Advertising and Representation

The History of Advertising

[Edward] Bernays is almost completely unknown today, but his influence on the 20th century was.. great. He took [Sigmund] Freud’s ideas about human beings and used them to manipulate the masses. He showed corporations how they could make people want things they didn’t need by linking mass produced goods to their unconscious desires.

The Century of the Self – Part 1: Happiness Machines
The Happiness Machine is the first part of a documentary called Century of the Self. It tells the story of Sigmund freud and Edward Bernays, who was one of the chief inventors of modern mass-consumer persuasion. He devised many advertising tricks from celebrity endorsement and outrageous PR stunts, to eroticising the motorcar.

Five thousand years ago, the Babylonians hung symbols over their shop doors depicting what kind of trade went on inside and, voila, the first advertisements were born (this practice still exists today; you might have noticed the white and red twisted poles outside some barber shops, for example). From ancient Egyptian engravings on the walls of desert canyons, to the traditional medieval European town-crier, to the pop-up ads that appear every time you log on to your computer, people have always found ways to attract other people’s attention to a product or service for sale. Advertising may have become more prevalent over the years, but wherever communities and commerce exit, so too does advertising.

In this section, you’ll learn a short history of one of the most pervasive forms of language: the advert. The industrial revolution and the increased prevalence of available goods woke manufacturers up to their ability to make people want particular products or services; increased competition intensified the need for professional advertisers; the proliferation of radio and television expanded their reach; the explosion of the American economy after world war two cemented advertising’s ‘Golden Years’; the advent of the digital age cheapened the production of ads and speeded their dissemination to a wider and wider market. To flesh out this story somewhat, and to begin your study of advertising texts, read one or two of the following articles:

Area of Exploration Conceptual Guiding Question

No text is read or written in a vacuum and that is as true for advertisements as it is for major literary works. Both the historical time and the geographical or cultural space a text is written in has an enormous influence on its content and delivery. Similarly, no text is interpreted outside of these factors either. In this section, you will learn about the contexts of production and reception. This resource begins and ends with a consideration of advertising texts, how advertising conventions have changed over time, and how the same text might be read and interpreted differently by different readers.

Class Activity: then and now

Research a product or brand from the ‘Golden Age of Advertising’. Find an advert from this time period and present it side-by-side with a modern day advert for the same product. Annotate the two images with your ideas and explainers, or write a comparison to accompany the images.

Learner Portfolio

Summarise your reading and research from this section by writing a piece called ‘Then and Now’ in which you chart the development of advertising through time (with a focus on 20th century development). You might like to create a visual timeline or guide to the same topic. You could use the Tint blogpost you have probably read as a model for this piece – if you do, make sure you switch out examples for ads that you have discovered yourself.

Paper 1 Text Type Focus: historical adverts

Advertising is a wide and varied genre, ranging from print ads that you might find in a magazine to huge billboards overlooking a busy road, to posters on the sides of buildings, to webpages… and more. While ‘historical adverts’ is not necessarily a text type, conventions of advertising have changed over time, and you might want to practice with texts that are not necessarily modern or familiar. Therefore, the adverts in this section have been deliberately chosen because they are old-fashioned in style. Use these practice texts to familiarise yourself with these less-commonly-seen advertisements and add them to your Learner Portfolio; you will want to revise text types thoroughly before your Paper 1 exam. You can find more information – including text type features and sample Paper 1 analysis – by visiting 20/20. Read through one or two of the exemplars, then choose a new paper and have a go at writing your own Paper 1 analysis response:


Body of Work: Lucky Strike Cigarette ad campaigns

An excerpt from Alan Curtis’ Century of the Self, a documentary about the growth of advertising throughout the 20th century. This part introduces the impact of Edward Bernays on the culture of American advertising.

Up until 1929, it had been illegal for women to smoke in public. One man changed that: Edward Bernays, the ‘father of public relations.’ He organised a ‘Torches of Freedom’ march on Easter Day in New York. On cue , his secretary and all her friends lit cigarettes and smoked them – right in front of gathered photographers and reporters positioned in advance by Bernays to catch the moment. Lucky Strike – the tobacco company that had hired Bernays as public relations consultant – saw their potential market double overnight! From this moment, Bernays ran adverts with pictures of women holding cigarettes and women began to feel confident about smoking in public. A legendary ad campaign was born.

This collection of adverts includes examples of all Lucky Strike’s major campaigns from the 1910s through to The Golden Age of Advertising (1950s). Through studying these texts you will see how an advertising campaign changes and evolves through time, both in terms of how the adverts appealed to readers and in the sophistication of the advertising techniques used to sell what is, essentially, a harmful product that has limited benefits for the consumer.

There are plenty of resources that you can turn to for wider reading and context about this topic. Several documentaries have been made charting the rise and fall of cigarette advertising and Edward Bernays’ impact on the history of advertising, as well as the key role he played in the Lucky Strike campaigns of the 1920s and 1930s.

Towards Assessment: Individual Oral

“Supported by an extract from one non-literary text and one from a literary work, students will offer a prepared response of 10 minutes, followed by 5 minutes of questions by the teacher, to the following prompt: Examine the ways in which the global issue of your choice is presented through the content and form of two of the texts that you have studied. (40 marks)

Please find suggestions here; but always be mindful of your own ideas and class discussions and follow the direction of your own programme of study when devising your assessment tasks.

An advert from this collection would be a good choice to bring into your Individual Oral. The named author would be the ‘British American Tobacco Group’ or ‘Lucky Strike.’ You could explore the Field of Inquiry of Art, Creativity and Imagination and the Global Issue of ‘the need for escapism.’ Whether a student grinding away through mountains of homework, someone working 9-to-5 just to pay the bills, or a person who gives up everything for their career, the need to step outside our own lives, retreat into our imaginations and dream dreams is a universal part of living and working in the world. Yet, in terms of this Body of Work, you might like to consider how canny advertisers such as Lucky Strike exploit the boundaries between healthy escapism and a complete distortion of reality. Speak to your teacher about ways to pair these advertisements with a literary text, or use the following suggestions as a starting point: 

  • Ismail Kadare’s Broken April – when Gjorg asks his father permission to just wander the High Plateau, is he coming to terms with the tenets of the Kanun, or simply avoiding dealing with his fate?
  • John Keats’ Selected Poetry – Keats’ odes and his longer poem La Belle Dame sans Merci are poems with something to say about the ways in which we try avoid the unpleasant sides of life by escaping into fantasy worlds – with unpleasant consequences.
  • Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber – if you’re interested in the alluring power of celebrity, you can compare the images of people in parts of the Lucky Strike campaign with the effect of the Marquis’ dazzling seduction of the narrator in Carter’s title story in this collection.
  • George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion – the archetypal ‘Cinderella story’ is an example of the way audiences like to escape from mundane reality; the fantasy of becoming a princess, marrying a Prince Charming and living happily-ever-after is a powerful one. But Shaw doesn’t like the way people expect literature to provide happy resolutions so, in an extended epilogue, lectures them as to why his Liza doesn’t get the perfect ‘happy-ever-after’ after all.
  • Han Kang’s The Vegetarian – part two of Kang’s novel is narrated from the point of view of a frustrated artist. The first scene is him in a provocative show, searching for a new kind of artistic vision. But what is he really trying to avoid?
  • David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross – Levene is a fading salesman who is struggling to meet his targets at work. He often retreats into nostalgia, reminiscing about a time when he was the top man in the office.
  • Friedrich Durrenmatt’s The Visit – perhaps because the present is so drab and dreary, the Guelleners, and Ill in particular, romanticise the past. What does the playwright suggest are the dangers of not wanting to face up to the truth about life?
  • Haruki Murakami’s The Elephant Vanishes – in these elegant stories, the modern world seems covered in gloom and a general malaise permeates life. Many characters seek comfort in dreams, fantasy worlds, or the events of a tumultuous past.

Towards Assessment: HL Essay

The Lucky Strike adverts in this collection would make a perfect case study for an extended written task. Beginning in the 1910s and continuing through to the 1960s, these campaigns demonstrate how a text changes in response to social and historical developments. For example, early adverts focused on the health benefits of smoking; this strategy was abandoned later in the century in favour of aligning Lucky Strike cigarettes with celebrities and even with the war effort.

You might therefore like to investigate how the campaigns develop and change over time. Your essay would include a range of campaigns, with a focus on exemplar adverts. You should make sure to include analysis of both visual and written elements in your work, as well as researching Edward Bernays in more detail. You could consider one or two of the following angles of approach to help you focus your work:

  • Explore the use of symbolism in adverts for Lucky Strike.
  • How did Lucky Strike use colour in increasingly sophisticated ways in their print adverts?
  • How were men and women depicted in adverts by Lucky Strike?
  • To what extent did Lucky Strike rely upon certain advertising claims in their advertising throughout the first half of the twentieth century?
  • How do the changes in Lucky Strike adverts between 1910 and 1950 reflect wider social changes?
  • Investigate examples of ‘sloganism’ in Lucky Strike adverts? How important were slogans to the success of these advertising campaigns?

Wider Reading and Research

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