mind I set out on a quest to find an influential advertising campaign that truly mirrored a historical period of the past. While browsing through past episodes of CBC’s Age of Persuasion, I was struck by a rather bold advertisement for female bras that appeared to be from the 1950s. The advertisement displayed a notorious female, exposing her bra for public view with the words “I Dreamed I was wanted in my Maidenform bra.” Despite my lack of knowledge about the time period in which the advertisement appeared, I wondered if this campaign caused any controversy given both the ‘masculine’ nature of the model in addition to her lack of clothing. Was this the first time women were so exposed in advertising? Given the state of society at this time, how did women respond to fantasy nature of an advertisement like this? How did feminist scholars feel about such portrayals of women? What does this advertisement say about the state of society during these times?

 I was immediately intrigued to find out more…


Image Source: Season Five "The Happy Homemaker: How Advertising Invented The Housewife (Part Two)”. (2011, April 30). In CBC Radio. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/ageofpersuasion/episode/2011/04/30/season-five-the-happy-homemaker-how-advertising-invented-the-housewife-part-two-1/  

Maidenform Inc. 

Like many successful companies, it seems Maidenform’s corporate venture was born out of an ingenious invention. Maidenform started their humble beginnings as a dress shop in 1922 (Amato-McCoy, 2011, p. 17). The company began its journey into undergarment production when Ida Rosenthal and her business partner Enid Bissett invented a separate inner lift structure to accompany their dress designs (Amato-McCoy, 2011, p. 17). The lift structure resulted in a better overall appearance over the natural contours of a woman's bust (Amato-McCoy, 2011, p. 17). Little did Rosenthal and Bissett know, this lift structure would be the very catalyst to help build a booming American undergarment business. Their designs grew in popularity as customers inquired about purchasing the inner structure to wear under alternative clothing (Amato-McCoy, 2011, p. 17). As Rosenthal and Bissett responded to their customers’ requests, they launched their first brassiere in 1924 and thus the beginning of Maidenform was born (Amato-McCoy, 2011, p. 17).

Despite Maidenform’s humble beginnings, the company grew steadily and remained strong over the years. By 1960, the firm sold 10 percent of all U.S. brassieres (Howard, 2000, p. 595). Entering the twenty-first century, the $377 billion company expanded into the international marketplace, a line of business Maidenform executives deemed a ‘huge opportunity’(Monget, 2005, p. 34). Such facts and figures indicate the longevity and successful growth of Maidenform’s corporate journey within a 90-year period. One must begin to wonder the extent to which their marketing and advertising efforts in the early twentieth century played a role in their current financial standing. More specifically, how did advertisements like ‘I dreamed I was wanted in my Maidenform bra’ contribute to the growth and expansion of the firm over the years? Howard (2000) argued that most of Maidenform’s success attributed to the popularity of the ‘I Dreamed’ advertising campaign (p. 595). With Howard’s suggestion in mind, I wanted to find out more about the ‘I Dreamed’ campaign and its various effects on consumer society.

“I Dreamed…” Maidenform Campaign

With the suggested influence of Maidenform’s advertising campaign on their growth and expansion, one should give credit to the creative minds behind their marketing strategy. A New York agency by the name of Norman, Craig & Kummel, also known as NCK Organization, first dreamed up the ‘fantasy’ component of the ‘I Dreamed’ campaign (Norman, 2003, para. 1). According to Norman (2003) NCK's Maidenform advertisements stretched the boundaries of what was acceptable at that time (para. 12). The ads, which bore the tagline, "I dreamed . . . in my Maidenform bra," featured half-clad female models in a variety of extraordinary environments (Norman, 2003, para. 12). Each advertisement featured gorgeous ladies, their bottoms modestly dressed and their tops only in their bras, dreaming they ‘went shopping’, or ‘rode fire trucks’, or ‘crossed the Nile’, all in their Maidenform bras (Deutsch, 2005, para. 1). Even though the campaign infuriated feminists, despite the controversy, Maidenform advertising appeared to have an astounding effect on women and society (Norman, 2003, para. 12). According to Howard (2000) the campaign’s overall appeal became successful due to its transformation of the private experience into the public (p. 598). Brassieres and other garments manufactured by Maidenform were not meant to be seen by others (Howard, 2000, p. 598). Thus Maidenform advertisements drew attention to the distinct controversy of mixing outer clothing and exposed undergarments (Howard, 2000, p. 598). In comparison to today’s society, one would imagine such exposure was especially appalling given the conservative gender roles of the 1950s.

Analyzing the shocking nature of Maidenform advertisements only touches the surface when reflecting upon the state of society. On a deeper level, Maidenform’s ‘I Dreamed’ campaign provides a useful way to study gender roles, consumer society, cultural contexts and historical eras (Lyons, 2005, p. 323). This essay will examine each of these areas in further detail in relation to Maidenform’s Dream campaign.

Image Source: Maidenform Ads. (n.d.). Vintage Ads and Stuff. Retrieved from http://www.vintageadsandstuff.com/adsmaidenform.html   

The Target Market 

When first considering the proposed influence of Maidenform advertising on women in North American society, it is helpful to examine the target market of the campaign. Analyzing the target market could help to gain further understanding of consumption, gender and the state of society in the 1950s. To begin, one can gain insight into Maidenform’s target market through the women depicted in their advertisements. The average models required for Maidenform advertisements were unmarried, healthy, 26 years of age and more full than a 34B cup, which was the average size of a Maidenform customer (Lyons, 2005, p. 324). One can extend these parameters to suggest that Maidenform had a specific interest in targeting women who were in their 20s and 30s yet and perhaps early 40s as well. It is also interesting to note that Maidenform specifically called for unmarried models for their advertisements. Such requirements could be an indication of avoiding ‘shame’ association with one’s spouse suggestively posed in a public advertisement. It could also perhaps be an indication of some of the changing elements of society during the 1950s. According to Howard (2000) post World War II society experienced, young unmarried women moving to the city to become ‘breadwinning daughters’ contributing to their household (p. 595). It is possible Maidenform recognized such trends in spending power and sought to capture the attention of these women as they embarked on their new urban adventures.

To add onto the demographics of women and their age, Howard (2000) also indicates the models for used for Maidenform were white middle-class women without visible ethnic identification (p.601). In fact, ethnicity was marked only if it appealed to notion of the exotic ‘other’ (Howard, 2000, p. 601). For example in the 1950s advertisement ‘I Dreamed I was a Toredor,’ a dark-haired model flirted with danger, wearing red satin pants and a matching cape as if she was awaiting the approach of a bull (Howard, 2000, p. 601). Here, Howard pin-points two additional factors suggested to make up the target market. The first element deals with gaining the attention of women who are positioned within the middle-class sector of class society. Targeting the middle-class as opposed to lower class sectors would have a direct influence on the approach of Maidenform’s advertising. By targeting middle-class women Maidenform could easily use the ‘dream’ element of their campaign to appeal to those who admire and emulate the lives of the upper class.

The second element Howard suggests deals with ethnicity. The lack of ethnicity demonstrated in Maidenform advertising reveals that the company was primarily interested in gaining the attention of white middle-class women. The erosion of ethnicity could also be an indication of race relations and dominance of power in the 1950s. However the lack of ethnicity demonstrated in Maidenform advertising could be considered ironic in some ways. According to Howard (2000) work culture during these times would also introduce immigrant women to American notions of romance and marriage and to Americanized forms of leisure and consumption (p. 594). Therefore Maidenform may have also recognized the growing spending power of immigrant women yet would simultaneously exclude ethnic representations in their advertising. The Spanish influence of the ‘toreador’ dream advertisement could possibly be designed to gain the attention of other ethnicities in a discreet manner. Thus the collected of these factors adding to the complexity of Maidenform’s suggested target market.

Image Source: Maidenform Ads. (n.d.). Vintage Ads and Stuff. Retrieved from http://www.vintageadsandstuff.com/adsmaidenform.html   

Messages of Maidenform Advertising 

With a better understanding of target market demographics, one could also question what messages were being communicated through the ‘I Dreamed’ campaign and how these messaged created such an impact. According to Advertising Age, ‘dream themes’ were developed in ‘dream meetings ‘held twice a year with top officials at Maidenform and the advertising firm of Norman, Craig and Kummel (Lyons, 2005, p. 324). The foundational principles of the campaign were built around the agency’s unique selling proposition called ‘empathy’ (Norman, 2003, para. 3). The ‘empathy’ theory consisted of six components. When put together, the first letters of each part spelled P-E-O-P-L-E: Put people in the sell; Excitingly different look and sound; Open the way through the heart-not the head; Put in an important reason why; Living visuals people will talk about; Eliminate any non-preemptive selling proposition (Norman, 2003, para. 4). According to Norman (2003) it was the empathy approach that led to the success Maidenform's ‘I Dreamed’ campaign (para. 5). It’s especially interesting to note how the empathy approach included an ‘excitedly different look and sound’ and ‘living visuals people will talk about’, which appeared to be two components used throughout the campaign. Altogether these strategic components help to demonstrate what messages Maidenform were sending to their targeted consumers.


Image Source: Maidenform Ads. (n.d.). Vintage Ads and Stuff. Retrieved from http://www.vintageadsandstuff.com/adsmaidenform.html 

From 1949-1969, Maidenform released 210 thematic Dream ads in which young women fantasized about their adventures while wearing a Maidenform bra (Lyons, 2005, p. 324). “I dreamed I went shopping in my Maidenform Bra” was the first Dream campaign slogan to be adopted in October of 1949. The advertisement featured a half dressed woman floating through a surreal sketch of a grocery store filled with canned goods and vegetables as she embarked on her shopping extravaganza (Lyons, 2005, p.323). On one hand, the advertisement seems to suggest that women are solely responsible for shopping and buying food for their families. The array of food items surrounding the model could also represent the women’s place within the family as being in the kitchen, preparing the meals.  On the other hand, there is a certain ‘shock’ value to the advertisement that cannot be escaped. The way the model is dressed speaks to the ‘living visuals people will talk about’ component of NCK’s empathy approach. The idea of a women shopping with her chest on display for public view was an appalling idea in the mid-twentieth century (Lyons, 2005, p. 323). According to Lyons (2005) it was partially through this shock value, in combination with the ability to display the product, which became vital to the ad campaign’s success (p. 324).

The level of ‘shock value’ that continued throughout the campaign was also closely associated with the concept of female sexuality. Before World War II, advertisers only acknowledged female sexuality in a contained form that existed safely within stories of romance and marriage (Howard, 2000, p. 597). Such ‘safe’ interpretations of female sexuality could be understood in even earlier forms of Maidenform advertising which centred around ideas of ‘fashion’ or ‘natural uplift’ and protection of the bra (Howard, 2000, p. 597). However, it seems that after the war Maidenform recognized the opportunity to take greater risks with their interpretations of female sexuality. According to Howard (2000) post-war years exemplified new interpretations of women’s sexuality that shaped the way advertisers addressed their consumers (Howard, 2000, p. 597). Maidenform’s risky display of a woman ‘shopping in her brassiere’ was merely the beginning of explorations in shock value and female sexuality.

 In addition to some of the some of the surface level messages revealed through the campaign, there is evidence to suggest deeper messages were also present. Not only was it the first campaign to show woman clothed in only underwear, it was one of the first to feature glamorous young woman doing just about anything imaginable (Lyons, 2005, p. 323). These young women would influence juries, go on safaris and races or work as an editor (Lyons, 2005, p. 323). In other words, these advertisements operated out of the realm of everyday life (Howard, 2000, p. 602). Howard (2000) argues that “I brushed my teeth in my Maidenform Bra” would have very little appeal (p. 602). Instead, the Maidenform campaign depicted women escaping their middle-class routines while gaining public attention in a notorious ways (Howard, 2000, p. 602).

The act of escaping fantasy could tie into the idea of class relations within society. Many Maidenform advertisements depicted models dreaming of doing things that associated them with high class and culture (Howard, 2000, p. 602). For example a women could transcend her class position and dream she “went to the theatre” carrying her program in a gloved hand (Howard, 2000, p. 602). Through these class associations, Maidenform could integrate their product within the realm of higher class in ways that middle-class women could easily relate.

In a strange way, the campaign also made the ‘possible’, seem ‘impossible’ through its primary focus on fantasy and dreams. The idea of achieving high class status appeared to only occur within a dream-like state. Even though the ‘I Dreamed’ campaign was one of the longest running campaigns in the history of advertising, it was essentially discontinued when the idea of fantasy was deemed inappropriate for the emerging realities of the 1970s (Lyons, 2005, p. 325). By this time, women had stopped ‘dreaming’ and started ‘doing’ especially as many more women chose to pursue careers (Lyons, 2005, p. 325). The president of Maidenform noted the company believed the ads no longer appealed to a new generation of younger women (Lyons, 2005, p. 325). Such drastic shifts in advertising methods used in the 1970s help to highlight the limited values that existed within the original 1950s ‘I Dreamed’ campaign.

Image Source: Maidenform Ads. (n.d.). Vintage Ads and Stuff. Retrieved from http://www.vintageadsandstuff.com/adsmaidenform.html  

The Product

Outside of the messages of the campaign, the product itself was laced with symbolic meanings of its own. Based on the way Maidenform bras were put on display within their advertising, these products could be recognized as statements of fashion. In particular, the Chansonette Maidenform line supported the ‘New Look’ style which called for rounded shoulders, full busts and narrow waists above wide hips created by a long hemmed skirt (Howard, 2000, p. 600). Women’s natural shape did not conform to these exaggerated outlines of the New Look, and thus required the use of restricted undergarments (Howard, 2000, p. 600). Therefore the product itself could arguably carry the assumption that women should distort their natural shape for the viewing pleasure of others. Additionally, the Semi-Accentuate, Hold-Tite and Gree-Shen Maidenfom lines also attempted to make womens’ bodies conform to the era’s fashionable hour-glass figure through uplifting and padding structures (Howard, 2000, p. 601). Such manipulations serve as further examples underlining the idea that women ought to change their natural figures in order to conform to societal ideals of female beauty.

Howard (2000) argues fashion historians have demonstrated feminine and masculine ideals in clothing are merely social constructions that change over time (p. 601). However, with the way fashion trends sweep the nation in popularity, both feminine and masculine ideals of clothing appear to remain strong despite any acknowledgement of social construction. The ‘I Dreamed’ campaign only added to constructed ideals of beauty as their products followed patterns promoted by the fashion industry (Howard, 2000, p. 600). Definitions of glamour were especially evident as brassieres produced by Maidenform were popularized by Hollywood actresses such as Elizabeth Talyor (Howard, 2000, p. 600). Through such affiliations of 1950s Hollywood stars and other tactics, the campaign appeared to reveal complex notions of gender identity.

From an alternative perspective, some would argue Maidenfrom projected revolutionary ideals through their advertising as well. The campaign was built around the idea of women taking on new ‘feminine’ identities in their Maidenform bras, many of which did not reflect the popular stereotypes of 1950s women as suburban, middle-class housewives (Howard, 2000, p. 601). Additionally the campaign reflected the dream world of employment opportunities, showing women in male-dominated occupations as newspaper editors, detective work, or bull fighting (Lyons, 2005, p.324). According to Lyons (2005) these male-centered activates portrayed a sense of accomplishment and seemed to suggest women had the freedom to land stimulating occupational choices (p. 324) Advertisements like “I dreamed swayed the jury in my Maidenform bra” unleashed and exposed fantasies of traditional women of the 1950s and invited them to step into dreams of power and influence. (p. 324). Such portrayals encouraged women to dream it was acceptable to show-off, not only with their bodies, but also their capabilities (Lyons, 2005, p.324).

Image Source: Maidenform Ads. (n.d.). Vintage Ads and Stuff. Retrieved from http://www.vintageadsandstuff.com/adsmaidenform.html 

Links to Consumer Culture

The entire ‘I Dreamed’ campaign speaks to the values of consumer culture of the mid-twentieth century. In particular, Howard introduces a positive view of the campaign’s involvement within the realm of ‘beauty culture’. Howard (2000) defined beauty culture as a ‘system of meaning that helped women navigate the changing conditions of modern social experience’ (p. 595).  Not only did beauty culture become a ‘culture of shared meanings and rituals’, it also played a vital role in fostering sociability among working women (Howard, 2000, p. 595). Howard (2000) believed that shared interests in fashion, cosmetics, hairstyles and new commercial leisure led working-women to form bonds that helped them to survive the often difficult and tedious conditions of their jobs (p. 595). These interactions would arguably become important given some of the changing shifts in society at the time.

As women’s participation in the workforce increased, specific trends began to show that married white women were becoming wage earners in greater numbers (Howard, 2000, p. 595). In 1950 wives earned wages were 21.6 percent of families, which increased to 30.5 percent of families in 1960 (Howard, 2000, p. 595). Wage labour was a central part of these women’s lives as some even chose to continue working after marriage or return to work after their youngest child began school (Howard, 2000, p. 595).  When considering the idea of consumer culture, shifting trends in earning ability could also mean a shift in spending power. Therefore, Maidenform may only have been one of many companies to both recognize and take advantage of these trends for financial gains.

From an ideological perspective one could argue Maidenform approach their advertising differently compared to other companies targeting women in the mid-twentieth century. After many years of experiencing the responsibility of ‘maintaining the home front’ during the war, women found themselves forced into the traditional, dependent roles of housewife and mother (Lyons, 2005, p. 323). The campaign was thus well known for its ‘wish-fulfilment psychology’ as Maidenform ads fed women’s hunger for independence, romance, personal achievement, power and influence (Lyons, 2005, p. 323). It’s possible some women found these advertisements refreshing compared to alternative messages found in other forms of media at the time. Howard (2000) claimed magazines counselled women to look glamorous for their husbands and not to let their work interfere with their domestic role or to compete with their husbands role as the sole provider (p. 596). Such advice appears to be in direct contradiction with the increasing trends of female wage earning. Thus one could argue such guidance could be a subtle sign of reinforced patriarchal ideals within society.

Similar advice could be found outside of the media as well. According to Howard (2000) experts advised married women to preserve their femininity and told single women that their primary goal was to find a husband (p. 595). Such ideologies regarding women’s status in post-war society altered the context of beauty culture (Howard, 2000, p. 595). Post-war commercial beauty culture was increasingly de-politicized as it was no longer the source of radicalism that it once was in the early twentieth-century (Howard, 2000, p. 595). Like other members of society, companies like Maidenform were also subjected to these societal ideologies and ideals, and would therefore be encouraged to include these ideas into their  marketing strategies. values of consumer culture of the mid-twentieth century. Arguably there were few ways for companies like Maidenform to escape the power of consumer society and their corresponding ideologies.

 Five Possible Essay Questions 
  1. How does Maindenform bra advertising demonstrate the deliberate attempt to persuade female immigrants coming into America to conform to consumer culture?
  2. Why would the Maidenform Dream campaign appeal to women in a newly post-war American society, yet would have difficulty appealing to desires of a new generation of women emerging into the radical nature of the 1970s?
  3. How does Maidenform advertising target single females of the 1940s and 1950s who were increasingly moving into the cities to become the breadwinners living at home?
  4.  Does Maindenform advertising exemplify or contradict ideological changes that accompany working women in the early twentieth-century?
  5. How does the Maidenform Dream campaign strategically feed into the desires of woman in a post-war American society who hunger for independence, romance, achievement and influence? 


Amato-McCoy, D. M. (2011). Maidenform. Apparel Magazine, 52(9), 17-18. Deutsch, C. (2005, Sept 28). Dreaming of Bras for the modern woman. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/28/business/media/28adco.html?_r=0 

Howard, V. (2000). 'At the curve exchange': Postwar beauty culture and working women at Maidenform. Enterprise & Society: The International Journal of Business History, 1(3), 591-618. Lyons, N. (2005). 

Interpretive reading of two maidenform bra advertising campaigns. Clothing and Textiles Research Journal, 23(4), 322-332.

Maidenform Ads. (n.d.). Vintage Ads and Stuff. Retrieved from http://www.vintageadsandstuff.com/adsmaidenform.html

Monget, K. (2005). Maidenform details growth strategy. WWD: Women's Wear Daily, 190(56), 34-34.

Norman, Craig & Kummel. (2003). In Adage Encyclopedia. Retrieved from http://adage.com/article/adage-encyclopedia/norman-craig-kummel/98801/ Season Five "The Happy 

Homemaker: How Advertising Invented The Housewife (Part Two)”. (2011, April 30). In CBC Radio. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/ageofpersuasion/episode/2011/04/30/season-five-the-happy-homemaker-how-advertising-invented-the-housewife-part-two-1/

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