Up till then, our sources had been collections of ads or other ephemera, collected over many years by individuals. Their ways of "picking" items will always be biased in some way or other - some people limit their collection to items of a specific size, others by period, language etc. And since collecting is at least partly driven by emotions, some items are included in or left out of their collections without any rational explanation as to the reason why/why not. Within such collections we have found many great examples of the use of the word modern, but of course that is by no means an exhaustive search within a single corpus.
Therefor we decided to do a systematic search through entire volumes of magazines.
We requested many volumes from the Dutch Royal Library and spent quality time searching them page-by-page and did the same with a few bound volumes of LIFE magazine from 1948 which I have in my own collection.
Below is a summary of what we found in the two LIFE volumes (JULY-AUG-SEP and OCT-NOV-DEC 1948).
Each volume contained 13 issues and each issue approximately 110 ads, making a total of approx. 2850 ads.
We found 36 ads containing the word 'modern', of which 2 ads occurred twice or more. This amounts to approximately 1.2% of the ads. Not a staggering number :-)
Of those 32 different ads, only 2 contained the word modern in the headline, 6 had the word in a sub-header (by our definition a piece of text set in a different (larger) font/typeface to distinguish it from ordinary text) and we counted the word 32 times in the text - 25 ads with a single occurrence and one ad with 7 (!) occurrences in the text (and also in the headline).
- "MODERN RUGGED" [Bostonians (shoes)]
- "U.S. KOYLON FOAM MAKES MODERN LIVING MORE COMFORTABLE" [U.S. Rubber]
- "With all this health and refreshment it's one of the biggest food values of modern times" [Florida Orange Juice]
- "Modern scientific suds" [Swerl]
- "... tire ... will ... modernize your car" [Goodyear]
- "It's so new. It's so modern. It's so different" [Hotpoint]
- "[gives] food energy - to sustain the pace of modern living" [bread]
- "a ... utensil with these modern features" [Quaker Oats double boiler]
- "Truly modern motorcar design" [Stubaker]
- "Modern insurance" [American Fore]
- "Modern patterns" [Rogers Bros.]
- "Modern comfort" [Goodyear]
- "Modern sanitary protection" [Tampax]
- "These fine, modern, medium-priced [camera's]" [Kodak]
- "Modern platform-type bed-springs" [Simmons bedsprings]
- "A modern, absolutely accurate alarm clock" [General Electric]
- "Modern styling in every line" [Royal typewriters]
- "The world's most modern vacuum cleaner" [Lewyt]
- "Modern engineering" [Lustron homes]
- "These ultra-modern one-piece razors" [Gillette]
- "The last word in modern living" [Oldsmobile Futuramic]
- "Modern case" [Sentinel clocks]
- "The efficiency of the modern jeweller" [Watchmakers of Switzerland]
- "No truly modern bathroom is is ever without Air-Wick" [Air-Wick]
- "A modern electric kitchen clock" [Sentinel clocks]
- "Chesterfield is building another factory - it's large, it's modern and ..." [Chesterfield cigarettes]
- "Just these three easy steps ... when you use the modern Bruce method - standing up" [Bruce floor products]
- "We've matched the modern beauty of this cabinet with the finest of electronic engineering" [RCA radio]
- "Complete modern home entertainment in one console" [RCA Tv-radio-phonogram]
We'll leave further analysis of these findings for another blog, but it seems that the word is mostly used purely for its dictionary meaning: of, relating to, or characteristic of the present: contemporary or involving recent techniques, methods, or ideas: up-to-date.
Only in a few instances (modern living, modern times, modern design) the ad seems to specifically target consumers who identify themselves with people living a modern life.
 Modern Living series, for more info follow this link