A Quick Lesson on Advertising

In the pre-industrialization era, printing was the favoured form of advertising. The printing press was invented in Germany in 1450. By 1480 a poster was stuck on a church door advertising the sale of a book and the following year, the first catalogue appeared. In 1591 the first newspaper made its debut.

From 1800 to 1875, during the era of industrialization, daily newspapers began to grow. With the increase in literacy, the readership base grew. Railroads facilitated the process of spreading information and the first mass marketing campaigns were initiated.

Modern advertising was born in the early 1920s when John Watson brought Listerene from near bankruptcy to one of the most successful household products in the USA.

A professor of psychology at Harvard University, Watson had a steamy love affair with his lab assistant which resulted in his dismissal. He went to Listerene, which was failing miserably, and offered his services. Watson observed that there were three factors that could successfully sell a product: sex, fear and humour. With his knowledge of human behavior, he created an advertising campaign which was extremely successful. His first ad appeared in 1921, and within eight months sales had doubled. All over America men and women lived in fear of bad breath, and Listerene became – and remains – a very prominent product.

The 1960s saw a creative revolution and advertising became the cultural icon that it is today. Regulation came in to play in the 1970s, and the 1980s was the decade of commercials and the much-loved infomercials. More recently, advertising has become a glamorous occupation. There is usually at least one character in any given romantic comedy who is a big shot in some multi-million dollar advertising agency.

But what are the main goals of an advertisement? In essence, it is a business that wants to make money by attempting to sell a product. Brand recognition, increased product use, product distribution and increased brand preference and loyalty are often behind an advertisement.

Often, advertisements appeal to our values. When asked what will increase their quality of life, most people state social values, family, love, self-esteem, autonomy and control, leisure time, warm family relationships, friendship and romance. People generally don’t say that a BMW will truly make them happy. By tapping into these wants and desires, advertisements usually attempt to link a product to these wants. By using our weaknesses, they translate our desires into materialistic objects, and basically give us back our hopes and dreams in the form of a product. Want romance?   Use this perfume. Want a warm family relationship? Cook with this butter. Need more leisure time? Try our new cruise line! Ironically, this constant bombardment of material objects and pursuits often leads us away from those things that really matter.  

So next time you see an advertisement – or are working on one – take into account what message the advertisement is sending to consumers. And take a minute or two to explore your own personal relationship with the media. How do the ads that you see everyday affect your choices? By being aware of the advertisements, you will have more control over your consumerism.