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The Advertising of Installment PlansAfter several decades of urbanization and industrialization post- World War I America was marked by a rapid increase in the availability of mass-produced commodities For the growing middle-class population the twentieth century American dream had become based on the acquisition and consumption of this rising tide of commodities 1 Economic historians like Martha Olney have described this period as a consumer durables revolution characterized by an increase in both the average household expenditure for durable goods and the amount of instalment credit issued to help pay for these goods A critical precursor to this revolution was a transformation of the prevailing consumer attitudes towards incurring debt and particularly a removal of the stigma against buying on instalments The idea of being in debt had always been looked down upon by the American public yet the expansion of the market for consumer durables depended upon an increase in credit transactions3 The birth of the automobile instalment finance company in 1919 provided the foundation for this transformation creating a successful example of instalment selling in a major industry4The catalyst to this change however lay not in the mere availability of instalment credit but in the selling of the concept of debt through advertising During the 1920s businesses increasingly utilized advertising as a method not only to sell their products but also as a means to convince the American public to buy on instalments Both the quantity and the quality of advertisements which mentioned instalment plans rose significantly during this period particularly in local publications By 1929 these advertisements reflected the general acceptance of instalment buying as a way to finance consumption and demonstrated that this shift in attitudes had reached its completion Instalment buying is a specific method of purchasing goods on credit distinct from other forms of credit such as loans or credit cards Unlike a loan which entails a direct exchange of money from one party to another these transactions always
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