NEW YORK FOLKLORE QUARTERLY
Vol. XIX, No. 2, June, 1963
ADVERTISING AND FOLKLORE
THE MODERN MASS MEDIA of communication have had an
enormous effect upon American folklore. Folktales and
folksongs may be diffused over the entire country in a matter
of minutes as the result of one recitation, particularly if that
recitation happens to be part ot a nationwide television program
In time, this may tend to make American folklore more uniform
in all parts of the country through diminishing the amount of
individual variation that would be caused by longer chains of
human transmission and, at the same time, by appreciably reducing
regional differences. However, the importance of the contemporary
mass media does not rest sirriply in greater and speedier diffusion
of some of the traditional materials. The mass media also provide
the bases for the formation of new folkloie.
Anyone interested in folklore origins who seriously doubts that
the formation of folklore is a continuous process should examine
the considerable body of oral tradition containing either direct or
indirect references to well-known products advertised by the mass
media. Unfortunately, it is not always easy to find printed texts of
this material because much of this material, like most American
oral humor, includes elements which are culturally defined as
obscene. Nevertheless, the fact that advertising humor is found in
many of the predominant forms of contemporary American folklore,
namely, moron jokes, humorous or depraved definitions,
shaggy dog stories, and sick jokes, makes it worthy of the notice of
The names of pioducts, advertising slogans and musical commercials
are carefully contrived to make the public remember and
buy particular products. Advertising men do not necessarily expect the public to retain the slogans and jingles permanently. In fact,
slogans are often changed by sponsors and advertising experts regardless
of the assimilation of an earlier slogan into oral tradition.
The point is that although these commercial inventions are produced
only for a limited objective, they often become folklore or a
point of departure for jokes and other oral humor. No doubt the
stylistic features of the commercials (e.g., rhyme and alliteration)
and their widespread repetition by radio, television, magazines,
newspapers, and billboards account, in part, for the extent of their
influence upon American jokelore.
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