Short History of Advertising Design
The history of advertising can be broken down into three distinct eras defined by technology. In fact, you may be lucky enough to be witnessing a transition into a fourth era. We'll
define the three eras and trace how advertising evolved in the United States throughout the 20th century and into the present day.
Three Advertising Eras
Scholars of advertising break down the evolution of the field into three general eras:
The premarketing era, from prehistory to the 1750s
from clay tablets and town criers to barber poles and tavern signs. The tremendous boom in mass printing marks the end of this era.
The mass communication era, from the 1750s through World War II
This era covers the
of the printed word (newspapers, magazines, and so on) through radio's heyday. With the inception of television in postWorld War II society, the
The research era, from the end of World War II to the present day
During this era, techniques in advertising have been methodically improved with the goal of finding and targeting various consumer groups using mass communications.
Present-day advertising is beginning a transition from the research era to a new era focused on information technology and new media. It is almost certain that the current "information age" will be retrospectively reclassified with regard to advertising.
Emergence of Advertising in the U.S.
No matter what country you work in, your advertising is undoubtedly influenced by an advertising industry that developed in the United States. So let's take some time to look at the evolution of advertising in America. If you work outside the United States, you may find it interesting to research the history of ads in your country and compare it with the account that
By the time the United States
independence in 1776, there were 30 newspapers in the country. Advertising had arrived in the New World. Colonial postmasters were the first Americans to act as advertising
; they accepted advertising copy for publication in newspapers from other locations and made financial arrangements with advertisers and publishers.
The American perspective with regard to the advertising industry is quite unlike any other. The 19th and 20th centuries saw unprecedented growth in industry and technology as well as inventionwhich has
into the 21st century. The advertising business grew hand in hand with the country and therefore became deeply ingrained into American society and popular culture.
During the late 19th century, a laissez-faire philosophy of government pervaded the United Statesthere was very little government regulation or intervention in the affairs of business. Advertising became flamboyant and
to the unethical practices of many corrupt businesses by communicating false claims about dubious products. Medical products were among the most notorious for this practice, and the most dangerous.
Eventually there was a
Ladies Home Journal
was the first among several
to completely ban medical advertising from its pages. In 1906, the Pure Food and Drug Act was passed to protect the consumer, and the pendulum began to swing toward official reform. The Federal Trade Commission expanded its
to protect the public against unscrupulous advertising. Just as important, many advertisers wanted no part in the "flimflam" that was running rampantthey not only believed it was immoral, but also felt that this type of practice would put the ad industry out of business by creating public
. So in 1905, a
of advertising professionals got together and founded a professional association complete with guidelines and bylaws; it eventually evolved into the American Advertising Federation.
By 1911, a national campaign was under way for truth in advertising, and in 1916, an advertising
committee became the Better Business Bureau. Circulation
began so that publishers could no longer make unsubstantiated claims as to how many people would see ads in their newspapers and magazines.
The Impact of War
When the United States entered World War I, some advertising professionals offered their creative services to U.S. government officials. The admen's expertise was dismissed as irrelevant, and their offer rejected. These professionals then turned around and
their services to the National Council of Defense, which immediately recognized their value and gave them their first assignment: to motivate young men to register for the draft. Their efforts resulted in 13 million registrations in a single day. This proves the old saying that it pays to advertise! After World War I, a boom in industrial production brought more products than ever to the public. There were more stores and better
, and consumers listened to radio broadcasts in their
. All of these changes created an opportunity for more advertising.
During World War II, goods manufacturers had to shift their focus away from the consumer and toward the war effort. Many companies therefore
advertising. Those that were intent on staying in the mind of the consumer wisely invested in product branding. They simply switched from a sales pitch to a public service or educational message tagged with the company
. For example, a tire maker might run an ad entitled "How to take care of your tires."
Figure 8.5. During wartime, food was rationed and it was important not to waste it. Skinless brand frankfurters offered tips on how to use leftoversincluding their product, of course.
Mascots of all kinds became popular in early 20th-century advertisingfor public service causes,
, and many other types of products. Realistic or cartoonlike, they helped customers relate to the product.
The War Advertising Council was
in 1942 to
civilian help in the war effort. Again, ad agencies were enlisted for purposes including stopping careless talk among wartime workers ("The enemy is listening"), selling war
, and recruiting. This group created such icons of American popular culture as Rosie the Riveter and Smokey the Bear.
After World War II, a baby boom, a pent-up demand for products, and an expanding economy fueled ad spending. In 1952, the first
network television broadcasts were launched. These developments revolutionized the ad business once again. With more competition for larger markets than ever before, the eyes and ears (and voice) of the consumer became even more important. Gradually, consumer protection groups lobbied successfully for much greater government regulation of ads. During this era, the discipline of market research first showed signs of developing into a systematic, almost scientific field of analysis.
Figure 8.6. Life wasn't quite as fast-paced in the 1940s as it is today. Magazine ads like this one contained a lot of text, which consumers actually took the time to read. Fast-forward to today's ads, and you'll see that minimal text and direct images get the message across in seconds.
Fast-forward to now. In the past
, the Internet has changed not only the advertising industry, but also the fundamental manner in which business is being
. The emergence of new goods on the market always
a message encouraging consumptioninciting, enticing,
, and pushing us to buy, and often to pay later! It will be interesting to see how history documents the informational and technological developments of today. While the Internet is called a superhighway for information, it is arguably even more of a vehicle for promotion.
Figure 8.7. Designs with bright colors and clear representations of the product and brand, like this 1947 Curtiss ad, command attentionand that sure hasn't changed in the 21st century.
In the 21st century, everything has changed: the complexity of ads, the education of consumers, and the proliferation of ways to do business. But the general principles of good advertising are timeless. Your job as an advertising designer is to
the consumer's mind (and money) toward the product.