A Coca-Cola advertisement from the 1890s

Advertising is an audio or visual form of marketing communication that employs an openly sponsored, non-personal message to promote or sell a product, service or idea.[1]:465 Sponsors of advertising are typically businesses wishing to promote their products or services. Advertising is differentiated from public relations in that an advertiser pays for and has control over the message. It differs from personal selling in that the message is non-personal, i.e., not directed to a particular individual.[1]:661,672Advertising is communicated through various mass media,[2] including traditional media such as newspapers, magazines, television, radio, outdoor advertising or direct mail; and new media such as search results, blogs, social media, websites or text messages. The actual presentation of the message in a medium is referred to as an advertisement or "ad" or advert for short.

Commercial ads often seek to generate increased consumption of their products or services through "branding", which associates a product name or image with certain qualities in the minds of consumers. On the other hand, ads that intend to elicit an immediate sale are known as direct-response advertising. Non-commercial entities that advertise more than consumer products or services include political parties, interest groups, religious organizations and governmental agencies. Non-profit organizations may use free modes of persuasion, such as a public service announcement. Advertising may also be used to reassure employees or shareholders that a company is viable or successful.

Modern advertising originated with the techniques introduced with tobacco advertising in the 1920s, most significantly with the campaigns of Edward Bernays, considered the founder of modern, "Madison Avenue" advertising.[3][4]

Worldwide spending on advertising in 2015 amounted to an estimated US$529.43 billion.[5] Advertising's projected distribution for 2017 was 40.4% on TV, 33.3% on digital, 9% on newspapers, 6.9% on magazines, 5.8% on outdoor and 4.3% on radio.[6] Internationally, the largest ("big four") advertising-agency groups are Interpublic, Omnicom, Publicis, and WPP.[7]

In Latin, advertere means "to turn towards".[8]


Bronze plate for printing an advertisement for the Liu family needle shop at Jinan, Song dynasty China. It is the world's earliest identified printed advertising medium.

Egyptians used papyrus to make sales messages and wall posters.[9] Commercial messages and political campaign displays have been found in the ruins of Pompeii and ancient Arabia. Lost and found advertising on papyrus was common in ancient Greece and ancient Rome. Wall or rock painting for commercial advertising is another manifestation of an ancient advertising form, which is present to this day in many parts of Asia, Africa, and South America. The tradition of wall painting can be traced back to Indian rock art paintings that date back to 4000 BC.[10]

In ancient China, the earliest advertising known was oral, as recorded in the Classic of Poetry (11th to 7th centuries BC) of bamboo flutes played to sell confectionery. Advertisement usually takes in the form of calligraphic signboards and inked papers. A copper printing plate dated back to the Song dynasty used to print posters in the form of a square sheet of paper with a rabbit logo with "Jinan Liu's Fine Needle Shop" and "We buy high-quality steel rods and make fine-quality needles, to be ready for use at home in no time" written above and below[11] is considered the world's earliest identified printed advertising medium.[12]

In Europe, as the towns and cities of the Middle Ages began to grow, and the general population was unable to read, instead of signs that read "cobbler", "miller", "tailor", or "blacksmith", images associated with their trade would be used such as a boot, a suit, a hat, a clock, a diamond, a horse shoe, a candle or even a bag of flour. Fruits and vegetables were sold in the city square from the backs of carts and wagons and their proprietors used street callers (town criers) to announce their whereabouts. The first compilation of such advertisements was gathered in "Les Crieries de Paris", a thirteenth-century poem by Guillaume de la Villeneuve.[13]

In the 18th century advertisements started to appear in weekly newspapers in England. These early print advertisements were used mainly to promote books and newspapers, which became increasingly affordable with advances in the printing press; and medicines, which were increasingly sought after. However, false advertising and so-called "quack" advertisements became a problem, which ushered in the regulation of advertising content.

19th century

Edo period LEL flyer from 1806 for a traditional medicine called Kinseitan.

Thomas J. Barratt of London has been called "the father of modern advertising".[14][15][16] Working for the Pears Soap company, Barratt created an effective advertising campaign for the company products, which involved the use of targeted slogans, images and phrases. One of his slogans, "Good morning. Have you used Pears' soap?" was famous in its day and into the 20th century.[17][18]

Barratt introduced many of the crucial ideas that lie behind successful advertising and these were widely circulated in his day. He constantly stressed the importance of a strong and exclusive brand image for Pears and of emphasizing the product's availability through saturation campaigns. He also understood the importance of constantly reevaluating the market for changing tastes and mores, stating in 1907 that "tastes change, fashions change, and the advertiser has to change with them. An idea that was effective a generation ago would fall flat, stale, and unprofitable if presented to the public today. Not that the idea of today is always better than the older idea, but it is different – it hits the present taste."[15]

As the economy expanded across the world during the 19th century, advertising grew alongside. In the United States, the success of this advertising format eventually led to the growth of mail-order advertising.

In June 1836, French newspaper La Presse was the first to include paid advertising in its pages, allowing it to lower its price, extend its readership and increase its profitability and the formula was soon copied by all titles. Around 1840, Volney B. Palmer established the roots of the modern day advertising agency in Philadelphia. In 1842 Palmer bought large amounts of space in various newspapers at a discounted rate then resold the space at higher rates to advertisers. The actual ad – the copy, layout, and artwork – was still prepared by the company wishing to advertise; in effect, Palmer was a space broker. The situation changed when the first full-service advertising agency of N.W. Ayer & Son was founded in 1869 in Philadelphia. Ayer & Son offered to plan, create, and execute complete advertising campaigns for its customers. By 1900 the advertising agency had become the focal point of creative planning, and advertising was firmly established as a profession. [19] Around the same time, in France, Charles-Louis Havas extended the services of his news agency, Havas to include advertisement brokerage, making it the first French group to organize. At first, agencies were brokers for advertisement space in newspapers. [19]

20th century

Advert for Guy's Tonic Wellcome in 1900's
A print advertisement for the 1913 issue of the Encyclopædia Britannica.

Advertising increased dramatically in the United States as industrialization expanded the supply of manufactured products. In order to profit from this higher rate of production, industry needed to recruit workers as consumers of factory products. It did so through the invention of mass marketing designed to influence the population's economic behavior on a larger scale.[20] In the 1910s and 1920s, advertisers in the U.S. adopted the doctrine that human instincts could be targeted and harnessed – "sublimated" into the desire to purchase commodities.[21] Edward Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud, became associated with the method and is sometimes called the founder of modern advertising and public relations.[22] Bernays claimed that:

"[The] general principle, that men are very largely actuated by motives which they conceal from themselves, is as true of mass as of individual psychology. It is evident that the successful propagandist must understand the true motives and not be content to accept the reasons which men give for what they do."[23]

In other words, selling products by appealing to the rational minds of customers (the main method used prior to Bernays) was much less effective than selling products based on the unconscious desires that Bernays felt were the true motivators of human action. "Sex sells" became a controversial issue, with techniques for titillating and enlarging the audience posing a challenge to conventional morality.[24][25]

In the 1920s, under Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, the American government promoted advertising. Hoover himself delivered an address to the Associated Advertising Clubs of the World in 1925 called 'Advertising Is a Vital Force in Our National Life."[26] In October 1929, the head of the U.S. Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce, Julius Klein, stated "Advertising is the key to world prosperity."[27] This was part of the "unparalleled" collaboration between business and government in the 1920s, according to a 1933 European economic journal.[28]

The tobacco companies became major advertisers in order to sell packaged cigarettes.[29] The tobacco companies pioneered the new advertising techniques when they hired Bernays to create positive associations with tobacco smoking.[3][4]

Advertising was also used as a vehicle for cultural assimilation, encouraging workers to exchange their traditional habits and community structure in favor of a shared "modern" lifestyle.[30] An important tool for influencing immigrant workers was the American Association of Foreign Language Newspapers (AAFLN). The AAFLN was primarily an advertising agency but also gained heavily centralized control over much of the immigrant press.[31][32]

1916 Ladies' Home Journal version of the famous ad by Helen Lansdowne Resor of the J. Walter Thompson Agency

At the turn of the 20th century, advertising was one of the few career choices for women. Since women were responsible for most household purchasing done, advertisers and agencies recognized the value of women's insight during the creative process. In fact, the first American advertising to use a sexual sell was created by a woman – for a soap product. Although tame by today's standards, the advertisement featured a couple with the message "A skin you love to touch".[33]

In the 1920s psychologists Walter D. Scott and John B. Watson contributed applied psychological theory to the field of advertising. Scott said, "Man has been called the reasoning animal but he could with greater truthfulness be called the creature of suggestion. He is reasonable, but he is to a greater extent suggestible".[34] He demonstrated this through his advertising technique of a direct command to the consumer.

On the radio from the 1920s

Advertisement for a live radio broadcast, sponsored by a milk company, Adohr milk, and published in the Los Angeles Times on May 6, 1930

In the early 1920s, the first radio stations were established by radio equipment manufacturers, followed by non-profit organizations such as schools, clubs and civic groups who also set up their own stations.[35] Retailer and consumer goods manufacturers quickly recognised radio's potential to reach consumers in their home and soon adopted advertising techniques that would allow their messages to stand out; slogans, mascots, and jingles began to appear on radio in the 1920s and early television in the 1930s. [36]

The rise of mass media communications allowed manufacturers of branded goods to bypass retailers by advertising direct to consumers. This was a major paradigm shift which forced manufacturers to focus on the brand and stimulated the need for superior insights into consumer purchasing, consumption and usage behaviour; their needs, wants and aspirations. [37] The earliest radio drama series were sponsored by soap manufacturers and the genre became known as a soap opera.[38] Before long, radio station owners realized they could increase advertising revenue by selling 'air-time' in small time allocations which could be sold to multiple businesses. By the 1930s, these advertising spots, as the packets of time became known, were being sold by the station's geographical sales representatives, ushering in an era of national radio advertising. [39]

By the 1940s, manufacturers began to recognize the way in which consumers were developing personal relationships with their brands in a social/psychological/anthropological sense.[40] Advertisers began to use motivational research and consumer research to gather insights into consumer purchasing. Strong branded campaigns for Chrysler and Exxon/Esso, using insights drawn research methods from pyschology and cultural anthropology, led to some of most enduring campaigns of the 20th-century. [41]

Commercial television in the 1950s

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

Cable television from the 1980s

The late 1980s and early 1990s saw the introduction of cable television and particularly MTV. Pioneering the concept of the music video, MTV ushered in a new type of advertising: the consumer tunes in for the advertising message, rather than it being a by-product or afterthought. As cable and satellite television became increasingly prevalent, specialty channels emerged, including channels entirely devoted to advertising, such as QVC, Home Shopping Network, and ShopTV Canada. [42]

On the Internet from the 1990s

With the advent of the ad server, online advertising grew, contributing to the "dot-com" boom of the 1990s.[43] Entire corporations operated solely on advertising revenue, offering everything from coupons to free Internet access. At the turn of the 21st century, some websites, including the search engine Google, changed online advertising by personalizing ads based on web browsing behavior. This has led to other similar efforts and an increase in interactive advertising.[44]

The share of advertising spending relative to GDP has changed little across large changes in media since 1925. In 1925, the main advertising media in America were newspapers, magazines, signs on streetcars, and outdoor posters. Advertising spending as a share of GDP was about 2.9 percent. By 1998, television and radio had become major advertising media; by 2017, the balance between broadcast and online advertising had shifted, with online spending exceeding broadcast.[45] Nonetheless, advertising spending as a share of GDP was slightly lower – about 2.4 percent.[46]

Guerrilla marketing involves unusual approaches such as staged encounters in public places, giveaways of products such as cars that are covered with brand messages, and interactive advertising where the viewer can respond to become part of the advertising message. This type of advertising is unpredictable, which causes consumers to buy the product or idea.[47] This reflects an increasing trend of interactive and "embedded" ads, such as via product placement, having consumers vote through text messages, and various campaigns utilizing social network services such as Facebook or Twitter.[48]

The advertising business model has also been adapted in recent years.[when?][clarification needed] In media for equity, advertising is not sold, but provided to start-up companies in return for equity. If the company grows and is sold, the media companies receive cash for their shares.

Domain name registrants (usually those who register and renew domains as an investment) sometimes "park" their domains and allow advertising companies to place ads on their sites in return for per-click payments. These ads are typically driven by pay per click search engines like Google or Yahoo, but ads can sometimes be placed directly on targeted domain names through a domain lease or by making contact with the registrant of a domain name that describes a product. Domain name registrants are generally easy to identify through WHOIS records that are publicly available at registrar websites.[49]

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