Register | Forgot your password?
About BTL Europe Partners Events Publications Gallery Glossary Contacts

What's the history of advertising?

Commercial messages and political campaign displays have been found in the ruins of ancient Arabia. Egyptians used papyrus to create sales messages and wall posters, while lost-and-found advertising on papyrus was common in Greece and Rome. Wall or rock painting for commercial advertising is another manifestation of an ancient media advertising form, which is present to this day in many parts of Asia, Africa, and South America. For instance, the tradition of wall painting can be traced back to Indian rock-art paintings that go back to 4000 BC. As printing developed in the 15th and 16th century, advertising expanded to include handbills. In the 17th century advertisements started to appear in weekly newspapers in England.

These early print ads were used mainly to promote books and newspapers, which became increasingly affordable thanks to the printing press, and medicines, which were increasingly sought after as disease ravaged Europe. However, false advertising and so-called "quack" ads became a problem, which ushered in regulation of advertising content.

Although advertising has existed for a long time, explicit "branding" is a product of the late 1800s. Due to the prevalence of dangerous products and unregulated industries of the Industrial Revolution, brands were introduced to increase the reputation and value of a particular manufacturer. An identified brand often meant safety and quality. Quaker Oats is among the oldest modern brands in continual use.

Edo period advertising flyer from 1806 for a traditional medicine called KinseitanLydia Pinkham was one of the true success stories of personality branding. Her family used her name and image to promote their patent medicine in the 1800s. The product was incredibly successful. Women wrote Lydia for advice; often the company would reply. Lydia herself was uninvolved; even after her the company kept up appearances, continuing to answer letters addressed to her by consumers.

As the economy was expanding during the 19th century, advertising grew alongside. In the United States, classified ads became even more popular, filling pages of newspapers with small print messages promoting all kinds of goods. The success of this advertising format led to the growth of mail-order advertising such as the Sears Catalog, at one time referred to as the "Farmer's Bible". In 1843, the first advertising agency was established by Volney Palmer in Philadelphia. At first, agencies were brokers for ad space in newspapers. N.W. Ayer & Son was the first full-service agency to assume responsibility for advertising content. It was also the first agency to charge a commission on ads.

At the turn of the century there were few career choices for women in business; however, advertising was one. Since women were responsible for most of the purchasing in their household, advertisers and agencies recognized the value of women's insights during the creative process. In fact, the first American advertising to use a ual sell was created by a woman for a soap. Although tame by today's standards, it featured a couple and said "The skin you love to touch".

When radio stations began broadcasting in the early 1920s, the programs were aired without advertising. The first radio stations were established by radio equipment manufacturers and retailers offering programming to sell radios. However many non-profit operators followed suit, such as schools, clubs, and civic groups.

A print advertisement for the 1913 issue of the Encyclopædia BritannicaThe radio station owners soon realized they could earn more money by selling sponsorship rights to other businesses. In those days, each show was usually sponsored by a single business, in exchange for a brief mention of the sponsor at the beginning and end of the show. This practice was carried over to television in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

However, a fierce battle was fought between those seeking to commercialize this new medium and the people who argued that the radio spectrum should be considered the commons, to be used only non-commercially and for the public good. In Canada, advocates like Graham Spry were able to convince the government to adopt a socialist funding . England followed suit with the development of the BBC. However in the United States, the capitalist prevailed with the passage of the 1934 Communications Act which created the Federal Communications Commission. To placate the socialists, the U.S. Congress did require that commercial broadcasters operate in the "public interest, convenience, and necessity". However public radio certainly exists in the United States.

In the early 1950s, the Dumont television network began the modern trend of selling advertisement time to multiple sponsors. Dumont had trouble finding sponsors for many of their programs and compensated by selling smaller blocks of advertising time to several businesses. This eventually became the norm for the commercial television industry in the United States. However, it was still a common practice to have single sponsor shows, such as the U.S. Steel Hour. In some instances the sponsors exercised great control over the content of the show - up to and including having one's advertising agency actually writing the show. The single sponsor is much less prevalent now, a notable exception being the Hallmark Hall of Fame.

The 1960s saw advertising transform into a modern, more scientific approach in which creativity was allowed to shine, producing unexpected messages that made advertisements more tempting to consumers' eyes. The Volkswagen ad campaign featuring such headlines as "Think Small" and "Lemon"(these were used to descirpe the appearance of the car)ushered in the era of modern advertising by promoting a "position" or "unique selling proposition" designed to associate each brand with a specific idea in the reader or viewer's mind. This period of American advertising is called the Creative Revolution and its poster boy was Bill Bernbach who helped create the revolutionary Volkswagen ads among others. Some of the most creative and long-standing American advertising dates to this incredibly creative period.

The late 1980s and early 1990s saw the introduction of cable television and particularly MTV. Pioneering the concept of the music video, MTV ushered in a new type of advertising: the consumer tunes in for the advertising message, rather than it being a byproduct or afterthought. As cable (and later satellite) television became increasingly prevalent, "specialty" channels began to emerge, and eventually entire channels, such as QVC, Home Shopping Network and ShopTV, devoted to advertising merchandise, where again the consumer tuned in for the ads.

Marketing through the Internet opened new frontiers for advertisers and contributed to the "dot-com" boom of the 1990s. Entire corporations operated solely on advertising revenue, offering everything from coupons to free Internet access. At the turn of the 21st century, the search engine Google revolutionized online advertising by emphasizing contextually relevant, unobtrusive ads intended to help, rather than inundate, users. This has led to a plethora of similar efforts and an increasing trend of interactive advertising.

The share of advertising spending relative to GDP has changed little across large changes in media. For example, in the U.S. in 1925, the main advertising media were newspapers, magazines, signs on streetcars, and outdoor posters. Advertising spending as a share of GDP was about 2.6%. By 1998, television and radio had become major advertising media. Nonetheless, advertising spending as a share of GDP was slightly lower -- about 2.4%.

A recent advertising innovation is "guerrilla promotions", which involve unusual approaches such as staged encounters in public places, giveaways of products such as cars that are covered with brand messages, and interactive advertising where the viewer can respond to become part of the advertising message. This reflects an increasing trend of interactive and "embedded" ads, such as via product placement, having consumers vote through text messages, and various innovations utilizing social networking sites.