The history of advertising: it means happiness and it’s beautiful

April 20, 2015 Updated: April 23, 2016

We have to sell happiness, however shallow it may be, as it is the gateway to the exigencies of our lives, and to the idealized world which we fantasize about. Although advertising with all of its qualities of elation, might seem trifling to some, it can sometimes be the sign of a creative society, rather the creativity of individuals within that society, but also a sign of abundance. Even if the exact quality of advertising, along with increasing saturation has led to some pretty egregious work out there, we cannot deny it is remarkably still a part of human culture.

The history of trying to sell ourselves, or trying to sell products, services, or just anything really goes back as far as ancient Egypt with some sort of announcement of papyrus scrolls, and even Pompeii in the Roman world where political graffiti can still be seen on remaining buildings advertising for different eligible candidates thousands of years ago.

However, real advertising did not bear much fruit until it went into print, specifically during Enlightenment Europe. In fact, more precisely, in England where most advertisements were directed towards readers, and the readership of newspapers. Most of these of course were by no means intricate, rather simple text, mostly announcing things. Interestingly, the first print-ad in America was published in 1707.

The “father of modern advertising,” Thomas Baraat, began to produce beautiful print ads using visual imagery for the company A&F Pears he was a chairman for, which was a huge soap manufacturer in England. Of course Baraat could have easily been the first true copy-writer, regardless of what a great many people say, simply because his lines were straight to the point accompanied at times with charm and even some sort of what I would refer to as proto-wit. 

The truth is that it wasn’t really until the turn of the century, in the early 1900’s when after rampant industrialization a serious consumer culture seeped its way through the entire societal structure. Luxury items, mostly products aimed at women began to flood the markets of newly developed middle classes which of course reached its ultimate peak in the 50’s in the Western world after the Second World War, in what is known as the “era of prosperity.” Interestingly it was also indicative of the strict gender roles that people still followed in those decades, before the advent of feminism which revealed all misconceptions about women’s position in society. 

A time when ads for cigarettes usually involved a physician recommending them for your health, and when regulations were not yet quite fully developed as to stop outright lies to be developed, most people bought into excessive consumerism as the domestic household continued to be burgeoned with continually improved technological gadgets; most important of these of course being television, and radio which became the most  salient for ads to make their way into people’s homes .

Of course magazines, billboards, and even ads in newspapers themselves became more colorful as they were not longer just simple text which announced things, but rather alluring images with poignant imagery designed to persuade people to buy their brands.

The 60’s were perhaps the best years for advertising when giants such as George Lois and Bill Bernbach who were geniuses that always molded the images of products into the most successful campaigns in advertising history. There is a reason why they lived in the era know as “the golden age.” They always broke cultural boundaries with provocative work, which sometimes got them in trouble. 

The march of ads of course clashed with celebrity culture slowly in the late 70’s more so than ever before, and by the 80’s huge brands were paying big names to get on the screen or in print and promote their products. This of course, in my opinion, played a substantial blow to the creativity of advertising, regardless of its massive success which had been proven by increased sales and consumer-awareness.

Today this obvious saturation led to a serious dislocation between creativity and simple formulaic compounds that usually lead to horrible ads that all look and sound the same. Among this sea of obliviousness, commonality, and lack of unique perspective there is very little creative output that resembles the genius designs that poured out between the 1920’s to the 70’s, which incidentally were also the most prosperous times overall for the American people, in terms of economics. 

If there is one reason why people today simply hate adverts it is because there is no creativity behind them anymore. Believe it or not once advertisements, although wanted to sell you something, did have some entertainment value to them, if either in comedic genius or aesthetics ploys. They were usually much better greeted then a B-list celebrity being seen eating or using a product, which are frankly bland. 

Just like most forms of media, and entertainment, advertising has depreciated to a level that goes lower than what it has always been know as:”low-art.” Yet, old ads can still mean some sort of shallow happiness and can be beautiful. Yet more importantly they are indicative of the prosperity of Capitalism. In all honesty I would rather see a large ad for a product which I have a choice to buy or not rather, than a poster of any generic “great leader” in a despotic state which incidentally does not give people the choice to vote for someone else. Advertising can be creative, and can even be considered pop-art. It is inexorably, a part of human culture.