Ralph Hower, a business historian and Harvard University professor, argued that advertising was a powerful tool for private profit and social control and “essential to a free modern industrial society.” He thought that advertising agencies, by their contribution to the free enterprise system, “have helped to build the American nation,” equating engagement with business with patriotism. [n. Hower, History of an Advertising Agency: N.W. Ayer and Son at Work 1869-1949 p.622-632]
Beyond its perceived value in epitomizing American modernity, photography became the choice for commercial images of the newly solidified American empire because it affirmed economic and class structures, Its call to spectators to identify with the prosperity and joy of its subjects, its implicit moral relativism in equating social good with “progress,” and its obfuscation of social stratification and disregard of the conditions of the production of goods all worked to reinforce the status quo. Photography sold its ideology by sleight of hand, in which the inscribed social relations were made to seem natural rather than constructed. (Patricia Johnston, Real Fantasies: Edward Steichen’s Advertising Photography, p. 32)
I noted Steichen’s brand of experiential realism back in 2004 in a timeline.