MULLING MYSTIQUE OF NEW PRODUCTS

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NEW YORK-In many ways, the current Cooper-Hewitt Museum show, "Packaging the New: Design & the American Consumer 1925-1975," is a warning against the manipulative appeal of advertising.

But what could be more interesting to advertising and marketing executives?

The show, running through Aug. 14, is a fascinating study of new products, the designers who created them and the marketers who sought to make them appealing. The exhibit reflects an enthusiasm for buying and an excitement about product introductions that seem astounding to this reporter, born in the 1960s.

Ironically, it's each decade's efforts at conjuring the future that seem so dated. The sleek lines of 1920s giftware designed to look like symbols of a new century or a 1950s pink Formica kitchen with boomerang-shape patterns across the counters remind us of the periods in which they were developed and not some new, better tomorrow.

In illustrating U.S. "consumption history," the show also tells us a bit about the role of women. Marketers' clear focus on the female consumer is an intriguing and sometimes disturbing part of the exhibit, particularly after World War II, when ads encouraged women to stay at home and find fulfillment in the "house of their dreams," filled with all the products of their fantasies.

The way many U.S. product icons changed to appeal to women is obvious in the show.

Housing a show on America's fascination with the new in a nearly 100-year-old former mansion works beautifully. It serves to reinforce an underlying message in the exhibits.

The show-which begins with the 1920s comic strip "Keeping Up With the Joneses" and throughout considers the American compulsion to buy, buy, buy-ends with a photo of a garbage dump and a warning: "The responsibility for balanced consumerism rests with us all."

Whether you're concerned with overpopulation and dwindling resources or simply interested in the history of marketing, "Packaging the New" gives a nostalgic and illuminating view of the past, and perhaps some ideas for the future.

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