History of Advertising
Predictions about the future of advertising are rife. New, exciting pieces of technology are continually unearthed, along with speculation that they are set to “change the face of advertising”.
There’s a lot of looking forward in the advertising industry, as we all strive to push the boundaries and deliver something innovative and original for our clients. This makes it a dynamic, cutting edge, hive of activity where we’re all clambering to be pioneers.
Perhaps because the industry is so progressive, we tend to think of advertising as a relatively modern invention. In actual fact, the model for the current advertising formula is thought to find its roots in the classical Athenian town crier.
Town criers throughout the city would walk through the streets, making a mix of public announcements and paid for advertisements, just like today’s adverts interrupt the news. In his book ‘Powers of Persuasion’, Winston Fletcher quotes one of these advertisements for an Athenian cosmetics company:
For eyes that are shining, for cheeks like the dawn,
For beauty that lasts after girlhood has gone,
For prices in reason the women who know
Now buy their cosmetics from Aesclyptoe.
These lines would probably been sung by the town crier – making it one of the world’s first recorded jingles, but I doubt it would look out of place among the ads of today.
Since those early Athenians, advances in technology have allowed the advertising industry to grow and grow.
We like to think we’re smarter in this modern day and age, than to fall for marketing’s tricks. However we can’t deny that good marketing gets a lot done. Why didn’t women get the vote until 1928? Good ‘marketing’ that said they couldn’t think for themselves. Why is Britain one of the most powerful countries despite being a small island? Hint…it begins with ‘m’ and ends in ‘eting’.
There’s a reason why people say “fake it till you make it” – saying something is something can make it so. Take the brand Horlicks for example. In the UK it is advertised as a drink that makes you sleepy – something to have just before bed for a good night’s sleep. In India, it’s the number one energy drink. Exactly the same product, causing two opposite reactions in consumers, all caused by different marketing messages.
An experiment showed that participants preferred the taste of Pepsi when blindfolded, but when consumers saw the brand packaging and had a choice between Pepsi and Coke, they choose Coke. They choose Coke because it had a stronger brand identity. Brand recall and emotional stimulation through advertising can thus override taste in the human brain.
In 1991, the advertising of tobacco was banned in the UK and by 2008 the percentage of UK smokers fell by over 5%. Whether we like it or not, advertising affects the public psyche.
Since people have been trading there have been advertisements in some shape or form. I know we’re biased, but ads work, and if the longevity of their existence doesn’t prove that, perhaps your favourite soft drink will.
So let’s take a tour through the advertising ages in two minutes! Watch advertising develop from the Athenian town criers to Sky’s AdSmart (and a few other cool things in between).
If you prefer to read your history – there’s some further information below.
History of Advertising
From Athenian town criers, the invention of the printing press was the next advancement, set up in the UK in 1476. Literacy figures began to rise and so too did advertising. The first UK printed advertisement was for Caxton’s ‘Pyes of Salisbury’, a book about religious matters of course.
The first UK press ad appeared in 1646 in ‘The Perfect Diurnall’ and by 1744-5, the first successful paper to be entirely dependent on advertising, was founded entitled ‘The General Advertiser’.
The art of puffery is something will still talk about today. We sit in meetings debating what lines we will be able to get through Clearcast, and often hear: “we can get away with that, it’s puffery!” Well, Henry Fielding wrote a fantastically satirical piece on the art of puffery in 1740. Writing in ‘The Champion’, the novelist and magistrate wrote:
I…Puff Master General…have condescended to acquaint the public…with my transcendent skill in the art of puffing all sorts of wares…I have set up an air pump, which as infallibly exhausts all manner of tumours…and that, unless I am properly spoke to, whoever attempts to support himself on the said bladders, shall…have his pride instantly evaporated; and be render’d forever incapable either of puffing, or being puff’d.
By 1800, the UK’s first full service advertising agency was founded by James White. To put that in perspective, an organised police force wasn’t established until 1829, sliced bread didn’t make it to the UK until 1930, and women didn’t gain full suffrage until 1928.
Silent films surfaced in the 1880s. In 1891, wireless telegraphs began to appear on ships and by 1922 the BBC were broadcasting daily news.
Soap operas actually originated in America in the 1930s. We now refer to any domestic drama as a “soap”, because these original series in the USA were sponsored by the manufacturers of soap and other household products.
One of the first soaps to hit the UK was the BBC’s The Archers. First broadcast in the 1950s, it is still running today!
In 1925 John Logie Baird unveiled his television set to an audience at Selfridges, London, and by
1937 the BBC began their regular broadcasting service to the public. Twenty years later, the majority of British households had a TV, and the first UK sponsored soap opera, Coronation Street hit ITV in 1960.
The first legal TV commercial aired in the US in 1941 and the UK wasn’t far behind. Britain’s first Independent Television Station (ITV) went live in 1955, ending the BBC’s monopoly of the airwaves, and so too did the first UK TV ad.
Channel 4 launched in 1982.
1983 saw the launch of Windows.
The first internet banner ad appeared in 1994. In 2000 Google rolled out AdWords. 2006 YouTube was invented and 2014 saw the launch of Sky AdSmart.
So…what is next? Watch this space.
Thanks to the History of Advertising Trust for use of their chronology.
 Winton Fletcher, Powers of Persuasion: The Inside Story of British Advertising, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 10.
 Amelia Torode, ‘Brands on the brain: Amelia Torode at TEDxLondonBusinessSchool’< https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U5dX-iHXy74&list=PLsRNoUx8w3rOHqEz_K3Sg3xwWOZgK1Cwt>
 Amelia Torode, ‘Brands on the brain’.
 History of Advertising Trust, ‘Chronology’< http://www.hatads.org.uk/documents/Research/Chronology%20(02.01.13).pdf#search=”chronology”>
 Henry Fielding, The Champion, ‘Tuesday February 19 1739-40’, ‘’<https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=fW8PAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA290&lpg=PA290&dq=the+puff+master+general&source=bl&ots=Ls0srNcplg&sig=M28GBJLC0K2LxtHwB1tcq3WpQrs&hl=en&sa=X&ei=Eg5bVZbBBMXV7QbnpoLQAw&ved=0CCwQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=the%20puff%20master%20general&f=false>[accessed 19.05.2015], p. 290.