Consumer Society:
American Culture, New Generation, Ads!

Some questions to ask yourself:

Were the “generations” of the 50s and 60s different from previous generations? 
Were they different from now?

Is present-day Québec culture too “American” for its own good?

Has technology changed our lives?

What are the effects of the rise of our consumer society?  (i.e. What things increased or decreased?)

What you will be able to do:

Explain the impact of American culture

Identify a new generation.

Describe advertising and product diversification.  

An overview video on the learning intentions, and on most of the content on this page and in our document collection, is also available here.


Since the end of the 19th century, the second phase of industrialisation has stimulated manufacturing production, which was then slowed for a time by the economic crisis of the 1930s and the two world wars. In North America, the baby boom and post-war economic prosperity then propelled the consumption of goods and services as well as the pursuit of leisure activities, of which television was increasingly a part. Starting in 1952, Radio-Canada produced and broadcast bilingual programs, which encouraged the purchase of televisions in the province of Québec.

In addition to providing a market for manufactured goods, the baby boomers began to associate consumption with happiness, as it provided them with unprecedented material comfort. The rise of consumer society was supported by increased purchasing power and improved access to credit, which enabled many families to own property and move to the outskirts of cities.

Increasingly influenced by American culture and advertising, the Québec population also participated in this new consumer society, a society characterized by an increase in available goods, and in superfluous (unnecessary) needs.


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View the section of this video (around 11 minute mark) on the technologies we used to consume media in the 1960s.   Discuss what is different and what is similar to today! 

Prosperity:  Frugality of War to a TV-driven Consumer Culture

After the 2nd World War, women were encouraged to return home from their newly-found wartime duties, from the "firing line to the frying pan".  The nuclear family unit was once again celebrated as the American norm.  However, unlike the hard times before the war, and the frugal times during the war, these were now times of relative prosperity, and consequentially abundance.  Goods no one could afford were now becoming more common.  And what is more, new and exciting consumer products were entering the market.

Televisions were growing in popularity.  A consumer item themselves, TVs represented a most effective way of bringing the advertising of other products, and of a certain lifestyle, into the home.  From the bungalow in the suburbs to the shiny new automobile parked out front, from the latest electric washing machine to the most modern of refrigerators, Canadians saw what they wanted and wanted what they saw, at first on the American channels from the border stations, and then from around 1952 on local Canadian networks that quickly saturated the airwaves.  

By 1957 there were forty-four TV stations in our country and three million TV sets in our living rooms.  But apart from some locally-produced shows and Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday, the themes often conveyed an American, "Hollywood Dream" image of society.  Shows for adults, like Bonanza and Ed Sullivan, brought American values and American songs into our lives, while younger children watched shows like the Friendly Giant or Leave it to Beaver.   And if those programs didn't directly portray a comfortable, relatively affluent (and very white and homogenous) life in the suburbs, the commercials that ran through them certainly did.  Life was good, ran the message, and the more consumable luxuries we had in our lives the better we all would be.

Text by Paul Rombough drawing from various sources in our main document collection here.

Image source: Frontenac Station Wagon. 1960. Flickr user Michael  Under:  by-nc-sa/
See also Ad for Covair in 1960 here

Image source:  1958 Frigidaire appliances...General Motors Corporation. Frigidaire Division, page 7, at 

Explore Further 

Visit the TV Guide archive site and browse the covers that are available from any appropriate years that relate to this time period. Choose a show that interests you.  Search it on Youtube and watch a bit of it!  What elements of this show demonstrate the lifestyles and consumer culture of the time?

Purchasing Power, Consumption and Leisure

Until the early 1960s, the growth of personal income accelerated more rapidly than the growth in the price of goods and services. As a result, large segments of the Quebec population reached the middle class and benefited from an increase in their purchasing power. With the increase in purchasing power, Quebecers can now spend a smaller share of their income on the same amount of goods and services as before.

While Quebec families spent 59% of their budget on primary needs in 1937, they spent 42% of their budget on these needs in 1959. These families are thus able to allocate a larger share of their income to purchase goods and services that meet secondary needs, a behaviour encouraged by advertising.

Indeed, advertising to stimulate the sale of products such as cars, appliances and televisions promises to make consumers' daily lives easier and to provide them with entertainment in the comfort of their homes. The increase in purchasing power is not the same for all Quebecers, however, as the growth in personal income is not evenly distributed among workers.

Image sources:  National Service of the RÉCIT, Social Universe domain. Licence: Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA). 
See source for Data information and sources.
  (Click to open Google drawings at right for more information and larger versions)

Discuss any Causal Connections between Purchasing Power, Consumption and Leisure!

Leisure, as in travel too!

Delta Air Lines. Flickr  user Insomnia Cured Here. BY-SA 

New York Central Railroad. Flickr user Insomnia Cured Here  BY-SA

1952- Greyhound beach. Flickr user James Vaughan. BY-NC-SA

Quick Knowledge Check and Discussion:  Connect facts to concepts

Try this very quick activity to check your understanding of concepts like leisure, consumerism, and purchasing power!  Click to open the activity in another window.

Cultural Influences:  The Example of English-Language Radio!

Much like as with television, American radio signals had already been leaking their signals over Canadian cities (and markets) for many years.  Fierce competition for our attention by American commercial stations pushed CBC to expand its network to reach all of English and French-speaking Canada by 1960.  There was even a dedicated service for Indigenous people living in Canada’s north!  Restrictions in the 1960s successfully restricted imported (US) programs to help promote Canadian music and musicians.  

However, as concerns the music industry anyway, Canadian studios could not keep up.  There were a few local record labels, but the major ones were all foreign-owned and mainly American, like RCA, CBC, Warner Brothers and Capital.  Producers and publicists on the Canadian side of the border also preferred proven American hit artists and songs, "in the pursuit of amassing larger audiences".

Canada did finally produce its share of star acts.  Paul Anka has a hit with "Diana", and some American acts like Ronnie Hawkins moved here to help spawn the carriers of Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm, who eventually became "The Band".  But these arguably American sounds and styles were still pervasive, even as British bands become the most popular of the times, with groups like the Beatles, the Animals, the Dave Clark Five, and the Rolling Stones still combining elements of American rock with British soul.  Canadian bands found it even harder to remain prominent and impact on our culture. 

Text by Paul Rombough drawing from various sources in our main document collection here.  

Image courtesy of M. Snelgrove at  Used with permission.  Educational use only.

Poster for the Beatles' Toronto August 17, 1966 show and The Dave Clark Five's Toronto November 2nd 1964 show via The Capitol 6000 website - Original Printed Promotional item

A New Generation:  The teenager was a new concept at the time!

In the 1940s, no doubt due to higher family incomes in general, stores began to notice young adults (or rather older children!) walking through their doors to shop.  They were on their own, they knew what they wanted, and they were easily influenced by their peers.  Large department store chains like Eaton's and Simpson's took notice and created focus groups and advisery boards made up of young  people to help target their products and their marketing. New sizes were included, and product lines were created for these independant boys and girls.  

The teenager was a new concept at the time.  New wealth and a new suburban lifestyle helped shape the notion of young people staying at home longer and also seeking a higher education than before.  "The elongation of the adolescent stage and its general significance took on new meaning in the two decades after the war."  The teenager was an idea, and not only an age, and it was an American invention that like so many others moved north to Canada. And what is more,  "In English-speaking Canada teenagers became avid consumers — a recognizable market for fast food, popular music, acne medicine, and clothing fads.”

Text by Paul Rombough based on various sources here in our main document collection.

"The most common sticking points between parents and their teens back in the 1940s and 50s seemed to be: curfews, church attendance, choice of clothes, friends and music. Fast forward to September 1956. The question of the day: Will rock and roll music save or spoil the teens of Montreal?"   

Source: Rewind The Trouble With Teens - Part One  

Image info:  "Vern Rombough as teenager, sleeping in 1958". Courtesy of uncle Robert Storring.

Image source: Screenshot from Elvis Presley Concert. April 3, 1957 - City of Ottawa Archives. See whole video:  Elvis Presley Plays in Ottawa, available:  

Investigate Cultural Changes

After reading about some of the cultural changes going on in this era, discuss them in terms of whether they were positive or negative changes over all.  Whenever possible, discuss causal connections between concepts like Consumerism and American and those changes. 

Begin to sift through the curated documents in our main document collection that were used to develop some of the overview texts above, and follow links to sources for much more information!

Make a list of four facts about Americanism, and four facts about the new Teenage generation, which could be used later in a portrait project of the society of the times.  Where possible, collect images for those facts.  Share your ideas with friends.  Help each other to collect images to go along with each fact.

You could use an organizer like:  Two Ideas - Four Facts Each (Revealing)  

Advertisers now specifically targetting youth

Teenagers were consumers too, of food, of music, of fashion, and also of television itself.  They had their own income and influence over how their parents spent theirs, and they were many, as much as half the population being under 25 at the time.  They were the baby boomers now grown up into teenage trendsetters, though somewhat ironically they were often also as materialist and conformist as their parents.

The sixties shifted things slightly, in that a youthful counterculture of sorts was forming. But advertisers latched onto that too, and companies like Pepsi emerged to capture teenagers' attention with exciting, unconventional ad segments, "meeting youth culture where it was".  Selling them essentially the same drink as Coke, but under another name and promoting a new more radical identity.  (Eventually Coke hit another more socially-conscious nerve in the 70s with this ad!)

Text by Paul Rombough based on various sources here in our main document collection.

Image source and various other pictures for discussion available at Pepsi-Cola ~ Soda Adverts [1961-1964] “For Those Who Think Young” | Retro Musings 

Image source: Pepsi-Cola beats any cola cold!, 1966 via  

Pepsi Generation Vintage Commercial:  

Diverse products (Non-Durable + Services)

While their parents had bought new appliances, cars and homes in the early post-war years, by the 1960s non-durable goods and services amounted to much of what families, including youth, purchased.  Radios and televisions, as mentioned above, but also many other new items that did not even exist in 1945, became what advertisers sold to both youth and their parents instead. Kitchens and living rooms filled with items we never realized we needed!

The ever-expanding television network offered new kinds of entertainment for us to consume tooVariety shows that had begun in TV's earliest years now took off in the 1950s and 1960s.  Talk shows like the Tonight Show became a standard before-bed experience.  Westerns like Gunsmoke became a hit. A timeline of TV shows that news on TV overtakes even newspapers by 1963. 

“A British family in the 1960s and the consumer items that could be found in their home.” 
Source another information:   Austerity, Affluence and Discontent: britain, 1951-1979  Original source: "stuff #2” by James Vaughan at   under license: by-nc-sa  

Advertising sold us on happiness

Image source: “Freedom...American Style” from Marshall McLuhan, The Mechanical Bride. New York, Vanguard Press, 1951.

After WW1 advertising and a new-found consumerism helped people to forget the carnage of war. Source: Consumerism | 

However, after WW2 advertising went further, to " display and reinforce certain values, constantly affirming the association between happiness and consumption, between success in life and buying things, between sexual attractiveness and particular forms of consumption. These associations and images are part of the taken-for-granted culture that Americans learn from early childhood and make a life heavily oriented to consumption seem natural." 

Influencing the Consumer &  Sex Sells

To get the best shave, you needed the newest high-tech razor, for speed, for ease of use, and for a "super trim!"  Of course, you would need to use a Ronson, because  its "flexible surgical steel is the thinnest in the world!"  Advertising was now about influencing the consumer, and new techniques in photography and film allowed for all kinds of exaggerations.  Cars in ads were stretched to exaggerated proportions, while in this TV ad for the Covair, it can literally go everywhere, and does it without disturbing the comfort of the driver.

“Sexual images in advertising were becoming very common after the war and advertisers began trying something new, something to stimulate the brain in a different way."  The subtle approach of using sexual innuendos was the preferred technique,  in the still-conservative 1950s:  An ad could be taken literally, or one's dirty little mind could wander.  By the "Sexual Revolution" of the 1960s, sexuality in advertisement reached a whole new level.  Text source with ad examples at: Early Sexuality In Advertising

Investigate: Commercials in the 1950s and 1960s

View the videos at right and below, to see what kinds of products were being advertised.

What kinds of products are being shown? 

What values are being indirectly supported (or outright promoted)?

How do you think consumerism American-style affected Canadian culture?

Create:  Visual Arts project idea of a "collage" to represent changes/concepts, etc.

Local Connections (IF possible):
Make a list of websites, organizations, or simply people to contact who could help you find examples of Americanism, Consumerism, and Cultural Changes that your community also experienced. 

In interviews or through research via those sources,  gather and verify examples from the above sections and from our larger document collection which would have occurred in your community too.

Focus on one or two concepts :
Refer to the guiding questions and learning intentions at the start of this site section.   Commit to focussing only one of the suggested guiding questions to answer.  Choose which concepts you would like to represent in a collage art project.   (For example, targetted concepts like the New Generation, or American culture, or Consumer Society, or perhaps other pertinent sub-concepts you can identify in the above texts). Create a collage to express your answer to the question but that also represents the concepts you have isolated.   

Art process/goals:  "Students synthesize their learning about a place [and concept] into a collage or mixed media piece. They use the language of collage and the transforming gestures that it entails to share information about the place and why it is significant or how it has changed. They finalize their production and share it with others in a exhibit."  (Source and more guidance)

Consumerism - Local History focuses

Our main Document Collection on Consumer Society: American Culture, New Generation, Ads!

Visit our main working Google Document collection of curated websites, activities, images, tools, etc. ➦

1945-1980 Consumer Society: American Culture, New Generation, Ads!

Related pages, knowledge checks and a student task

You may find documents about Consumerism on our student page on Post War Years Baby Boom, Suburbs and New Immigration. 

RECITUS2022 - Consumer society after WW2