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What is Print Advertising?

Updated on February 23, 2013

Print Advertising Defined

Print advertising most typically appears in newspapers, magazines, books, mass mailing materials, promotional mailings and other printed materials. Most people today see print advertising in newspapers and magazines. A print ad will most likely have a main image and a single, main message.

When I started college in 1978 as an advertising major, print advertising was still being taught. My first ad agency job in 1982 as a junior art director required me to work primarily on print advertising. The definition of print advertising was an ad that appeared in some type of printed media.

The best print advertising depicts a single image along with a main message.


For example, in the print ad to the right, a product known as "Gee, Your Hair Smells Terrific" is featured. It's basically a shampoo with a particular scent that remains in the hair for a time.

Notice that the ad isn't selling the product, it's selling the reaction a consumer will experience if they use the product. This was the basis of most effective print ads.

There is just one large primary image that supports the copy (which just happens to be the name of the product as well).

A smaller image of the product with some descriptive ancillary copy appear at the bottom of the ad.

In my day, this full page ad represented the best in print advertising.


When Print Advertising was King

Before television became affordable for every household, print advertising was one of the best ways to get the message out to millions of consumers.

In those days, David Ogilvy was one of the best print ad copywriters around. In 1948, he started and built one of the largest advertising agencies in the world - then known as Ogilvy & Mather. In the 1960's O&M had a huge stable of large international clients like American Express, Ford, Maxwell House, Kodak, Coca-Cola, IBM and Nestle.


It was David Ogilvy who created many of the more well-known print ad campaigns like "Only Dove is one-quarter moisturizing cream" for Dove beauty soap and "Don't leave home without it." for American Express.

Both campaigns, and many other just as successful, included massive print advertising campaigns in newspapers and publications around the globe. The Dove campaign made Dove the best-selling soap in the US.

David Ogilvy was so revered by the advertising industry that his book titled Ogilvy on Advertising is still read widely by many seasoned advertising professionals as well as those just starting out in the ad industry. Today, print advertising is still a major part of any organization's overall advertising and marketing efforts.


Print Advertising's Heyday in the 1960's

In the AMC television series MadMen, the advertising world was just beginning to come into it's own. In the early 1960's and 1970's, print advertising was the most popular and effective way to advertise anything from cigarettes to aerospace.

In these early days of print advertising, almost anything could be stated or printed in a print ad. In many cases, the only thing that restricted an outrageous claim was simple ignorance, societal values or common decency. It was during this time that advertising agencies began to be perceived as deceptive. That image of a disingenuous touter of goods remains in the minds of many people even today.


A good example of this outright deception (possibly ignorance) in print advertising is depicted in the ad appearing to the right.

In this vintage 19th century print ad, the "electric belt" claims to help men "Who are debilitated, and suffering from nervous debility, seminal weakness…impotency or lost manhood, rheumatism, lame back, kidney troubles, nervousness, sleeplessness, poor memory & general ill health."

This was quite an extraordinary belt - I wonder if anyone was actually helped by this "miracle" contraption.



The Origins of Print Advertising

In the early days of modern-day print advertising, there was practically no regulation. Companies could - and did - include the most outrageous products, services and promises ever conceived by the human mind.

Imagine a print ad that suggested you put strawberry ice cream on your morning breakfast cereal. That's really not so bed, right? Well it was much worse than that in the early years of print advertising.

One of my favorite early print ads is the late 1800's "Tapeworm Diet" print advertisement.

In this infamous ad, sanitized tapeworms are said to be a safe way to drop that "life shortening fat." This ad promises "no ill effects" and states the tapeworms are "easy to swallow." The image on this ad portrays a woman standing behind a huge pile of food items. If you would like to see this ad, simply enter "tapeworm ad" into Google and it will show up in several of the top spots.

Obviously, in the early days of print advertising, there was no regulation.



Print Advertising Today

While still a viable and effective means of advertising, print ads are not as popular or widely used as they once were. Many regulations and restrictions have also been placed on print advertising through the years.

A good example of this is the tobacco industry. In the early days, cigarette companies could say anything they want about their product in print ads.

Some of these ads actually touted smoking as healthy - note the copy at the bottom right of this ad, "More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette."

Today, print advertising is regulated by the government and must meet certain requirements before they can be published or printed. Some organizations may scrutinize a print ad for many months before granting approval for publication.

As long as there are books, magazines, newspapers or other types of printed materials, print advertising will likely remain an effective means to reach large numbers of consumers for many years to come. One day, in the not-so-distant future, there may come a day when print advertising in it's current form may be non-existent.



Take the Print Ad Poll

Of all the print advertising you have seen, which type products were represented in the most memorable print ads?

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    • MKayo profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Texas

      Some Madison Ave creative, I'm sure!

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 

      5 years ago from Chicago Area

      Yep, sold print advertising for 15+ years and was a trade newspaper editor as well. Interesting, but challenging, business for sure.

      I just want to know who came up with putting ice cream on hot cereal!

    • MKayo profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Texas

      I rarely get such wonderfully written comments such as yours - thank you. May I assume you were somehow associated with the advertising world? You speak as a veteran of those killing fields. I still work in that world bit am far removed from those highly stressful front lines.

      And do believe I'll pass on the strawberry ice cream for breakfast - not much fiber there! Thanks for the read and insightful comments - you made me laugh at the end. Best, M

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 

      5 years ago from Chicago Area

      Great trip down advertising memory lane! Totally agree that we've "come a long way, baby" when it comes to relevance and truth in advertising. (Note reference to old cig ad. Pop quiz: Who was the advertiser?)

      While the government regulates advertising "claims," I hope people won't get the idea from the article that an ad they place needs "government" approval before publishing. But you are right that organizations will spend a good deal of time and money on legal review by their attorneys prior to publishing claims. Publishers may also reject ads that they feel violate either truth in advertising rules or include offensive, inaccurate or misleading material (speaking from experience here).

      Print, as we know it, is definitely going the way of the dinosaur, but luckily it has become a new, more highly evolved and useful animal on the web.

      The saddest part of the article is that I remember "Gee, Your Hair Smells Terrific." Now pass over some of that Cream of Wheat with the ice cream on it. :)

    • MKayo profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Texas

      davidlivermore - Thanks for stopping by to read this Hub - and thanks for the Vote Up!

    • davidlivermore profile image

      David Livermore 

      5 years ago from Bakersfield, California, United States

      Interesting hub. I know when I read magazines (few and far between) I tend to read the print ads. Especially for entertainment. Voted up.


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