August, of course, marks the half-century anniversary of World War II's end. But it is far more than that; the war's conclusion and the five years that followed brought the beginnings of enormous and sometimes wrenching changes in the American culture. It was a time of "catching up," of GIs in a hurry to put the horrors of Europe and the Pacific behind them and reassimilate, of consumers in a hurry to buy goods unavailable during the war.
The numbers alone provide telling proof of just how much the world changed, and how quickly. The U.S. population grew nearly 15% from 1940 to 1950. The number of ad agencies grew even faster, by a whopping 268%. As for media, there were more TVs sold than children born in the 1950s.
Suburbia, TV, shopping centers, double-income families, an automobile-driven society, jetliners and the overall explosion of a mass consumer society all were set in motion in the dizzying aftermath of war. This explosion of conspicuous consumption started in the U.S. but quickly spread around the world and continues to affect us in ways we don't always stop to ponder.
"The world's first marketing frenzy" is how former Advertising Age Editor Fred Danzig refers to this period in an essay-one of many fascinating elements that make up this report, titled "Five Years That Shook the World." And as you will read, the events of that exciting half-decade continue to shake the world-and affect where we'll be 50 years from now.