Advertising and the Twentieth Century
Robert Hamton Summers
Professor Matt Schaffer
Advertising has been around for centuries. Many things have contributed to where it is today, but the last century was by far the greatest. Advertising has shaped our world and has been a catalyst to the capitalism we know today. By taking a look at each decade in the 20th century, one can achieve a better understanding of how advertising has helped shape America, as we know it today.
Advertising has been around in some form or fashion ever since man has been able to scratch a picture on the wall doing something. In a sense this was advertising himself. In 3200 B.C., papyrus appears in ancient Egypt. This paper like material made it possible for posters and sale messages to be written for the sale of goods. In 100 BC, political posters and campaign advertising became popular including negative ads in Roman culture. The first movable type print system was invented in 1040 A.D. This system invention helped create fonts typography. Four hundred years later the movable printing press is created by the German printer Johannes Gutenberg; thus, making mass production of the written word and advertising possible. And in1647, the first newspaper ad tries to sell the book “The Divine Right of Church Government”. The first billboard was introduced in New York City in an 1835 advertisement for the circus. Thousands of years of advancements helped pave the road to the explosion of the advertising world that would occur in the next century and change America forever. Beginning of a new era.
The 1900’s saw industrialism and consumerism come together to form an American culture of consumption. Advertising was a very persuasive technique for promoting this new and vibrant consumer culture.1 Advertising in the early 1900s was simply placing announcements in newspapers and magazines. As mediums changed and avenues for reaching the public expanded, advertisements quickly appeared everywhere. With this much advertising bombarding the public and persuading them to validate their self-worth by the products they purchase; it became imbedded in people’s daily lives; as a result, classes and social status were being clearly marked as the “haves” and “have not’s”. 2 Displays of this newly acquired wealth were seen all over America, especially in urban areas, where most of the rich hung out and tried to outdo one another with displays of their wealth. Although the rich were targeted in these advertisements, an ever-increasing middle-class America had begun to buy machine made goods due to an increase of disposable income that past generations did not have. As America changed from a country of small towns into a country of busy cities, advertising played a key role in the ideology of Americans. The idea of convenience was a major selling point in one’s life whether it be in the home, leisure, or personal grooming. The 1910’s
America was rapidly changing into a modernization society. Some examples are: rapid expansion due to railroads, banking infrastructure that made the mass consumer marketplace possible, and more Americans now lived and worked in cities; undoubtedly, forcing them to quickly evolve in this ever changing social and economic environment. With this changing America, advertisers had three major points to contend with.
Frist, advertisers needed to find some kind of meaning in this ever changing and complex bureaucratize world.3 Modern comforts and lifestyles were drastically different than what previously was a major part of life’s basic needs such as: food, clothing, and tools. People needed to find new meaning to this mechanized routine they lived. Advertisers were there to present the masses with products and consumer goods that would have significant meaning in their lives, no matter how fleeting.
Second, advertisers had to give so-called “solutions” to many of these new...
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