Perspective: Home and the Range

Kitchen appliances aren’t the stuff of dreams—but that’s why advertisers invented the dream kitchen

Selling kitchen appliances has never been an easy thing—owing largely to the fact that appliances are afflicted by the deadly marketing combo of a necessarily high price and a wholly practical (read: boring) application. Americans can have a blast gathering around a new TV set. Not so with the new dishwasher.

Marketers have long known this, of course, which is why at least one proven manner of selling kitchen appliances has remained unchanged for half a century. It goes like this: If you want to make that new fridge and stove desirable, advertise it as part of a kitchen that’s desirable. So long as homeowners blush with shame over their cracked linoleum and dated cabinetry, showing them the meal-prep space of their dreams is likely to spur them into buying the new appliances that go with it. Want proof? Take a look at both of the appliance advertisements below.

“History repeats itself because these ads are really quite similar,” observes graphic designer Ken Carbone, co-founder of the design and branding company Carbone Smolan Agency. “In their own way, they both say ‘modern’—and they both promise bragging rights, as in, ‘you too could have this!’”

So we know that kitchen envy works—but that doesn’t mean it’s always looked the same. In the early 1950s, the dream kitchen of GE appliances was a sherbert-colored fantasy of shades like the turquoise at right. Modernity and the good life were also embodied by the link to the father of suburbia, Bill Levitt. By the time this ad ran in 1955, all of Levittown’s original 17,447 houses in Long Island had long been snapped up for $7,990 a piece, his bulldozers were at work outside of Philly, and the “9½-foot wonder kitchen” that carried his imprimatur still symbolized an idealistic future powered by friendly atoms.

Move to 2011, and Jenn-Air appliances are using the same kind of dream-kitchen sell GE did 56 years before, but with key aesthetic variations. “In the old ad, color itself says modern, and stainless steel is the secondary element,” Carbone notes. “Today, it’s inverted. Stainless steel is the hero.” He’s right. We’ve entered the era of the home chef and industrial chic. It’s also obvious that the Levittown ranch house’s 32 x 25-ft. footprint has morphed into McMansion proportions. (How else to fit that granite-topped kitchen island?)

Thematically, however, it was the same old pitch about the same new kitchen. “Both companies knew their audiences, and both were selling bragging rights,” Carbone says. “It’s just that the first ad suggests macaroni and cheese and the second fusilli al pesto.”

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