In October 1944, use of V–Mail was declining at a crucial period in the United States’ war effort. More supplies—food, medical supplies, and weaponry—required more cargo space on ships and airplanes. At the same time, the War and Navy Departments were calling for an increase in the “biggest morale builder of all…MAIL.” Unfortunately, mail occupied valuable cargo space needed for supplies. The solution was to conduct a campaign in 1945 to encourage greater use of V–Mail.
Due to a massive effort by companies to manufacture war goods rather than consumer products, advertisers faced an almost 80% business loss and risked losing customers at the end of the war due to a lack of publicity. Sponsoring war theme advertisements proved to be a good method of public relations; it kept the companies’ name in the public eye. By publicizing V–Mail at every opportunity, American advertisers—at the urging of a coordinated effort of the War and Navy Departments, Office of War Information (OWI), and the War Advertising Council (WAC)—could support the war effort while promoting their products. The 1944 V–Mail ad campaign proposed “to increase the flow of morale-sustaining letters to our armed forces and at the same time to conserve space in ships and planes.” Campaign strategies emphasized the secure, space-saving, morale building aspects of V–Mail.
Like other ads during this period, the V–Mail campaign ads targeted women as the primary audience. These women were inundated with requests to take personal action in aiding the war effort. Prominent magazines, including Time, The Saturday Evening Post, Newsweek,and McCall’s, contained many consumer product ads that appealed to female consumers. The WAC provided advertisers with sample advertisement layouts and suggested slogans that spoke to this audience. Copy themes included: “Make it short: keep it cheerful: send it V–Mail” and “Small Talk to you is big news to him! Send it V–Mail.” An advertisement by Emerson Electric illustrates the importance of female consumers by placing V–Mail letter writing in a familiar context- the home.
Themes of short letters, sent frequently and via space-saving V–Mail appear repeatedly in these examples of magazine advertisements from the NPM collection. Advertisers inserted recommended slogans and facts about V–Mail into their ad copies in inventive ways. Some ads demonstrated the importance of a company’s product, such as the Martin Aircraft, to the war effort while encouraging the use of V–Mail. Others simply, but patriotically, inserted their brand name along side a V–Mail promotion. Many advertisers managed to promote a consumer product while simultaneously incorporating many of the V–Mail initiatives defined by the WAC.
The 1944 ad campaign did succeed in increasing the number of V–Mail letters sent in January and February 1944. While these ads accomplished their original purpose during the war, their subject matter continues to speak to a new audience today. Historians can refer to these advertisements to understand how several departments of the United States government collaborated with private companies to produce a universal appeal. The subject matter of the ads can reveal much about the social and cultural ideologies of the 1940s and provide a unique window into the past.
For further reading
Littoff, Judy, and David C. Smith. “‘Will He Get My Letter?:’ Popular Portrayals of Mail and Morale during World War II.”The Journal of Popular Culture 23, no. 4 (1990): 21-43.
War Advertising Council. “Background Material for New Campaign on the ‘Better Mail—V–Mail’ Program.” Available from the War Advertising Council Archives, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Archives.
By Christine Hill