Abstract: Selling Goodwill Overseas: How America Became a Brand in 1948

Jason Petrulis


In 1950, the director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce declared that America's trademarks "were the best ambassadors of good will for our way of life." In this paper I examine how the U.S. government actually put this dictum into practice in the early Cold War, creating a corporate-style logo for the Marshall Plan and deploying the Sears, Roebuck catalog as an overseas agent of American capitalism. I suggest that by 1948, American marketers inside and outside government worried that they were losing the "war of ideas" against the Communists, and that their response was to jettison heavy-handed capitalist propaganda in favor of a soft-sell approach in which U.S. products and brands "sold" the American system. That is, instead of selling <em>ideas</em> the same way they sold <em>products</em>, American marketers used <em>products</em> to sell <em>ideas</em>. Moreover, as these marketers learned how to create "America the brand," they also laid important groundwork for a broader shift toward brand-image advertising in the 1950s.