The History of Advertising

Published: 07th April 2011
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Business advertising used to be such a simple affair - street peddlers used to promote their wares by shouting and bellowing in the street, and the Greeks used to shout out announcements of the sale of cattle and slaves.

From a competitive point of view all you needed then was a louder/clearer voice. That would have been a great business idea 3000 years ago VEO - Voice Engine Optimisation. However, today to be competitive is a much more complicated and costly process.

Printed advertisements started a lot earlier than you may think with an advert recorded approx 3000 years ago from someone called "Thebes" calling for the recovery of a lost slave. The advert stated, "For his return to the shop of Hapu the Weaver, where the best cloth is woven to your desires, a whole gold coin is offered". The Romans also embraced advertising and regularly pasted up signs promoting gladiator matches and circuses - examples of which have been found in Pompeii and Carthage.

Through the middle ages handbills and notices were tacked-up which usually consisted of drawings as well as writing to cater for the vast percentage of the population that could not read.

Newspaper advertising started early too and the first newspaper advert is believed to have appeared in England in a newspaper called the Weekly Newes in 1622. Historian Henry Sampson says that it was an ad for the return of a stolen horse.

In England during 1665, when the plague was rife, newspapers carried ads for preventatives and cures such as "Anti-Pestilential Pills", "Incomparable Drink Against the Plague", "The Only True Plague Water", "Infallible Preventive Pills Against the Plague", and "Sovereign Cordials Against the Corruption of the Air".

Once the London Gazette announced in 1666 that it was going to print advertisements newspaper ads became the rage, and shopping guides started to be published around 1682 which consisted entirely of adverts.

In the 1700s England was flooded with pasted-up notices and posters. London became swamped with large advertising signs promoting merchants' places of business. There became so many signs that even Charles II proclaimed, "No signs shall be hung across the streets shutting out the air and the light of the heavens".

So what's changed today? Well, very little, market traders still use the earliest form of advertising - the power of the voice, and can be heard shouting and peddling their wares in markets and streets throughout the world. Whilst we have moved on from gladiator matches (although cage fighting must be a close second), posters promoting entertainers, bands, circuses, shows etc are still posted up on any solid surface available. The world is still covered in the most basic of advertising i.e. posters, billboards and signs. Advertising at a base level is very simple, wherever there is a pair of eyes and/or ears someone in business will want to be seen or heard.

Advertising became more complex and costly with the advent of TV and radio. The first UK TV advert was broadcast on ITV on 22nd September 1955 advertising Gibbs SR Toothpaste (remember that), and the first (legal) TV advert in the USA cost just $4 and was for the watchmaker Bulova on July 1st 1941.

Television and radio became such hugely powerful advertising mediums as they were a place where you could pretty much guarantee getting your message across to a massive amount of "eyes and/or ears" in one go - viewing figures for the X factor in October 09 were approx 12million! However the cost in ad production and advertising rates precluded most small/medium-sized businesses from advertising on television and national radio.

Enter "The Internet" - no where near as expensive as television, can react to an advertisers requirements faster than television, and allows generic or incredibly niche targeting of an ad campaign to an incredibly macro or micro audience.

No wonder it's so successful, and for the first time ever ad spend on the Internet has outperformed TV advertising. I predict the Internet still has a very long way to go, and many more innovative and creative offerings to come in the realm of advertising, with one of the next big things being online video advertising in business directories. In the not too distant future having a business video online will be crucial to any advertising campaign, whatever the size of business.

So what's next for business advertising? What will a blog like this be saying about advertising in 100 years time? That one's a bit more difficult to predict, however, one things for sure - we won't be around to see it (unless giant steps are made in medical science)!

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