History of Advertising
Can You Say, "Cha-ching!"?
Today's advertising industry grosses billions of dollars yearly, both in the U.S. and worldwide. Make no mistake about it, the ad world is BIG business. A lot of larger companies involved in online advertising (think Google), as well as offline agencies and the like, are getting or have already gotten rich from other people's advertisements. Gotta love free enterprise.
Even we hubbers are involved in the promotion game, trying to ever increase our AdSense earnings while satisfying our urge to write. When fun and profit go together, it's a beautiful thing.
Though we may be on the cutting and trendy edge of technology today, advertising is far from young and modern.
Ancient Want Ad Written On Papyrus
Lost: Chariot, white with gold trim, gold spikes on wheels, toga and pointy helmet in back seat. Last seen outside of forum on gladiator's night. Reward of 2 goats for its safe return. Please send messenger to Ben Hur's house with any news.
Ancient Advertising Roots
In fact, using messages to sway the public began long before the new world was even discovered.
Ancient Greeks and Romans used to advertise for their lost and found items on papyrus. I'm not sure what kind of items those might have been, perhaps they needed to locate their togas after the orgy or couldn't remember where they parked the chariot. It matters not. What's important here is that they were issuing advertisements long before today's internet advertising ever existed. We're going for history, here.
If you have a chance to rifle through the ruins in ancient Arabia or Pompeii, you'll find signs promoting politicians and commerce of the day. Somehow, it doesn't surprise me that political messages were among the first developed ads.
Okay, you thought those first two examples were old? Well, hang onto your hat because we're going back even farther in time.
A visit to South America, Asia or South Africa will afford you evidence of the very first advertisements of humankind. Wall paintings depicting sales and commerce messages still exist today. If you happen to visit those countries, it would probably be worth taking the time to see them yourself. Since the wall painting promotions are dated way back to 4000 BCE (Before the Common Era), I think it safe to say that they are the most durable billboards every made.
Descendant of the First Billboards
History of Advertising Time Line
4000 BCE - Wall paintings promoting commerce in South America, South Africa and Asia
Ancient A.D. - Papyrus ads in Pompeii, Egypt, Greece and Arabia
Middle Ages - Signage was born; vocal advertising
17th Century - Ads started appearing in handbills and newspapers
19th Century - Mail-order advertising became popular, along with paid advertising in newspapers; lead up to the birth of advertising agencies
1869 - First full-service ad agency is opened in Philadelphia
1920s - Sex in advertising got its start with the introduction of women being used in the photography of ad campaigns; radio advertising was born
1940s - Radio sponsorships serve as the template for television commercials
Signs of the Times
Now, We're Evolving
It was baby steps all through the infancy of advertising.
Eventually, history hit the middle ages and the earth's population naturally increased and spread out over a larger area. Back then, most folks could not read. Therefore, the shopkeepers began using signs with simple images to advertise their businesses. Ye old boot cobbler would have a sign illustrating a boot, the candlemaker would have a candle on his, and so forth. To further attract business, town criers were employed for open air markets. The criers' vocal advertising let the consumers know where to find the goods.
Jump ahead a few hundred years to the 17th century. Now, things are really starting to get modern. More people can read, print has been invented and new forms of advertising are being born.
Advertisements were being used in handbills and newspapers for the first time. Mainly they were used for the promotion of books and paper sales and they worked really well. As you may expect, it wasn't long before the "spammers" came along and infiltrated the industry. False advertising abounded and the regulation of ad content came into being.
Let's spring ahead 200 more years and into the 19th century. That brings us to the development of mail-order advertising. I imagine that it was big business for a time in history when most people never ventured more than a few miles from home. It probably opened up a whole new world to them. Since this is all supposition on my part, I may as well throw in that it probably took a long time to get the goods. Be that as it may, this was another step in the evolution of a billion plus dollar growth industry.
Another item in the 1800's to take note of is the introduction in France of paid advertising in newspapers. What a difference that has played to the ad makers and sellers since then.
The First Advertising Agency
The years of 1840 - 1869 were notable ones for the ad industry. Those were the years that led to the advertising agencies of today. Until N. W. Ayer and Son started up the first full service agency in Philadelphia in 1869, agents were really only brokers. They would find newspaper ad space for their clients. N. W. Ayer changed that by also taking on responsibility for the client's promotional content.
A Big Break for Us Gals
Women got their big break around the turn of the 20th century. Whereas educational and work opportunities had seldom extended to females, ladies were suddenly in high demand. They did the shopping and some even influenced their husbands. Women were an important target audience to advertisers, who recruited females for their product and ad photography.
It was the first time that sex was used to sell ads. For its time (early 1920s) the sex in advertising was probably subtle enough that we wouldn't even notice it was there. Back then though, suggesting that your skin was nice enough to touch was just this side of pornographic.
The Golden Age of Radio
Radio stations started gaining popularity and growth in the 1920's. The ad spots were sponsored by one business per program. It didn't take long for station owners to realize that they could make more money if they sold sponsorships in smaller chunks of time to multiple businesses. Thus, radio advertising as we know it was born.
Enter the Televised Commercial
The sponsored radio broadcasts were the templates for the commercials that ran on television in the late 1940s and into the 50's and 60's.
As I recall, when I was a little girl, the commercials were about 30 seconds long. When you're 7 and waiting to see Topo Gigo, that's an eternity. They've gotten longer and closer together over the years. Nowadays, I swear the commercials take up half of the program time.
Speaking of Advertising....
That's All, Folks
I'm stopping the history here. Most everyone is familiar with the advertising agencies of the 50's and 60's (remember Bewitched?) and the media ads of the 70's to 90's. Of course, we now have online advertising in addition to that which we get on TV, radio and phone.
Personally, I think that I'd like to go back to the papyrus and wall paintings. It would make a nice change, even if just for a little while. Maybe then, I wouldn't feel overwhelmed with all of the advertising.
© 2009 Shirley Anderson
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