The Ultimate Intention of Complex TV Advertisements Question

Questions from the Readings assigned from the PDF-book text(s) perthe Syllabus for Week 5. Tuesday: Let the (not so) Good TimesRoll–1970’s (Part 1):

> The “Illusion of Inclusion” (Advertising “Black” America)

> Public Suspicions and Government Regulations

Thursday: Let the (not so) Good Times Roll–1970’s (Part 2):

> Social Issues and Selling Change

> The Economic Crash of the late ‘70’s

HOMEWORK: (Assignment Type 2) Readings and Responses (4/8) – AAC: Ch 4, “The Effects of Advertising”

Questionsto Respond to, in a half-to-full page writeup in TOTAL (i.e., NOT ahalf-to-full page writeup for each), answering your choice of TWO below:

  • Name three of the elements that should be considered in the analysis of what the author calls a “complex television commercial”
  • Why the Macintosh commercial of 1984 is considered so important in the history of advertising?
  • What is intertextuality and why it is important for advertising?
  • What is the main interpretation the author gave to the Macintosh ad of 1984?
  • What are the mythical components included in the ad, according to the author?
  • What is the quote “Good campaigns end up being relatively inexpensive” refers to?

General Editor: John Fiske
On Video Roy Armes
Popular Culture: The Metropolitan Experience
lain Chambers
Understanding Radio Andrew Crisell
Introduction to Communication Studies
John Fiske
Understanding Television
Edited by Andrew Goodwin and Garry Whannel
Understanding News John Hartley
Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture
Henry Jenkins
The Ideological Octopus: An Exploration of Television and
its Audience Justin Lewis
Case Studies and Projects in Communication
Neil McKeown
An Introduction to Language and Society
Martin Montgomery
Key Concepts in Communication and Cultural Studies
Tim O’Sullivan, John Hartley, Danny Saunders,
Martin Montgomery and John Fiske
Communications and the ‘Third World’ Geoffrey Reeves
Television Drama: Agency, Audience and Myth
John Tulloch
Film as Social Practice Graeme Turner
A Primer for Daily Life Susan Willis
Gillian Dyer
First published in 1982 by
Methuen & Co. Ltd
This edition published in the Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2009.
To purchase your own copy of this or any of
Taylor & Francis or Routledge’s collection of thousands of eBooks please
go to
© 1982 Gillian Dyer
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be
reprinted or reproduced or utilized in any form or by
any electric, mechanical or other means, now
known or hereafter invented, including photocopying
and recording, or in any information storage or
retrieval system, without permission in writing
from the publishers.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Dyer, Gillian.
Advertising as communication. —(Studies in culture and
1. Advertising
I. Title II. Series
659.1 HF5821
Library of Congress Cataloguing in Publication Data
Dyer, Gillian.
Advertising as communication
(Studies in culture and communication)
Bibliography: p.
Includes index.
1. Advertising. I. Title II. Series.
HF 5821.D89 1982 659.1 82–8134
ISBN 0-203-15834-2 Master e-book ISBN
ISBN 0-203-17730-4 (Adobe ebook Reader Format)
ISBN 0-415-02781-0 (Print Edition)
For my parents, Bertram and Gwen Dyer
General editor’s preface
What is advertising?
Commercial consumer advertising
Mass communications
Public relations
1 The origins and development of advertising
Mercuries and newsheets
An ‘all-deafening blast of puffery’
The break-up of the column lay-out in newspapers
Slogans and catch phrases
Suggestions for further work
2 The new advertising
Organizing the market
The rise of popular journalism
‘Daddy, what did you do in the Great War?’
The never-never
The nerve war
The home front
Suggestions for further work
3 The new media
Post-war developments
Commercial television
Commercial television and the BBC
viii Contents
The pattern for the future
The press
Advertising sponsorship in the press
Advertising as a publishing authority
The crisis
Suggestions for further work
4 The effects of advertising
Effects research
Market research
Sociological research
Advertising’s effectiveness
Cultural effects
The consumers
Suggestions for further work
5 What do advertisements mean?
Approaches to the study of meaning
Lines of appeal
Approaches to form and content
Props and settings
Analysing photographs
Content analysis
Suggestions for further work
6 Semiotics and ideology
Semiotics—concepts and methods
Iconic, indexical and symbolic signs
Syntagmatic and paradigmatic sign relations
Denotation and connotation
Suggestions for further work
7 The language of advertising
Words have feelings
The tone of voice
The role of advertising language
Language and the law
Key words
Figurative language
The ‘absence’ of language—calligraphy
Suggestions for further work
8 The rhetoric of advertising
A theory of rhetoric
Visual rhetoric
Suggestions for further work
This series of books on different aspects of communication is designed to meet the needs of
the growing number of students coming to study this subject for the first time. The authors
are experienced teachers or lecturers who are committed to bridging the gap between the
huge body of research available to the more advanced student, and what the new student
actually needs to get him started on his studies.
Probably the most characteristic feature of communication is its diversity: it ranges from
the mass media and popular culture, through language to individual and social behaviour.
But it identifies links and a coherence within this diversity. The series will reflect the structure of its subject. Some books will be general, basic works that seek to establish theories
and methods of study applicable to a wide range of material; others will apply these theories and methods to the study of one particular topic. But even these topic-centred books
will relate to each other, as well as to the more general ones. One particular topic, such as
advertising or news or language, can only be understood as an example of communication
when it is related to, and differentiated from, all the other topics that go to make up this
diverse subject.
The series, then, has two main aims, both closely connected. The first is to introduce
readers to the most important results of contemporary research into communication
together with the theories that seek to explain it. The second is to equip them with appropriate methods of study and investigation which they will be able to apply directly to their
everyday experience of communication.
If readers can write better essays, produce better projects and pass more exams as a
result of reading these books I shall be very satisfied; but if they gain a new insight into
how communication shapes and informs our social life, how it articulates and creates our
experience of industrial society, then I shall be delighted. Communication is too often taken
for granted when it should be taken to pieces.
John Fiske
This book is meant to provide some basic ideas, concepts and material for the study of
advertising. It draws on work from a number of fields but revolves around the core concept
of communication. Much of the book is in the form of a survey of existing material, and
the second half in particular deals with questions of method and how to study advertisements rather than with extended examples of analysis. I hope that this provides enough
groundwork for readers to pursue some of the issues raised in more depth, and especially to
‘decode’ one of the most ubiquitous and tenacious forms of communication and ideology
in society. Advertising influences our thoughts, feelings and lives; we need to be aware of
how it operates and equip ourselves with information and ideas on how far we think it a
necessary and useful form of social communication. I hope this book contributes in some
way to that project and will help people become more aware of the images and values
perpetuated by advertising, and the forms and structures which carry and determine what
they mean.
I would like to thank Julie Staniforth and Christine Barker for their excellent typing,
a number of friends and colleagues who have helped with suggestions and ideas for this
book, in particular Helen Baehr and David Child for their involvement and support. Clare
Richardson kindly lent the newspapers from which the annoucements in chapter 1 were
taken. Tim Bell of D’Arcy MacManus and Masius, and George Harrison of the History
of Advertising Trust, also provided help with historical material and went to a great deal
of trouble on my behalf. Special thanks should go to John Fiske, the general editor of this
series, for his helpful advice and patience. I would also like to acknowledge a debt of gratitude to my parents for their general encouragement and interest in my work.
Gillian Dyer
The publishers and I would like to thank the following for their permission to reproduce
material: A. & F.Pears Ltd for plates 4 and 5; the Imperial War Museum for plate 6; Hamlyn
Publishing Group Ltd for plate 7; Cadbury Typhoo Ltd for plate 8; Arthur H. Cox & Co.
Ltd for plate 9; Jøtul Norcem UK Ltd for plate 10; Pendleton Woolen Mills and Danecraft
International for plate 11; the International Gold Corporation for plate 12; Renault UK Ltd
for plate 13; Lever Brothers Ltd for plate 14a; Philips Industries for plate 14b; Van den
Berghs for 14c; Colman’s Foods for plates 15 and 22; Birds Eye for plate 16; R.J.Reynolds
Tobacco International, Inc. for plate 17; Rowntree Mackintosh Ltd for plate 18; Norman
Craig & Kummel Ltd for plates 19 and 20; Kraft Foods Ltd for plate 21; John Walker &
Sons Ltd and Parim Ltd for plate 23; Brandmark International Ltd for plate 24; White
Horse Distillers Ltd for plate 25; Record Pasta Foods Ltd for plate 26; Young & Rubicam
Ltd (International Distillers and Vinters Home Trade Ltd) for plate 27; Jacques Durand for
table 1; the Advertising Association for tables 2–9 and Appendix IV; Campaign for tables
10 and 11. Every effort has been made to contact copyright holders, where this has not been
possible we apologize to those concerned.
Every day and for most of our lives we see and hear many advertisements. Even if you don’t
read a newspaper or watch television, and walk around the streets with your eyes down, you
will find it impossible to avoid some form of publicity, even if it’s only a trade display at a
local store, uninvited handbills pushed through the letter box or cards displayed in the window of the corner newsagent. We usually take advertisements for granted because they are
so pervasive, but many people, not least among them the advertisers themselves, claim that
they are one of the most important influences in our lives. Not only do advertisements sell
goods and services, they are commodities themselves, ‘the most ubiquitous form in which
we encounter commercial photography’, according to a critic of advertising, Judith Williamson (1978, p. 57). In a sense advertising is the ‘official art’ of the advanced industrial
nations of the west. It fills our newspapers and is plastered all over the urban environment;
it is a highly organized institution, involving many artists, writers and film directors, and
comprises a large proportion of the output of the mass media. It also influences the policies
and the appearance of the media and makes them of central importance to the economy.
Advertisements advance and perpetuate the ideas and values which are indispensable to a
particular economy system. Advertisers want us to buy things, use them, throw them away
and buy replacements in a cycle of continuous and conspicuous consumption.
Some advertisements are silly, inaccurate, misleading, or just plain irritating. On the
other hand, we have probably all had occasion to say ‘That’s a good advertisement’. They
can be skilfully designed and produced, very attractive, entertaining and funny. But we
should not lose sight of their ideological function, which is linked to their economic function, nor of the real messages that lie behind their superficial gloss.
The primary function of advertising is, we are told, to introduce a wide range of consumer goods to the public and thus to support the free market economy, but this is clearly
not its only role; over the years it has become more and more involved in the manipulation
of social values and attitudes, and less concerned with the communication of essential
information about goods and services. In this respect it could be argued that advertising
nowadays fulfils a function traditionally met by art or religion. Some critics of advertising have even suggested that it operates in the same way as myths in primitive societies,
providing people with simple stories and explanations in which values and ideals are conveyed and through which people can organize their thoughts and experiences and come to
make sense of the world they live in. Varda Langholz Leymore, in her book The Hidden
Myth (1975) argues that like myth, advertising reinforces accepted modes of behaviour
and acts as an anxiety-reducing mechanism resolving contradictions in a complex or confusing society. She remarks, ‘To the constant nagging dilemmas of the human condition,
advertising gives a simple solution… [It] simultaneously provokes anxiety and resolves
it’ (p. 156). In a similar vein Raymond Williams (1980) has called advertising ‘the magic
system,…a highly organized and professional system of magical inducements and satisfactions functionally very similar to magical systems in simpler societies but rather strangely
2 Advertising as Communication
co-existent with highly developed scientific technology’ (p. 185). And the critic Fred Inglis
(1972) describes the advertiser as a modern-day shaman whose ‘anonymous vantage in
society permits him to articulate a novel magic which offers to meet the familiar pains of
a particular society and history, to soften or sharpen ambition, bitterness, solitude, lust,
failure and rapacity’ (p. 78).
What is advertising?
In its simplest sense the word ‘advertising’ means ‘drawing attention to something’, or
notifying or informing somebody of something. You can advertise by word of mouth, quite
informally and locally, and without incurring great expense. But if you want to inform a
large number of people about something, you might need to advertise in the more familiar
sense of the word, by public announcement. If you put up a notice in a local newsagent’s
shop (preferably near a bus stop), design a poster or buy some space in a local newspaper,
you are likely to attract the attention of more people to the information you wish to communicate than if you simply pass the word around friends and neighbours. You could go
further and distribute leaflets as well, get someone to carry a placard around, even broadcast on local radio or organize a publicity stunt. However, you might not be content simply
to convey certain facts, such as, for example:
For sale: four 6-week-old kittens
Contact M.James Tel. 324810
and leave it at that. You might wish to add a bit of emphasis to your message by proclaiming:
Adorable, fluffy kittens (house-trained) need a good
home. Black and white. An opportunity not to be
missed. Phone 342810. Hurry, only a few left!
There is a certain temptation, if we have anything to say or something to sell, to draw attention to our notice by exaggerating the facts or appealing to people’s emotions:
Troubles at home? Marriage under strain?
These kittens will change your life, and will
bring joy and peace to your family.
And this is of course where all the controversy about advertising arises.
People who criticise advertising in its current form argue that advertisements create
false wants and encourage the production and consumption of things that are incompatible with the fulfilment of genuine and urgent human needs. Advertising, it is claimed, is
an irrational system which appeals to our emotions and to anti-social feelings which have
nothing to do with the goods on offer. Advertisements usually suggest that private acquisition is the only avenue to social success and happiness—they define private acquisition and
competitiveness as a primary goal in life, at the expense of less tangible rewards like better
health care and social services. The consumer economy is said to divert funds from socially
useful and human needs and make us greedy, materialistic and wasteful.
Introduction 3
On the other hand, those who defend advertising say that it is economically necessary
and has brought many benefits to society. It contributes to society’s wellbeing and raises
people’s standard of living by encouraging the sales of mass-produced goods, thus stimulating production and creating employment and prosperity. Those people who would do
away with advertising are accused of trying to deny cheaper goods and services to the
majority, and of being puritanical, élitist and economically shortsighted. Furthermore, the
champions of advertising say that people are perfectly free to ignore advertisements and
that ads do not brainwash people because a number of advertising campaigns fail to attract
Indeed it is perfectly true to say that consumer goods have brought comfort and pleasure to a large number of people and have alleviated want and hardship. I would not wish
to argue that this is morally bad. In a complex society such as our own, consumer goods
are necessary and important and on the whole have been a welcome development of the
modern world. But along with commodities we need information about them: about their
price, function, durability, quality, etc. This kind of information will help us make wise and
rational consumer choices.
The question we have to ask ourselves is whether consumer advertising gives us enough,
or indeed any accurate information, and whether the economic function of advertising is so
vital that we cannot afford to do without it whatever the cultural, social and personal drawbacks. We also need to ask who is ultimately benefiting from the advertising of consumer
goods—society as a whole (as it is claimed), or a few powerful commodity manufacturers
and business corporations.
Commercial consumer advertising
There are many kinds of advertising: commercial consumer advertising is perhaps the kind
most visible in our society. It commands more expenditure, space and professional skill
than any other type and is directed towards a mass audience. It therefore provides the focus
of this book. However, the other types are worth mentioning briefly:
Trade and technical advertisements are usually confined to special interest magazines
like Hi-Fi News, Amateur Gardener or Engineering Today. They are aimed at the expert,
professional or hobbyist. Most trade advertising is informative and useful—the customers
are usually well able to evaluate the claims of cost, value, use and so on. The advertiser/supplier probably regards the customer as a ‘user’ and not a ‘consumer’—a crucial distinction
first proposed by Raymond Williams (1980) in his authoritative critique of advertising.
Prestige, business and inancial advertising is a growing sector of the advertising industry. Ads for large companies or the publishing of yearly financial results in newspapers
are usually designed to promote public confidence and favourable business images. Such
advertising is not usually intended to influence sales directly. You will often see ads on
television for such enterprises as the giant petrochemical firms or the large clearing banks
which present themselves as disinterested pieces of public information and which are
designed to make us think of these private corporations as benevolent, public-spirited and
socially responsible. The inherent message in this type of campaign is the promotion of the
capitalist enterprise and the values of the acquisitive society.
Advertising as Communication
Small ads are usually straightforward and informative and have long since been relegated to the small print of the classified sections of newspapers or to such journals as
Exchange and Mart.
Government and charity advertising is usually non-profit making, but often uses the
persuasive techniques of commercial advertising. However, we should remember that an
organization like the Health Education Council has a very small amount of money to promote anti-smoking in comparison with the giant tobacco firms who spend a great deal on
encouraging us to smoke and thereby, by all accounts, to damage our health.
How then is advertising related to the economic systems of modern society? The sheer
volume of goods or commodities which flow from modern factories would cause serious
problems for the manufacturers unless they were quickly consumed and unless the general
ideology of society was in tune with acquisitiveness and the ‘way of life’ associated with
the consumer society. Advertising is one of the means used by manufacturing and service
industries to ensure the distribution of commodities to people in society at large and is
designed to create demands for such goods and services. It helps the manufacturer or business to secure a section of the market by organizing and controlling people’s tastes and
behaviour in the interests of company profit and capital growth. Advertising works not only
on behalf of specific goods and services, it also assumes certain characteristics which are
less directly connected to selling. It tries to manipulate people into buying a way of life as
well as goods. In the words of the economist J.K.Galbraith (1970), advertising keeps the
atmosphere ‘suitably consumptive’.
The more abundant goods become and the more removed they are from basic physical
and social needs, the more open we are to appeals which are psychologically grounded
argues Galbraith. Although the goods on display in shops and supermarkets do not usually
relate to our urgent needs, we nonetheless desire them. Advertising’s central function is to
create desires that previously did not exist. Thus advertising arouses our interests and emotions in favour of goods and more goods, and thereby actually creates the desires it seeks to
satisfy. Our desires are aroused and shaped by the demands of the,system of production, not
by the needs of society or of the individual. It is thus the advertiser’s task to try to persuade
rather than inform.
It is not really surprising that advertisements are unreliable as sources of information
when one consideres that they come from biased or interested quarters, namely the producers of the advertised products. The producers are hardly likely to provide us with neutral
information. An analogous situation would be if the authors of books or the directors of
films wrote their own reviews in the newspaper columns, instead of ‘disinterested’ journalist-critics. And because the advertisers (‘reviewers’) subsidize the press this probably
has the effect of restraining proper professional commodity ‘reviews’. Information about
commodities is valuable if it is impartial and objective, and this can only be achieved if the
writers of advertisements which convey that information are financially independent of the
product advertiser; but this is not the case with our present press and commercial TV systems. It could be argued that if the subsidy of the media by advertising had not developed in
the way that it has, then newspapers and possibly television would have devoted more space
and time to giving consumer information in the same way that they provide reviews of cultural events, and information on horse races or the Stock Exchange. In fact, advertising not
only provides deficient and suspect information; in addition its development in the media
Introduction 5
has indirectly led to the suppression of other channels of information about commodities.
In a famous essay on the economics of advertising, Nicholas Kaldor drew an important
distinction between the informative and the persuasive element in advertising. His description is worth quoting here in full:
We must sharply distinguish here, of course, between the purely informative element
in advertising and the persuasive element (which belongs to another branch of the
argument). If, to take an example, XX Ltd spend large sums annually on advertisements, saying ‘XX is good for you’, this may be an effective method of increasing
the sales of XX beer, but the informative content of the advertisement is merely this:
‘XX Ltd believe that the consumption of XX is beneficial to health’. Whether this is
a valuable piece of information or not, its information value is exhausted as soon as
the public are first told of it. Any further repetition of the message, and its display
in prominent form, does not serve the purpose of information but of persuasion, it
serves the purpose of inducing the public to believe it as well, and to keep it in the
foreground of consciousness. While as a means of persuasion it may be very effective, its information value is zero. (Moreover assuming the message to be true, it
might reach the public in many other ways—through the recommendation of doctors,
for instance—it does not necessarily follow that without the advertisement the public
would have remained ignorant of it.) (1950/1, p. 111)
One of the major criticisms of advertising is that it makes us too materialistic by persuading us, for instance, that we can achieve certain desirable goals in life through possessing things in a cycle of continuous and conspicuous consumption. But, paradaxically,
modern advertising shows that we are not materialistic enough. If we were, presentation
of the objects being sold would be enough in itself. But consumer advertising presents its
goods along with other personal and social aspirations, and as Raymond Williams argues:
We have a cultural pattern in which the objects are not enough but must be validated
in fantasy by association with social and personal meanings which in a different
cultural pattern might be more directly available. (1980, p. 185)
If we were sensibly materialistic, then, as Williams points out,
beer would be enough for us, without the additional promise that in drinking it we
show ourselves to be more manly, young in heart or neighbourly. A washing machine
would be a useful machine to wash clothes, rather than an indication that we are forward looking or an object of envy to our neighbours. (1980, p. 185)
The reason that we have to be ‘magically’ induced to buy things through fantasy situations
and satisfactions is because advertisers cannot rely on rational argument to sell their goods
in sufficient quantity.
Advertising as Communication
The roots of this situation can be traced back to the coming of large-scale industrial
production which, since the end of the last century, has been capable not only of supplying
us with essential goods but also of swamping us. These goods have to be smoothly and
effectively distributed or else the production system would clog up and collapse beneath
the weight of surplus and unwanted products. Markets have to be found and created in
order to absorb the perpetual flow of goods coming from factories. The producers have to
be able to predict demand for goods, so that expensive capital equipment and plant is not
risked, factories do not lie idle, and profits fall. Advertising is one of the mechanisms used
by modern industrial capitalism to organize and ensure markets for its goods. This has the
overall effect of taking decision-making about goods away from customers where it is not
subject to control and of shifting it to the producers where it is under their control. Despite
the fact that there is an enormous number and range of goods available, the real decisions about products—what should be produced, in what quantity and quality and at what
price—lie not with us, the consumers, but with a small and powerful minority of businessmen, industrialists and entrepreneurs—a group which the sociologist C.W.Mills (1956) has
aptly called ‘the power élite’ in his book of that name.
However, advertisers will argue that the great quantity and range of goods produced in
a competitive free-market economy guarantees the consumer ‘freedom of choice’ and that
choice is a basic human freedom. But perhaps advertisers are using the words ‘choice’ and
‘freedom’ in a rather restricted sense, referring mainly to commodities and meaning no
more than a mechanistic reaction to them. Of course on the face of it there are any number of choices to be made in the marketplace. But does the choice that we have to make
between ten brands of similar toothpaste really constitute choice and guarantee freedom?
And are not the differences between the toothpastes, shampoos, televisions and so on, often
trivial and unnecessary? And when it comes down to it, are we, the consumers, ever consulted whether we want toothpaste with blue stripes or green stripes of ‘added ingredient X’
in the first place? We are offered a ‘choice’ once all the real decisions about a product have
been made. In addition, most commodity manufacturers are organized into conglomerates
or monopolies who divide up the market between them and are more interested in profits
than in genuine consumer choice. So what looks like a choice between different brands of a
commodity on a supermarket shelf is not really what it seems, because the different brands
are probably produced by one or two manufacturers (who, incidentally, are also possibly
involved in a price-fixing cartel which makes prices uncompetitive).
Now of course manufacturers want to produce successful products and do indeed spend
a lot of money on market research in order to test consumer preferences and the possible
market reaction. In this sense they are influenced by what members of society claim to
want and need. But it is more likely that decisions about what goods to produce and market
will be influenced more by questions of industrial viability and profit than by questions of
longer-term economic stability and social need. If we, the public, were offered a genuine
choice of goods and services, then most of us would be perfectly capable of judging private consumption against other pressing priorities, like better health services and schools
or more recreational facilities. But our economy is not really geared towards the social
services, and our real freedom of choice is by and large sacrificed to the flow of chocolate,
shampoos, breakfast cereals and dog foods which gushes out of the factories. Our needs
as human beings, our aspirations and weaknesses, can indeed be met by consumer goods
Introduction 7
when they are aroused by advertisements but these are met at the expense of more pressing,
socially-based needs. Advertisers tend to think that consumer choice is equivalent to other
kinds of choice and would no doubt be surprised if someone decided that resources should
be spent on a new youth club rather than producing yet another kind of shampoo. Producers
and consumers are more often than not trapped in the illusion that more and more consumer
goods automatically guarantees choice and freedom.
Mass communications
In order to survive, powerful commercial interests must keep in almost constant touch
with the mass public and continually try to persuade them. To these ends advertisers use
the media of mass communication: commercial television and radio, the national and local
press and magazines. Originally advertising was used by newspaper owners as a necessary
and manageable support cost. Today it suffuses the whole system of mass communication
and some economists argue that the media are in fact not just a part of the economy but
its servants. The media convert audiences into markets, and because they exist through
‘selling’ audiences to advertisers, they generally preclude the services that the media could
perform such as providing adequate consumer information to the public.
Advertisements not only influence overall media policy (although this influence is very
subtle), they also affect or modify the ‘look’ of media production. According to Fred Inglis
‘What we find [in the media]…is the harmonious interaction of advertising and editorial
styles; styles which consistently reproduce and endorse the consumer’s way of life’ (1972,
p. 16). Sunday newspaper colour supplements provide a good example of the ‘harmonious interaction’ between advertisements and feature material. Advertising has increasingly
come to dominate presentation on TV; the insertion of adverts into TV programmes has
altered the nature of TV as a sequential experience and has created entirely new visual
rhythms. As Williams argues, ‘it is possible to see TV of this kind as a sequence in which
the advertisements are integral rather than as a programme interrupted by adverts’ (1974,
p. 69).
Many TV commercials consist simply of spoken announcements with an accompanying
picture and caption. Those which are net-worked over the whole nation, rather than transmitted locally or regionally, are usually more complex. They draw on existing styles in print
and poster advertising, of course, but also contain more emphasis on visual and aural styles
drawn from non-advertising material. The most successful contain:
Concentrated dramatic sequences or ‘playlets’ in which some problem is realized and
overcome through the recommendation and use of a branded product. These commercials are often meant to portray ‘slices of life’ and are similar in style to the kinds of
drama common in programmes.
Popular/light entertainment sequences—comedy sketches, music and dance routines
drawn from variety programmes and TV or film spectaculars.
Actors, actresses, celebrities and sports personalities endorsing products in a way that
allows their allure or social standing to attach itself to the product. Whether they are
‘acting’ or being themselves, these famous people perform a dramatic function.
8 Advertising as Communication
Cartoon and animated sequences either borrowed from another source (Walt Disney
films for example) or created specially for a product image (remember Esso’s cartoon
tiger?). Animals, young children and other ‘numinous’ objects are similarly used in an
attempt to place the product in a flattering light.
Documentary sequences of everyday life, particularly family life, travelogues and
industrial films featuring the use of a product.
Public relations
Whereas advertising is primarily about the selling of goods, general publicity or public
relations (PR) has developed into a business for the selling of persons or companies. PR
uses many of the same techniques as advertising; the main difference being that advertisements are booked and paid for, whereas PR relies on arranged incidents, spontaneous
happenings, product or company anniversaries being reported by the media as ordinary
news. The aim of PR is to promote positive and favourable images of people or firms in
public life, without actually appearing to do so. Certainly it is difficult to tell the difference
between an event or a photograph presented in the ordinary course of professional journalism and one which has been arranged by a publicity agent. Many personality pieces which
appear in the popular press have landed there through the offices of a PR agent and their
publication is paid for by some means or another—not always with money. Show-business
personalities are not the only ones to benefit from this system: PR has entered the literary
and political worlds as well. No political campaign is undertaken nowadays without the
services of a publicity consultant, a fact, it is argued, that accounts for the rise and success
of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in Britain during 1981.
Although advertising agencies were used to ‘sell’ Dwight Eisenhower as long ago as the
1952 American presidential election, the coming of television and increasingly sophisticated PR techniques have put the political-PR relationship on a regular footing. The ‘publicity boys’ rehearse politicians before they go in front of the cameras; they advise on the
timing and content of speeches; they stage-manage walkabouts, the opening of buildings,
visits to supermarkets and the kissing of babies, all for the benefit of the mass media. Politicians and campaigns are marketed like soap. In the US, politicians can buy time for TV
‘spot’ commercials during an election campaign, the tones and rhythms of which are barely
distinguishable from those of shampoo or laxative ads.
In this introduction I have tried to outline a general critique of advertising within the
dominant context of its economics. In the following chapters I shall examine the broad
historical context and growth of advertising in relation to the modern capitalist economy. I
shall also look at the relationship between modern advertising and the system of mass communication within which it lodges and for which it provides the main impulse.
Chapter 4 is concerned with the persuasive power of advertising and its presumed
‘effects’. This is an intriguing aspect of advertising because although we assume it to be
powerful it is often difficult to pin down precisely what we mean by the power and influence
of advertisements. Advertisers spend a lot of money and time making ads memorable and
effective and trying to discover the best way of advertising a product to a particular group.
One assumes that on the whole their messages are successful and effective. Social scientists
are also interested in the power of advertising and have developed some elaborate methods
Introduction 9
to test the effectiveness of advertising on individuals and society at large, some of which
will be discussed in this chapter.
Even more difficult to answer but probably more important is the question of what
advertisements are like. Is life like the pictures that the advertiser creates? Are advertisements mirrors which reflect life? Are they a form of harmless escapism? Do they present
an honest and legitimate picture of human values and aspirations? In chapters 5, 6 and 7 we
will examine what advertisements say and what devices and techniques they use to appeal
to us and get their messages across.
It is not possible in a book of this length to cover every aspect of what is in fact a
complex industry and powerful form of social communication. A notable omission is any
consideration of the actual work of an advertising agency and the people who make advertisements, the ad executives, the copywriters, the artists, etc. It would be interesting to go
behind the scenes, so to speak, to find out how and why ads get made in the way that they
do, how much they cost, what considerations influence the ‘creative’ people, and what
advertisers think about their work and about their public.
A great deal of thought, research, planning and money goes into an advertising campaign; probably more than into any comparable form of communication. The purpose of
creating advertisements is to persuade and convert potential consumers. Thus advertisements are deliberate and consciously articulated messages. However, as in all forms of
human communication, there are bound to be some ‘unconscious’ aspects of the creative
process. That is to say the person who produces or creates an ad will not think in minute
detail about every single word or image that goes into it. He or she takes for granted some
things about communication assuming that the audience will understand the ad’s message
because both communicator and receiver share a common culture or common frame of
reference. The advertiser employs language, images, ideas and values drawn from the culture, and assembles a message which is fed back into the culture. Both communicator and
receiver are products of the culture—they share its meanings. However, compared to an
average citizen, advertisers are in a position of considerable power. They spend a lot of
time and money on the production of advertisements. They also have access to powerful
channels of mass communication, unlike most of us. And although they draw on common
assumptions and meanings, and reflect trends, popular types and the social scene, they do
not draw on reality in any simple way. Producing an advertisement involves a mixture of
market research, ‘professional’ skill, personal knowledge, and intuition, particularly the
last. Advertisers might feel they are in touch with consumers, but they tend to be selective
about the ‘reality’ they portray and present the values and ideals most familiar to them. Like
anyone in a body of professionals in contemporary society, an advertiser works in a narrow
world; he or she is circumscribed by the standards of a close-knit body of workers within
the ad world or agency, which is a particular inward-looking social sub-group within metropolitan cities. Ads are usually highly selective and stereotypical; certain ideas and styles
are emphasized or reinforced, others are ignored. The implicit message in most ads is ‘this
is how things/you should be’. They present what appears to be, without argument, the only
ideal and desirable way of living. They deine what is style and what is good taste, not as
possibilities or suggestions, but as unquestionably desirable goals. The world of ads is the
world of the carefree and the well-off as seen through the eyes of the advertisers. This small
group has become the arbiter and judge of taste and the messenger for the ‘good life’.
10 Advertising as Communication
In the bibliography I have suggested some sources of information and reference material
on the subject of advertising agencies, professional advertisers and planning advertising
campaigns. Appendix IV contains tables and codes of practice used by the professionals.
Readers will probably find that these sections give some insight into the world of advertising and provide guidelines for the analysis of advertisements themselves.
Ads are an inescapable and powerful part of our environment. Some are banal, others
attractive, entertaining and amusing. It might be worth your considering what life would
be like without them.
It is important to remember that however attractive or amusing ads are, they perform
both economic and ideological functions in our society. Even if we don’t actually believe
what they say about this or that product, their influence is nevertheless strong. Advertisements provide pictures of reality and define the kinds of people we could be and the kind
of lives we could lead. It is hard to break with the values and ideals supplied by advertisements although there are signs that some groups—and I am thinking particularly of the
women’s movement—are trying to campaign against the worst forms of misrepresentation
in ads. It is doubtful whether advertising can accommodate criticism of its way of communicating other than in small, superficial ways. It is a powerful tool of existing economic
and social relations and as such has to purvey the values which perpetuate and endorse the
current socio-economic structure—a structure which frequently pays scant regard to alternative values such as a fairer redistribution of resources and power in society, and the ways
of achieving this; ways which could be more humane and democratic and less wasteful of
valuable resources.
In order to understand advertising as a form of communication and as an influential social
institution, it is important to see it as part of an historical and social process firmly linked to
the economies of western industrialized nations. Modern advertising is effectively no more
than a hundred years old, dating from a period when the capitalist system of production
underwent major changes. Before this time advertising was a relatively simple system of
proclamation and announcement on the periphery of the national economy. Today advertising is an enormous and highly organized institution controlling vast sums of money, highly
profitable in its own terms as well as being a vital component of capitalist economies.
In order to understand the social meaning of advertising and assess its place in modern
society, we need to look at why and how it has developed from a simple to a sophisticated
system of communication from the few (the producers) to the many (the consumers).
Mercuries and newsheets
Advertising is consistent with most types of human society and in fact was not unknown
in ancient Greece and Rome. The public crier, who shouted out the wares of local traders
and shopkeepers, was a well-known figure in medieval times. But advertising as we recognize it did not start until the seventeenth century. It was at about this time that newspapers
began to circulate, although broadsides and newsbooks had occasionally been produced
in the Elizabethan era. By the middle of the seventeenth century newsheets or mercuries,
as they were sometimes called, began to appear on a regular basis in the large towns of
Britain. Merchants and traders needed regular information on prices, stocks, imports and
exports and access to the new ‘middle-class’ readership whose appetite for news had been
stimulated by the Thirty Years’ War in Europe. The mercuries contained some foreign news,
shipping timetables, lists of imports and exports and small announcements from booksellers, wig-makers and merchants. These announcements became increasingly important to
the newsheets and in some were displayed prominently. During the English Civil War the
demand for ‘news’ increased and more mercuries appeared under a variety of extravagant
titles. As well as news and announcements of the recent publication of books (by, among
others, John Milton), mercuries carried notices for the markets and fairs popular at the
time. If one looks at these notices, one finds a frequent preoccupation with the freaks and
human curiosities who were put on public display and whose deformities were relished by
audiences of the time. Mercuries also printed ads for lost horses and runaway slaves, and
offered rewards for their capture. Perhaps the most significant ads, however, were those
for the earliest patent medicines and ‘miraculous’ cures. These looked like what today we
would call classified or small ads.
12 Advertising as Communication
The range and type of advertisement began to change from about the middle of the seventeenth century. The following notice, which appeared in a Mercurius Politicus of 1658,
reflects this change, being much more direct and less restrained than ads before this time.
That excellent, and by all Physicians, approved China drink, called by the Chineans
Tcha, by other nations Tay, alias Tee, is sold at The Sultaness Head Cophee-House,
in Sweetings’ Rents by the Royal Exchange, London.
And even more enthusiastic is this advertisement of 1660 for toothpaste:
Most excellent and approved Dentifrice to scour and cleanse the Teeth, making them
white as ivory, preserves from the Tooth-ach; so that being constantly used, the Parties using it are never troubled with the Tooth-ach; It fastens the Teeth, sweetens the
Breath, and preserves the Gums and Mouth from cankers and Impothumes;…and
the right are only to be had at Thomas Rookes, Stationer
The reference to ‘Physicians’ and glowing phrases such as ‘most excellent and approved’
make this ad very similar to some of today’s. Indeed, these early examples of advertising
rhetoric should really be seen as part of a process of development from conventional recommendation to contemporary examples of persuasion and propaganda.
In England, the 1665 plague gave a considerable boost to the sales of patent medicines.
Street posters and handbills proliferated which harangued the public into buying ‘infallible preventative pills’, ‘never failing Preservatives against Infection’, ‘Sovereign cordials
against the Corruption of the air’, ‘Anti-pestilencial Pills’ and ‘The Only True Plaguewater’.
In the eighteenth century the number of people who could read grew steadily, as did the
time available to do so among the middle and leisured classes. The newspaper and publishing trades flourished and in 1702 the first daily newspaper in Britain, The Daily Courant, appeared. ‘Social’ journalism came next, aimed particularly at women readers—the
Tatler was first published in 1709 and the Spectator in 1711. The volume of advertising in
newspapers increased despite the introduction in 1712 of an advertisement tax which was
imposed by the government of the day with the aim of curbing the activities of the press.
Each advertisement, whether it was a line or a column long, was charged one shilling, and
if this was not paid within thirty days the charge was trebled. Many publications closed as
a result of this tax and also because of the imposition of a newspaper stamp duty.
Advertisements of the time were still printed and laid out like classifieds and were rarely
illustrated. On the whole they were directed at the wealthy clients of the coffee houses
where the newspapers were available. A typical newspaper would carry ads for wigs, tea,
coffee, books, wine, lottery and theatre tickets—and of course the inevitable purges and
‘cosmatiks’. It was very rare to see ordinary household goods advertised, although there
were offers to engage servants and slaves. In plate 1 you can see a typical range of ads of
the time taken from eighteenth-century journals and mercuries.
The origins and development of advertising 13
Plate 1 A range of typical announcements for different products, taken from eighteenthcentury newsheets
(a) from St James Chronicle or British Evening Post, 17–19 January 1782
14 Advertising as Communication
(b) from St James Chronicle, 4–7 April 1789
The origins and development of advertising 15
(c) from St James Chronicle, 23–5 September 1790
16 Advertising as Communication
(d) from Aris’s Birmingham Gazette, 11 March 1799
The origins and development of advertising 17
18 Advertising as Communication
In order to attract a reader’s attention, the advertisers would occasionally use simple
illustrative devices. For instance, sailing announcements might display a small woodcut
of a ship at the top of a poster or small ad, and the minute figure of a man looking over his
shoulder might be placed at the head of a runaway notice. The eighteenth-century essayist
Joseph Addison, commenting on these devices, remarked
Asterisks and Hands were formerly of great use for this purpose. Of late years the N.
B. has been much in Fashion; as also were Cuts and Figures, the invention of which
we must ascribe to the author of Spring Trusses. I must not here omit the blind Italian
character, which being scarce legible always fixes and detains the eye and gives the
curious reader something like the satisfaction of prying in a secret. (quoted in Turner,
1952, p. 26).
The drawing of an anodyne necklace (plate 2) comes from an ad for the cure of children’s
‘fits’, ‘fevers’ and ‘convulsions’. Another famous eighteenth-century figure, the critic and
humorist Dr Johnson, accused a similar ad, which ‘warned every mother that she would
never forgive herself if her infant should perish without a necklace’, of trying to scare
mothers into buying the product (a tactic not unknown today).
Dr Johnson was generally critical of the growth in advertising and of the methods which
were beginning to be used to appeal to the public. ‘They are very negligently perused’,
he said of advertisements, ‘…and it is therefore become necessary to gain attention by
magnificence of promises, and by eloquence sometimes sublime and sometimes pathetic.
Promise, large Promise is the soul of an advertisement…’ (quoted in Turner, 1952, p. 30).
He also wrote that ‘the trade of advertising is now so near to perfection that it is not easy to
propose any improvement’ (ibid.) a judgement not borne out by the extent to which advertising has developed since his time. Johnson appealed for higher standards and more truth
in advertisements, and was particularly concerned about the practice among advertisers of
‘censoring [their] neighbours’, a practice which today would possibly be called ‘knocking
copy’. Addison, too, noted how rival merchants accused each other of ‘base impositions’
and ‘fallacious subterfuges’.
However, by today’s standards most ads were straightforward and informative. Their
style and language tended to be formal, respectful and ceremonious as can be seen in this
advertisement from The Times of 1788, placed there by a retailer of imported goods:
Vickery respectfully informs the ladies that he has now for sale an extensive and admirable assortment of Transparent Tetes…. The taste, fancy, elegance, convenience and
accomodation of these articles have already rendered them the greatest favourites of
every court of Europe and of numbers in Asia, Africa and America…. Ladies who
order these beautiful articles are requested to describe whether for young, middleaged or elderly ladies.
The origins and development of advertising 19
Plate 2 An eighteenth-century advertisement (from Fog’s Weekly Journal,
20 November 1736)
20 Advertising as Communication
Plate 3 ‘Quack’ eighteenth-century advertisements (from Coventry Mercury,
14 February 1791)
The origins and development of advertising 21
22 Advertising as Communication
The origins and development of advertising 23
24 Advertising as Communication
It is worth remembering that the eighteenth century was an age of quacks, ‘empirics’ and
tricksters. These were men who enjoyed a considerable influence and social standing. They
both made and peddled an alarming variety of pills, purges, solvents and elixirs for which
extravagant claims were made. The quacks attracted attention to their wares by indulging in
the most repulsive details of the diseases and scourges they claimed to be able to cure. Their
promises were matched by spurious testimonials elicited from miraculouslycured sufferers,
who were preferably ‘dukes and other noble personages of this kingdom’. The use of snob
appeal and ‘puffs’ can be seen in the copy of the ads in plate 3.
No lesser claims were made for tobaccos and snuffs which were said to be good for
the ‘Head, Eyes, Stomach, Lungs, Rheumatism and Gout, Thickness of Hearing, Headach, Tooth-ach or Vapours’. And it was even alleged that a person ‘may never come to
wear spectacles’ if he used a certain tobacco. The quacks were to have a lasting impact on
advertising, and subsequent generations of advertisers have perfected the art of puffery and
persuasion. By the end of the eighteenth century the quacks were on their way to giving
advertising what the critic Raymond Williams has wryly described as a ‘more specialized
meaning’ (1980, p. 172).
An ‘all-deafening blast of puffery’
‘Classified’ types of advertising continued well into the nineteenth century, but the use of
handbills and street posters increased. Bill-posting was in fact a large and organized trade;
both men and vehicles were hired to display boards and posters. Later in the century advertisers even used hot-air balloons to advertise their products. Although the newspaper ads of
the time were discreet by today’s standards and confined to specific sections of a publication, some traders felt that it was not respectable to advertise. One local newspaper stated
in 1859 that ‘Advertising is resorted to for the purposes of introducing inferior articles into
the market’, and Thomas Carlyle, writing in 1843, disapproved of what he called the ‘alldeafening blast of puffery’ (quoted in Turner, 1952, p. 55). He argued that advertising was
against nature and ungentlemanly and that a ‘hat-maker’ is degrading himself if he speaks
of ‘his excellence and prowesses and supremacy in his craft’.
During the 1800s there was, of course, an expansion in trade and a substantial increase
in manufacturing. The abolition of the advertisement tax in 1853 and the newspaper stamp
duty two years later, resulted in a growth in the volume of advertising and an increase in
newspaper circulation. By this time advertisers were beginning to pay a bit more attention
to the design and lay-out of their ads. Long sentences, superfluous linking passages and
the generally long-winded style of eighteenth-century advertising language were being
replaced by words set out in blocks, more spacing between sentences and by contrasting
type sizes. The playbills published by theatres in the early nineteenth century show how
advertisers were becoming aware of the need to communicate quickly and decisively. The
‘art’ of copywriting also sprang to life, making a noteworthy contribution to the language
in the coining and inventing of new words.
Clumsy Latin compound words and Greek neologisms were especially popular. No
doubt the public were impressed to know that teeth could be filled with ‘mineral marmoratum’ or ‘mineral succedaneum’, that a raincoat was a ‘siphonias’, and hair cream an
‘aromatic regenerator’. There was also Rypophagon Soap, Olden’s Eukeirogenion, Elme’s
The origins and development of advertising 25
Arcanum and Winn’s Anticardium. Traders even hired poets to write stanzas in praise of
their products, and one boasted in an ad that ‘we keep a poet’. A saucemaker ‘kept’ a poet
who produced the following lines:
The goose that on our Ock’s green shore
Thrives to the size of the Albatross
Is twice the goose it was before
When washed with Neighbour Goodman’s sauce.
The following piece of lorid prose was written in 1843 for Parr’s Life Pills:
The spring and fall of the leaf has been always remarked as the periods when disease,
if it be lurking in the system, is sure to show itself. The coldness of winter renders
torpid the acrimonious fluids of the body and in this state of inactivity their evil to the
system is not perceived; but at the spring these are aroused, and if not checked mix up
and circulate in the blood, and thus the whole system is contaminated…
Another favourite device of advertisers was the fashion of printing some eye-catching
statement in bold type, followed by the remainder of the message in smaller type, thus:
A Beautiful Young Girl Strangled
a cry of admiration when she saw our new blouses
The Duke of Wellington Shot
a glance of admiration at our hats
The majority of advertisements still came from local traders, and in tone and style they
were very similar to those of the eighteenth century. However, a more general kind of
household product was beginning to come onto the market. The first nationally advertised
product was probably Warren’s Shoe Blacking, followed by Rowland’s Macassar Oil, Spencer’s Liquid Hair Dye and Morrison’s Universal Pill. The techniques used to promote these
products had been pioneered by the eighteenth-century quacks, but the use of ‘puffs’ was
extended. The crowned heads of Europe and all ranks of nobility were being signed up to
give testimonials—the Tsar of Russia recommended the use of Revalenta Arabica while an
ad for the Balm of Syriacum boasted that it was used in Queen Victoria’s household.
The break-up of the column lay-out in newspapers
Advertising steadily expanded from 1850 to the end of the century. After the newspaper
stamp duty was dropped in 1855, the circulation of newspapers increased and many new
ones were founded. Newspaper editors were on the whole reluctant to open their papers
to new-style advertisements, particularly to those which were designed to extend beyond
the width of a standard newspaper column as it was thought that they would disrupt the
design of the page. The more persistent ‘quacks’ pressed editors to abandon column rules
and to take ‘display’ ads, featuring large, black typefaces and even pictures of ‘voluptuous’
26 Advertising as Communication
women. Some editors argued, as it turned out quite rightly, that this type of advertisement
would possibly favour bigger traders at the expense of the smaller ones.
Ingenious, if tedious, methods were employed by some manufacturers to exploit and no
doubt ridicule the editor’s fear of bold type and display lay-out. For example, some advertisements consisted exclusively of repetitions of a firm’s name or its product, and the repeat
could run for as many as one thousand lines:
John Smith and Son
John Smith and Son
John Smith and Son
John Smith and Son
Phrases were printed in small type in eye-catching patterns which still preserved the column rule. In response The Times, for one, imposed a rule against the endless repetition of
words or phrases. Each line had to have some description after it. There then followed a
spate of advertisements like this one:
Rossetter’s Hair Restorer
is not a dye
Rossetter’s Hair Restorer
contains no oil
Rossetter’s Hair Restorer
prevents hair falling
Rossetter’s Hair Restorer
promotes the growth of hair
Another trick was to build up large capital letters out of groupings of smaller letters:
The names of products could be spelt out using this method. For instance CUTICURA
was spelt out one letter to a column across the top of an eight-column page of a paper, and
subsidiary headings were constructed on a smaller scale. A trader might even demand that
his product be shaped by letters in his advertisements. Thus a hatter could have a hat made
out of letters, the oculist, a pair of spectacles.
The origins and development of advertising 27
Because they faced restrictions in the columns of the press, many manufacturers turned
to outdoor advertising where there were no such limitations on their creativity and ingenuity. At one time in London billposting was so popular that it seemed you might never get to
see a building at all. The following quotation is a description of billstickers in the 1850s.
The billstickers never heeded the notices to beware, and cared nothing for the privacy of ‘dead walls’, or, for the matter of that, of dwelling houses or street doors.
Though he himself was rarely seen, his disfiguring work was a prominent feature of
the metropolis. Early morning was his busy time, and if he could cover up the work
of a rival, so much the better…(Quoted in Marland, 1974).
Slogans and catch phrases
In the US there were no newspaper or advertising taxes so the press grew swiftly during the
eighteenth century. Newspapers cost less than in Britain and sometimes over half the space
was devoted to advertising. At the beginning of the nineteenth century most advertisements were largely like those in Britain; for sailing departures and arrivals, books, plays,
patent medicines, and also for the slave trade. There were also restrictions on large type
and multiple-column displays in American newspapers. One publisher grew exasperated at
this and decided to extend the technique of repetition he had seen in The Times of London.
He leased entire pages in a rival newspaper (he never advertised in his own), filling the
columns with repetitious phrases. Sometimes he bought a whole page only to leave it blank
in order to attract the reader’s attention. On occasions he would even fill the pages with the
opening chapter of a new serial story, cutting it off at the crucial moment and then notifying
the reader that the continuation could be found in his paper.
Typographical restrictions and the ban on illustrations were lifted by most American
newspapers by 1895, so the vogue of repetition, no longer needed, died out. Compared to
their British counterparts, American advertisers used more colloquial, personal and informal language to address the customer and also exploited the uses of humour to attract attention to a product. New-style department stores grew rapidly in America from the 1850s
onwards and quickly became large advertisers. Later, manufacturers of the new patent
foods and mechanical inventions joined them as major advertisers.
As the device of repetition became more and more unfashionable, advertisers had to
think of new ways of attracting the public’s interest; they turned to the invention and use
of slogans and catch-phrases. Two of the more unforgettable, if primitive, British examples
of such devices were Beecham’s pills’ ‘Worth a Guinea a Box’ and Pears Soap’s ‘Good
Morning! Have you used Pears soap?’ In America the habit was no less effective: Kodak’s
‘You press the button we do the rest’ proved to be memorable, while a slogan for Ivory soap
boasted: ‘It floats—It’s 99 44/100ths pure!’
The food processing industry was launched around the middle of the nineteenth century and
thanks to advertising, names like Bovril, Nestlé, Cadbury, Fry and Kellogg soon became
household words. Like their predecessors in the pills and potion trade, the patent food
28 Advertising as Communication
advertisers also used testimonials from famous people of the day, and they went to a great
deal of trouble to stress the pure and healthy nature of their products.
On the heels of the new foods came such mechanical inventions as bicycles, sewingmachines and typewriters and these too were advertised widely but with more restraint than
the patent foods.
Because advertising was expanding so rapidly in the new products area, the advertisers of older products like soaps and pills were forced into thinking up fresh ideas for their
advertisements. A & F Pears, for instance, one of the pioneers of catch-phrases, decided to
use more extended campaigns for their soap. The company hoped that by constantly repeating the name of the product and the catchphrases in the press and on public hoardings, the
public would ‘automatically’ ask for Pears when they went into a shop to buy a tablet of
soap. Pears also used riddles and puzzles to catch the attention of readers: plate 4 comes
from a Pears annual, a publication started in 1891 to bring reproductions of paintings, serialized stories and of course advertising to the public.
Two important trends in advertising emerged in the 1880s. First, a number of advertising agencies transferred their loyalty from the newspaper to the advertiser. The agencies
had originally established themselves in small shop premises with the purpose of selling
space for the newspapers. However, the increase in the number of newspapers during this
period made the manufacturer’s job very difficult because he had no way of knowing who
the readers of the paper were nor, indeed, if his ads were reaching the right potential customer. But if the advertiser channelled his work through a specialist agency, the latter was
able to assess the usefulness of a particular publication and feed this information back to
the client.
This new breed of agent tried to convince reluctant traders and publishers of the benefits
of agencies. One of them, Samuel Deacon, urged newspaper proprietors to announce their
circulation figures (a move which does, of course, benefit advertisers), thus starting a campaign that was to last fifty years.
The second trend that emerged at this time was that some editors decided to relax their
strict rule about single columns and began to allow display ads in their papers. Larger typefaces were used and the ads sometimes spanned two or more columns. Towards the end of
the century even The Times was permitting advertisements onto their pages ‘in type which
three years ago would have been considered fit only for street hoardings’ (quoted in Turner,
1952, p. 153).
Newspaper editors must have been influenced by the many street posters to be found
lining the streets of Victorian England, and also by the introduction of illustrated advertisements in the magazines from the 1880s onwards. Some of these ads would look crude to us
today but others established features which are still used. One rather stilted technique was
the inclusion of the name of a product or a slogan into the drawing of the people or the setting in the ad itself. So there were many ads where the lettering ran along the edge of a table
cloth or along the bottom of curtains and the product’s name could even be found printed
on the bare chest of a woman. One famous ad of the day, the Borax nude, showed the naked
figure of a woman rising from waves, brandishing a wand at unclean shapes labelled ‘disease’ and ‘decay’. She was called the ‘Spirit of Purity’ in order to counter any criticism of
her nudity. Just as today, pictures of scantily dressed young women were used to advertise
a whole variety of products ranging from combinations to cigarettes.
The origins and development of advertising 29
Plate 4 A Pears conundrum (from ‘Bubbles’: Early Advertising Art From A. & F.Pears
Ltd, edited by Mike Dempsey, 1978).
Established painters also contributed to the ‘art’ of publicity although, unlike in France
where poster art was highly regarded, British artists were initially unwilling to venture into
the world of commerce. In 1886 A. & F.Pears bought a picture by Sir John Everett Millais,
who was unquestionably the richest and most popular painter in late Victorian England.
The company wanted it for their exclusive use in promoting Pears soap. The painting was,
of course, ‘Bubbles’ (see plate 5). Millais was apprehensive about the commercial use of
his work but warmed to the idea because of the quality of the engraving Pears intended to
reproduce. Many members of the public were hostile to this prostitution of art, and as late
as 1899, three years after Millais’s death, The Times still carried letters on the ‘debate’.
30 Advertising as Communication
Plate 5 ‘Bubbles’ by Sir John Everett Millais
The origins and development of advertising 31
Pears spent £30,000 on the ‘Bubbles’ campaign and, even today, the picture is one of
the most instantly recognizable advertising symbols ever devised. This was perhaps the
first example of advertising which associated a product with (high) culture (represented by
Bubbles who, incidentally, was the artist’s grandson). It is a combination which characterized the Pears image for many years. The company brought out the Pears annual until 1920.
Much of its material would strike us as unashamedly sentimental. However, Pears were
astutely catering for contemporary taste, and indeed children, animals, flowers and young
women are still the common denominators of advertising appeal.
By the end of the nineteenth century advertising had reached new heights of boldness
and confidence—not to say impertinence. Whereas ads in journals had previously been
confined to special sections, they now proliferated throughout the pages. Many people
were shocked to find theatre safety curtains displaying ads. Buildings disappeared behind
outdoor hoardings and an American patent food company even had the audacity to erect
a signboard halfway up the white cliffs of Dover. The writer Rudyard Kipling voiced the
annoyance of many people when he accused railway stations of ‘the beplastering of railway
platforms with every piece of information in the world except the name of the station’ (in
Turner, 1965).
Partly as a response to these developments and to the many advertising eyesores and
publicity stunts, the Society for the Checking of Abuses in Public Advertising (SCAPA)
was founded in 1898. The crusade of SCAPA was instrumental in defining the now familiar arguments between the defenders of ‘taste’ and the ‘needs’ of commerce. But just as
the battle ‘for’ and ‘against’ advertising was gathering momentum, the very nature of the
object of their passions was radically changing.
Suggestions for further work
It is interesting to compare older style advertisements with contemporary examples
although it is not always easy to get hold of old ads. If you are interested in rummaging around junk shops or secondhand bookshops you might be able to find some old
magazines, newspapers or posters; even train tickets, trade cards and book markers
used to carry ads. Some museums have exhibits of advertising ephemera.
Other sources of historical material There are surprisingly few books on the history
of advertising but the History of Advertising Trust (see p. 214) is an educational
foundation and a useful source of information and material. The trust has compiled
a catalogue and index of significant advertising material. Some of the larger companies keep collections of their old advertisements (A. & F. Pears, for instance,
have a collection of their early publicity), and advertising agencies sometimes keep
examples of their earlier work. The British Newspaper Archive (Colindale Newspaper Library, Colindale Avenue, London NW9) keeps a collection of old newspapers
so this is also a useful place to go to look at advertisements.
If you can get some older ads, study their design and layout and the methods used to
persuade potential customers.
32 Advertising as Communication
Compare some early examples of patent medicine advertising with today’s. How similar are they? What are their lines of appeal? Compare how the images of women in ads
have changed over the years.
Consider the most significant changes that occurred in the nineteenth century which
affected the purpose and face of advertising.
Fundamental and far-reaching changes in the British economy, which were responsible for
the transformation of advertising, took place at the end of the nineteenth century.
Organizing the market
During the early stages of the Industrial Revolution, advertising was a relatively straightforward means of announcement and communication and was used mainly to promote
novelties and fringe products. But when factory production got into full swing and new
products, e.g. processed foods, came onto the market, national advertising campaigns and
brand-naming of products became necessary. Before large-scale factory production, the
typical manufacturing unit had been small and adaptable and the task of distributing and
selling goods had largely been undertaken by wholesalers. The small non-specialized factory which did not rely on massive investment in machinery had been flexible enough to
adapt its production according to changes in public demand.
But the economic depression which lasted from 1873 to 1894 marked a turning point
between the old method of industrial organization and distribution and the new. From the
beginning of the nineteenth century until the 1870s, production had steadily expanded and
there had been a corresponding growth in retail outlets. But the depression brought on a
crisis of over-production and under-consumption—manufactured goods piled up unsold
and prices and profits fell. Towards the end of the century many of the small industrial
firms realized that they would be in a better position to weather economic depressions and
slumps if they combined with other small businesses and widened the range of goods they
produced so that all their eggs were not in one basket. They also realized that they would
have to take steps to ensure that once their goods had been produced there was a market
for them. This period ushered in the first phase of what economists now call ‘monopoly
capitalism’, which, roughly speaking, refers to the control of the market by a small number
of giant, conglomerate enterprises.1 Whereas previously competitive trading had been conducted by small rival firms, after the depression the larger manufacturing units and combines relied more and more on mass advertising to promote their new range of products.
A good example of the changes that occurred in manufacture and distribution at the turn
of the century can be found in the soap trade. From about the 1850s the market had been
flooded with anonymous bars of soap, produced by hundreds of small manufacturers and
distributed by wholesalers and by door-to-door sellers. Competition grew steadily throughout the latter half of the century and eventually the leading companies embarked on more
aggressive selling methods in order to take custom away from their rivals. For instance, the
future Lord Leverhulme decided to ‘brand’ his soap by selling it in distinctive packages
in order to facilitate recognition and encourage customer loyalty. In the 1880s, Pears were
spending between £30,000 and £40,000 a year on advertising and in the 1890s they and
34 Advertising as Communication
Lever Brothers spent £100,000. In 1907 this figure had risen to nearly £500,000 a year but
by 1919 the ‘soap war’ had died down with the merger of the leading companies.
Lord Leverhulme was one of the first industrialists to realize that advertisements should
contain ‘logical and considered’ arguments as well as eye-catching and witty slogans.
Many advertisers followed his lead and started to include ‘reason-why’ copy in their ads.
For instance, one contemporary Pears soap ad went into great detail about how the product
could enhance marital bliss by cutting down the time the wife had to spend with her arms
in a bowl of frothy suds. And an ad for Cadbury’s cocoa not only proclaimed its purity but
also detailed other benefits: ‘for the infant it is a delight and a support; for the young girl, a
source of healthy vigour; for the young miss in her teens a valuable aid to development…’
and so on. As the writer E.S.Turner rightly points out, the advertising of this period had
reached the ‘stage of persuasion as distinct from proclamation or iteration’ (1952, p. 133).
Indeed, advertise or bust seemed to be the rule of the day as bigger and more expensive
campaigns were mounted and smaller firms who did not, or could not, advertise, were
squeezed or bought out by the larger companies.
New inventions were entering the market at a rapid rate during the early years of the
twentieth century and were introduced and popularized by advertising. Among them were
the first motor cars, although these were not widely advertised until Henry Ford extended
his publicity methods to the British market. Perhaps the most expensive and chauvinistic
campaign of this period was one launched in 1901 by leading British cigarette companies
under threat from the American Tobacco Company. One advertisement in this tobacco war
covered four pages in the Star newspaper and boasted that it was the ‘most costly, colossal
and convincing advertisement ever used in an evening newspaper the wide world o’er’. One
of its slogans was:
Don’t be gulled by Yankee Bluff
Support John Bull with every Puff
The American irms retaliated and the campaign was a long and costly one. It was another
early example of what has become one of the persistent features of advertising and marketing—the ad war.
The rise of popular journalism
Around the turn of the century advertising expanded rapidly alongside other innovations in
marketing and trading. The new advertising agencies benefited from this growth, and revelled in their new found status and importance. By the beginning of the twentieth century
they were offering a more comprehensive service to manufacturers than just selling space
in newspapers, although some agencies continued to do this. However, they were hindered
by the fact that the newspaper publishers were still reluctant to announce the net sales of
their papers and so agents could not advise their clients as to which newspaper or magazine
reached the greatest number of people. In 1900 the Advertisers’ Protection Society was
formed in order to bring more influence to bear on newspaper publishers, as well as to help
the construction of better campaigns and to defend advertising against the attacks of critics
like SCAPA.
The new advertising 35
Varied consumer goods, especially foodstuffs, were flowing into the country from
abroad and, at home, manufacture was expanding further which meant that the traders’ and
producers’ need for mass markets became increasingly urgent. So they turned to the ideal
medium of communication—the mass popular press.
A number of popular papers and periodicals had been launched during the second half
of the nineteenth century, helped by the Education Act of 1870 which raised the level of
literacy in Britain considerably. In order to attract readers in a highly competitive market,
the newspaper owners devised all sorts of gimmicks and publicity stunts. Competitions
and treasure hunts became popular and the serialization of stories also proved to be a good
method of capturing and keeping an audience. By 1900 the Daily Mail had reached a
circulation of 700,000 and the News of the World 1,250,000. But the cost of producing
newspapers was rising and many proprietors turned to advertising for an ‘independent’
source of finance and support. Alfred Harmsworth, later Lord Northcliffe, was a pioneer in
this respect, and very early in the century he decided that advertising was ‘news’ in itself.
The front page of his Daily Mail was soon devoted to display advertisements, particularly
from drapery shops and the new department stores. It was not unusual to see pictures in
the papers of women parading underwear and ‘combinations’. Advertising proved such a
useful source of revenue that Northcliffe—sometimes called ‘the innocent genius of newspapers’—decided that through it he could reduce the price of his newspaper and thereby
increase sales (despite the fact that he had reservations about the ‘vulgar’ drapery ads). He
also decided to publish the Daily Mail’s circulation figures and challenged other newspaper proprietors to do the same. In doing this he effectively ushered in the industrialization
of the British press and altered its entire financial base. From this time newspapers have
become increasingly dependent on advertisements for revenue.
This period was a particularly buoyant one for the popular press. Printing techniques
were improved, readership expanded and the new railways made the national distribution of
daily newspapers possible for the first time. The less formal style of American journalism
was beginning to be adopted by British journalists, and this together with the other developments made a great impact on the advertising trade.
‘Daddy, what did you do in the Great War?’
As the twentieth century progressed, advertising moved nearer to the centre of the nation’s
economy, discarding its marginal and ‘amateur’ status on the way. People were even talking of advertising as a ‘profession’ and a ‘public service’. New ways of appealing to and
persuading people, many of them based on American techniques, were adopted, including
the use of the new ‘science’ of psychology. For instance, a branch of psychology based on
the principle of human instinct provided advertisers with the technique of ‘association’. An
American ‘instinct’ psychologist gave this piece of advice to advertisers:
an advertisement should be presented in such a way that a reader would associate it
with his own experience, which was best done by appealing to his ruling interests and
motives. These included the desire to be healthy, to hoard, to possess, to wear smart
clothes, to get something for nothing, to be more like the privileged and successful
classes. (in Turner, 1952)
36 Advertising as Communication
He stressed that advertisements should be cheerful, and products should be linked to prosperity, social status and attractiveness. These ‘positive’, idealized ads drew this sarcastic
comment from the magazine The New York Evening Post in 1909: ‘In the literary pages (of
magazines) the world is the worst of all possible worlds, in the advertising supplements it is
the best of all conceivable worlds.’ Psychologists also suggested that advertisers use scare
tactics to motivate people.
Psychological methods were also used to great effect during the First World War to
recruit volunteers to the armed services. There are many famous posters deriving from
this period; perhaps the most celebrated is the one entitled ‘Daddy, what did you do in
the Great War?’ (plate 6). As a poster it is simple but effective, and is a great contrast
to the crudely drawn and jingoistic ‘Yankee Bluff ’ ad mentioned earlier and the mawkish and sentimental ads used by Pears. The drawing of the family group is detailed and
closely observed—the little girl on her father’s lap and the boy playing with toy soldiers
on the carpet at his feet. The scene is domestic and not only represents an appeal to
patriotism but also plays on basic human relationships and anxieties. Having aroused
these anxieties and potential guilt feelings, the poster offers the message that they can
be relieved by joining up and helping to win the war in order to preserve the family
values portrayed.
The never-never
With the end of the war in 1918, the factories once again turned their attention to the
production of consumer goods. In America, more reliable cars became available by the
thousand, as did radio sets, refrigerators, washing machines, and water closets. One way
of getting people to buy vast quantities of goods, and thus to close the gap between the
rate of industrial growth and people’s purchasing power, was to offer credit and allow
people to purchase things by instalment. But this did not really make long-term, lifelong consumers out of people, so more manipulative methods had to be devised. People
had to be made to feel guilty if they did not buy a new car or radio set, and were taught
that it was unpatriotic not to discard things every year in order to buy the latest model
of any item.
The new advertising 37
Plate 6 Using psychology
38 Advertising as Communication
Advertisers had learnt a lot from the propaganda posters of the First World War and after
the war they joined forces with the forces of management and social psychology to create a
new generation of consumers in order that the wheels of industry could keep turning. One
way of getting people interested in consumer commodities was to make them dissatisfied
with themselves and to play on their insecurities. An American advertising trade journal of
the 1920s summed up the advertiser’s task in this statement: ‘Satisfied customers are not as
profitable as discontented ones’. The advertisements of the 1920s in America encouraged
self-criticism and distrust: ‘sneaker smell’, ‘paralysed pores’, ‘vacation knees’, ‘office
hips’, ‘underarm offence’ and ‘ashtray breath’ had Americans running to the nearest store
for the latest preventative or cure. The public were taught through the ads that they could
consume their way out of any trouble or misfortune, real or invented. And set against the
afflictions that could visit people day and night, and untrustworthy friends and neighbours,
the advertisers posed the paternalistic corporation as a substitute friend and family. A critic
of the advertising of the period, Stuart Ewen, remarks: ‘The authority of industry was being
drawn as a sustaining father figure while traditional areas of social intercourse and the possibility of collective action were pictured as decrepit, threatening and basically incapable
of providing any level of security’ (1976, p. 102). The 1920s was a period overshadowed
by ‘patriarchal corporatism’ and ‘Fordism’, terms used by the Italian social critic Antonio
Gramsci (1971) to describe how industrialists entered into and directed the nation’s family matters. Ford had pioneered not only the mass production of the motor car but also the
extension of industrial authority over family relations. Many industrialists of this period
assumed a right to administer family life in order to bring it into line with the demands of
industrial production.
The power of business corporations and the new advertising techniques did not escape
public criticism. The advertising industry responded with attempts to regulate its activities
but by and large these efforts were mere window dressing because misleading assertions,
deceptions and psychological manipulation continued. A code of ethics drawn up by the
International Advertising Corporation (IAC) in 1924 pledged the industry to ‘seek the truth
and live it’, a maxim taken very seriously by some ads: a New York department store proclaimed ‘Gimbels Tells the Whole Truth’.
Fearing that advertising might be getting a bad name, the industry launched a campaign
to advertise advertising. One example of this campaign which appeared in Life magazine in
1925 featured a young man saying ‘I begin to see that it’s advertising that makes America
hum. It gives ginks like me a goal…. I guess one reason there is so much success in America is because there is so much advertising—for things to want—for things to work for.’
The nerve war
The economic depression of the late 1920s and 1930s meant that manufacture was cut
back again and consequently the activities of many advertisers as well. But for some, business flourished because this was a period of ‘nerve warfare’. At a time of economic gloom
and uncertainty, the pedlars of nerve tonics, vitamin pills and mouthwashes came into
their own. And the nerve war gave advertisers plenty of scope for their talents of invention: readers were told of the dangers of contracting hitherto unknown conditions such as
‘halitosis’, ‘summer sluggishness’, ‘tell-tale tongue’, ‘listlessness’, ‘night starvation’ and
The new advertising 39
‘body odour’. The ads were often as lurid and exaggerated as the ‘quack’ advertising of the
eighteenth century and were filled with pseudo-scientific argument. People were sent into
a frenzy over threats to health, jobs, marriages and social status and words like ‘protection’
and ‘confidence’ took on new meanings. Plate 7 is a compilation of ads from the period all
using the theme of bodily functions or ‘dysfunctions’.
In Britain the advertisers appealed to patriotism and guilt. This scolding address was
made to readers of The Times in 1920:
Do you know that
nearly £10,000,000 was spent last year
by our own people in these Islands for
A colossal loss to British trade and British Workers
No government can cure unemployment
if this sort of thing goes on
Do you realize this? You should.
The following notice appeared in Advertisers Weekly in 1931. It was from the producers of
a tonic wine and displayed a somewhat cynical attitude to the nation’s plight.
Rising unemployment figures, it seemed, were inevitably reducing our market; yet
we refused to be intimidated by this. Consideration of the matter showed that even
those who drew unemployment benefit represented a potential market and one likely
to be productive enough if approached in the right way. So instead of neglecting the
unemployed, we visualized them as a prospective market of 2,500,000 people.
There seemed to be no limit to the virtues of tonic wine. It could recreate married bliss,
patch up quarrels, end nagging, etc.
The growing effrontery and absurdity of many ads drew the scorn of critics and writers
of the 1930s. Even advertising men were disillusioned with the sensationalist and unscrupulous practices of some colleagues. The American magazine Ballyhoo, published in the
early 1930s, was launched as a response to inflated advertising. It debunked the world of
advertisers and among other attempts at ridicule it gave a glossary of advertising terms
which included the following:
Delicate membrane
Lubricate the skin texture
Pore-deep cleansing
Harsh irritants
Great scientist
any part of the body
put on grease
washing the face
all the ingredients of a competitor’s product
anyone who will sign an endorsement
until the new model comes in
40 Advertising as Communication
Plate 7 A selection of advertisements from the 1920s and 1930s (from The World of
Small Ads, Lippa and Newton (1979))
The new advertising 41
A number of muckraking books were published in the 1930s which aimed to expose the
tricks of advertising and alert the public to its ‘confident absurdities’. By way of response
to the criticism and the satire, many ads of the day began to display a certain kind of self
mockery and cynicism. Raymond Williams sums up this development in his comment on
the development of knowing, sophisticated, humorous advertising, which acknowledged the scepticism and made claims either casual or offhand or so ludicrously
exaggerated as to include the critical response. Thus it became possible to ‘know all
the arguments’ against advertising, and yet accept or write pieces of charming copy
(1980, p. 181).
In Britain, so desperate were advertisers to attract the public that many revitalized the
older methods of the ‘quack’ and the sandwich-board men. In America, advertising copywriters turned their skills to inventing their own language, or ‘word magic’. In many cases
it replaced the words of the English language that copywriters had previously devalued.
Tight skirts were described as ‘stem-slim classics of lethal grace…panther-sleek and fabulously disciplined’; lace was ‘a wicked whisper’; there were ‘moonstruck rayons’ and ‘parody-pearls trilling with pride’. More irritating was the advertiser’s habit of using baby talk
to describe various food products. Words like ‘yummy’, ‘tangy’, ‘zippy’, ‘chewy’, ‘crispy’,
‘crunchy’ or ‘Krispy’ and ‘Krunchy’ littered magazine copy. Hyphenated words like ‘jiffyquick’, ‘oven-hot’ and ‘sun-sweet’ became all the rage. Stretch became s-t-r-e-t-c-h, cool
became c-o-o-l; eating became an adjective as in ‘a wonderful eating cheese’ and then, not
surprisingly perhaps, ‘eatingest’ appeared in some copy.
As the depression eased some advertisers decided that the only way to gain or regain a
reputation and to stimulate interest in advertising was to offer an additional service. Borrowing techniques from sociology and psychology, advertisers tried to persuade their clients that market research was a way of ensuring that their money was ‘scientifically’ spent.
The initial impetus for market research came from doubts over the ‘readability’ of word
magic which, some said, had been written to please the seller not the buyer. Readability
tests were devised to find out if word magic was easy or difficult to read, and consumers
were recruited to test advertising copy for memorability, emotional arousal, credibility, etc.
Market research was also beginning to be used to test and measure media/advertising influence and consumer motivations.
By the end of the 1930s advertising had become an accepted adjunct of the national
economy. But the advertising of patent medicines still gave cause for concern. The advertising industry, mindful of its reputation, decided to clean up or throw out some of its
more dubious associates. In both America and Britain, legislation was passed during the
subsequent decade, designed to curtail or ban misleading and dangerous advertisements,
especially those for drugs and patent medicines.
The home front
Nevertheless, the Second World War provided the advertisers of tonic wines, aspirins and
bed-time drinks with a field day. ‘War worry’ and ‘black-out nerves’ had to be conquered
and the home front had to be kept brave and cheerful. The advertisement for ‘peace-time
42 Advertising as Communication
sleep’ (plate 8) is typical in that it plays on a number of wartime themes. The reader is asked
if she is ‘war-proofed’, the graph illustrates the need for ‘scientifically sound sleep’, and
added to all this, the drink would help ‘Mr Churchill’ in the war effort. Wireless manufacturers, too, played on the nation’s patriotism; one ad urged people to buy radios to prove
their ‘freedom to listen’.
Many ads of the war era stressed economy and self-denial. Readers were told to ‘wage
war on waste’, to ‘go easy with…’, to ‘save…’, and ‘please use…sparingly’. Firms boasted
of their own efforts and sacrifices in order to encourage their customers. Campaigns were
launched to make the best use of resources and materials in short supply, which included
anything from paper and rags to fats and metals. Men were encouraged to use certain
long-lasting raz or blades and help save the nation’s steel. A Rinso soap ad announced ‘if
everybody can prolong the life of garments by only one third then reduced supply will meet
all our needs’. An American poster urged people to ‘Save waste fats for explosives. Take
them to your meat dealer’. Food ads invariably provided hints and recipes to make rationed
food go further. Housewives were instructed how to make cakes without eggs, to make one
rasher of bacon go round the whole family, to save gas and electricity in their cooking and
to cook emergency meals for a hundred people in an air-raid shelter!
Since women were so vital to the economy outside, as well as inside, the home during the war, their advertising images underwent a fundamental change. Instead of being
shown as passive consumers mainly interested in their appearance and the shine on their
furniture, women in wartime ads were depicted more realistically as bus drivers, factory
workers and air-raid wardens, thus reflecting their dual roles as workers and as mothers and
wives. Products such as soap, convenience foods and household gadgets were offered as a
source of help to busy women rather than as avenues to greater social status or as a means
of relieving guilt feelings.
In 1945 women were urged to return to domestic life to make way for returning soldiers whose jobs they had been filling. The advertisements for commercial products in the
post-war period reflected this campaign. For instance, the ‘one-job’ woman was a popular
theme in advertisements. One for Milk of Magnesia showed a woman looking cheerfully
at the viewer and saying ‘I’m clocking in at home’. ‘Glamour is returning’, warbled an ad
for handcream. There was a return to ads depicting women in their domestic role usually
looking directly out at the consumer from the picture; the ads during wartime had invariably shown women concentrating on their work and unconcerned about the spectator’s
gaze. Perhaps the transition from peace to wartime stereotype and back again can best be
seen in a series of ads for Macleans’ toothpaste. Before the war the image of the woman
in Macleans’ ads showed her as a docile secretary; during the war she was represented as
a munitions worker (replying to the question ‘Did you Maclean your teeth today?’ with
‘Yes, and I always shell!’); after the war she was shown looking contented and glamorous,
baking a cake.
The new advertising 43
Plate 8 ‘Peace-time sleep’
44 Advertising as Communication
If wartime brought a check to the rapidly expanding industry of advertising, the postwar period changed all that, for the 1950s brought a spectacular extension of advertising,
the mass media and the commodity market generally. It is with some irony that we can look
at a statement made in a book published during the war by a critic of advertising, Denys
advertising as we know it may be dispensed with after the war. We are getting on very
well with a greatly diminished volume of advertising in wartime, and it is difficult
to envisage a return to the 1919–39 conditions in which publicity proliferated. (in
Williams, 1980)
Contrary to Thompson’s assertion, advertising has in fact proliferated since the war. Consumer goods flooded onto the market with the arrival of the post-war ‘affluent’ society and
the mass-media channels expanded accordingly in order to cope with the demands of the
advertisers. Although we should not glorify the austerities of war nor be particularly nostalgic for the days when there were genuine hardships, it is hard not to be alarmed at the
expansion of adver…

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