It is difficult to imagine a world without advertising. It is so ingrained in our society that we might not even notice that it is there. It is on our televisions, on our buses, on our social media sites, on our streets, on our radios, in music videos, in films, and all over the internet. Unless you live like Ray Mears all year round, it is a given that the vast majority of your purchases will have been influenced by careful advertising. It stands to reason, then, that advertising is a vital organ of any business. Where, then, do advertising’s origins lie?
In Latin, ad vetere means ‘to turn toward’ and, despite the numerous ways in which advertising has evolved, this aim of advertising remains consistent. We can trace advertising back as far as the Ancient Egyptians who created sales messages and wall posters using papyrus. Similarly, in the ruins of ancient Arabia and Pompeii, political campaign displays and commercial messages have been found. Prior to widespread literacy, adverts used images to demonstrate products and services, for example, a cobbler might be advertised using an image of a shoe. Town criers were also used to announce the presence of businesses and special services they offered.
Moving forward to the Victorian era and the dawn of the printing press; literacy, the press and advertising all experienced rapid growth. Urbanisation, industrialisation, population growth and the consequent economic expansion created more businesses with the need to advertise. Newspapers provided a regular platform for these advertisements. Before advertising agencies, businesses would advertise for themselves. A famous example of in- company advertising is Thomas J. Barrett, ‘the father of modern advertising’. He worked for Pears’ Soap company, which is still in operation today, still selling Pears’ Soap (which is both gentle on skin, and on the pocket- did you know?). He coined the, then famous, slogan ‘Good morning. Have you used Pears’ soap?’, and used careful techniques to associate the Pears brand with quality, culture and domestic comfort.
By 1900, advertising was firmly established as a reputable and lucrative profession. This was mainly due to the work of Volney B. Palmer, who planted the seed of the advertising agency, as we know it today, in 1842 Philadelphia. He ingeniously bought bulk amounts of advertising space in newspapers at a reduced price before selling the space on to businesses looking to advertise. In essence, Palmer was a space broker. His idea was expanded on by N.W. Ayer & Son, an advertising agency founded in the late nineteenth century. This new advertising agency was offering to design, create and execute entire advertising campaigns. This is perhaps the birth of the mammoth advertising agency industry at large today.
The invention and manufacture of the Bonsack machine (which made possible the mass production of rolled cigarettes), saw a rapid surge in the availability of cigarettes. In order to create a similar level of demand, the tobacco industry turned to mass advertising. It is strange today to see twentieth century tobacco advertising, particularly those which involve newborn babies, children, animals and claims that smoking benefits general health. During the nineteenth century, and early twentieth century, health issues regarding smoking were unknown and, even if they were suspected, there was far too much money to be made guaranteeing the addiction of children who would prove loyal customers for the rest of their (stunted) lives. Claims such as ‘More doctors smoke Camels’ and ‘Play safe with Philip Morris’ tackled the sneaking increase in public awareness about smoking’s negative health effects.
Edward Louis Bernays, ‘the father of public relations’, was the pioneer of much of this tobacco advertising. A nephew of Sigmund Freud, he combined his uncle’s ideas with the thoughts of Gustave Le Bon and Wilfred Trotter on crowd psychology. Life Magazine named Bernays one of the hundred most influential Americans of the twentieth century, alongside; Ray Kroc (the founder of McDonalds), Eleanor Roosevelt and Jonas Salk (Polio vaccine microbiologist). It might seem bizarre that an advertising executive should be held in such high esteem, especially considering that none of the seventeen U.S. presidents of the twentieth century made the cut. His inclusion speaks volumes, therefore, of how significant advertising had become by the twentieth century. After the Madison Avenue ‘mad men’ types of the sixties and the racing advance of technology and the internet, although tobacco advertising may be all but extinct, it looks like advertising will continue to sky rocket into your subconscious for many years to come.