Copy Critique: U.S. War Propaganda from 1942

Advertising has at least one thing in common with the Gothic cathedrals of the Middle Ages. It is a vast collective creative project undertaken in anonymity. Nobody cared, least of all the stonemasons, who built the pillars and spires of a church as long as they stood upright. And nobody cares who makes the art and copy of great ads, as long as they get the message across.

But unlike the cathedrals, advertising is ephemeral. Beyond annual award shows, we don’t stop to appreciate and learn from classic work. That’s why it was a rare thing to see a collection of World War II propaganda posters at the FDR Presidential Library this weekend. Many of them are a perfect union of words and visuals, made with brevity and power that would put social media mavens to shame.

Example number one is this beauty from 1942. It conveys with three words and one symbol what a long-form copywriter like myself would take at least 300 words to get across. I was humbled by it, and pass it along to you.

Get the message?


  1. Propaganda poster were known as “Weapons on the Walls”.

    “When Dr. Seuss Went to War” a book by Christopher Klein writes “When news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, he put down his copy of the Sunday New York Times and went to his drawing board to sketch a Seussian bird labeled “ISOLATIONISM” being blasted high into the sky by an explosion. “He never knew what hit him,” read the caption, with a drawing of Charles Lindbergh.

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