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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: June 2012

2 - Commerce for the Community


The Nazi marketplace was an amalgam of pre-1933 ideas about proper commercial behavior and the new state’s racial priorities. The regime took familiar features of consumer capitalism, reshaped them along ideological lines, and applied them to the practical challenges of pulling the country out of the Depression and preparing for war. From the state’s perspective, Germany could have everything the United States had and more: thriving consumer opportunities, a high standard of living, an economy that protected the “humanity” of Germans, and eventually a European empire that would last a thousand years. Moreover, it could avoid the negative features of the American model: crude commercialism, cutthroat competition, and racial mixing. If the tensions inherent in this vision were substantial, the regime did not concede as much.

It was one thing for the state to project ideas about the market, but how did those with a great investment in commerce – business leaders, company and shop owners, manufacturers – react to the regime’s imperatives? This chapter addresses this question by focusing on three business practices that became essential with the rise of consumer capitalism: advertising, public relations, and marketing. As we will see, even as the Nazi state exerted greater control over the economy, companies maintained wide latitude to market their goods to a broad consumer base. Like the regime, market professionals drew upon pre-Nazi ideas about buying and selling and applied them to their business models in the 1930s. But they always faced the risk of crossing a blurry line of correctness when crafting publicity materials. How could companies promote themselves aggressively without violating the regime’s dictates about correct market behavior? To what extent could they maneuver through the ideological strictures imposed by the state? By focusing on different forms of corporate self-promotion, this chapter shows how manufacturers bought into and took advantage of Nazi ideology for their own purposes. Simultaneously, they encountered the reality that the state put its own, often-inconsistent priorities above a company’s desire for profit. Marketing in the Third Reich was defined by the regime’s and private industry’s mutual exploitation, but also by companies’ real frustrations about how to assert their own interests while adhering to Nazi dictates.

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