Animation isn't just for entertainment - it's an incredible teaching tool, enabling the animator/producer to present a clear visual argument or succinct explanation of otherwise complex processes. Today we rarely ever see animation in the classroom, and only occasionally in a handful of commercials, but in the 1940s, over 40% of advertising was animated. These shrewd producers - Oldsmobile, General Motors, AT&T, GE, Lucky Strike, Kellogg and the New York Stock Exchange, among others - knew the power of the medium, and they used it!
Curious as to what some of these ads looked like? I picked up DVD copies of the entire History of Advertising: Animation series put out by A2ZCDs, and I have to admit that I'm very impressed by both the quality of the transfers and the variety of films included. If you're curious, here's a list of the contents for each:
H of A: Animation 1930-1940: My Merry Oldsmobile, Down the Gasoline Trail, A Coach for Cinderella, A Ride for Cinderella, Peg Leg Pedro, Extra Esso, Breakfast Pals, The Princess and the Pauper
H of A: Animation 1940-1950: Something for Nothing, Drawing Account, Just Imagine, The Adventures of Junior Raindrop, Lucky Strike Marching, Lucky Strike Dancing, Going Places, Meet King Joe
H of A: Animation 1950-1960: Eisenhower for President, Freedom and Power, What Makes Us Tick, It's Everybody's Business, Destination Earth, Working Dollars
What is so great about these cartoons is that they force us to examine the definitions of entertainment, education and propaganda. At a time when "Communist" animators were being hunted down through HUAC hearings for the crime of influencing the masses, "Capitalist" producers were busy commissioning a stream of public films supporting free-market ideologies, consumer choices and shareholder investments. As Karl F. Cohen writes in his 1997 book, Forbidden Animation, "While these historic films may be seen as harmless educational messages, what if a group that you disagree with sponsors television cartoons in the future?" In an increasingly polemic society, it's an important question, and one that these advertising anthologies can bring back into light.
Or, you can simply enjoy the first Snap!, Crackle!, Pop! Rice Krispies commercial, "Breakfast Pals" - it's your choice, after all.