Great Moments in Advertising History «

Great Moments in Advertising History

Perhaps you’re too young to remember Speedy Alka Seltzer. And you’re probably too hip to admit that a mascot could persuade you to buy a product.

But the reality is that advertising history has had a big influence on our shopping habits and our culture, thrusting products into our lives and creating new social norms. (Who doesn’t own an iPod? Now, seriously?)

Along the way, some brilliant ad ideas have advanced the industry and, dare I say it, civilization itself. So let’s identify some of the great moments in advertising history.

79 A.D. Advertising back in the day, billboards in Pompeii

In his 1875 book, A History of Advertising From the Earliest Times, Henry Sampson wrote that billboards of a sort were present in Pompeii in — 79 A.D.! “The walls … are covered with notices. These advertisements, hasty and transitory as they are, bear voluminous testimony as to the state of society, the wants and requirements and the actual standard of public taste of the Romans in that age.”

1732: Ben Franklin invents… art direction!

Franklin gets credit for lots of things. But his least-known invention may be the creating the role of art director. The book, Advertising In America, The First 200 Years, notes that the publisher of Poor Richard’s Almanac was the first to put pictures in advertisements, adding eye candy for copy relief. He also understood the power of white space, leaving lots of it around headlines to catch your eye.

1865: P.T. Barnum, circus mogul and copywriter
Barnum’s best performance may have been as copywriter, recognizing the value of a well-turned phrase. Waxing poetic about pachyderms and performers, he trumpeted headlines like:

•”Caravans of Giant Coursing Elephants and Camels”
•”After an Unbroken Night of Twenty Centuries, the Resplendent Sun of Imperial Roman Pastimes Reappears.”
1925: John Caples, direct response pioneer, strikes gold

Just 25-years old, John Caples wrote one of the most successful ads in history. The amazing ROI from “They Laughed When I Sat Down At the Piano, But When I Started to Play!” put direct response advertising on the map. It also made Caples one of the most sought after and imitated copywriters of his time. He authored five books, regarded as essential reading on the topic of copywriting.

1944: Paul Harvey. Radio advertising finds its voice

Paul Harvey … was a more than… a radio announcer. He was… a pioneer! His signature pauses — combined with a florid, often hyperbolic writing style — generated a loyal audience of 24 million listeners a week. Paul Harvey News aired on 1,600 radio stations. No wonder, then, that sponsors loved “the most listened-to voice in the history of radio.” He refined the art of the radio commercial.

1959: Volkswagen, “Think Small”

Volkswagen’s campaign ignored everything that made U.S. car ads successful, going on to make the German brand a household name. Rather than boast of power, speed and luxury, this ad spoke of thrift, great gas mileage at “32 miles to the gallon,” and easy parallel parking. Showing a tiny VW Beetle against a field of white, with the headline “Think Small”, the ad was remarkable for its time — and all time. It holds the number one spot on the Ad Age Top 100 Advertising Campaigns list.


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