Readers, Writers, Texts

The History of Advertising

“[Edward] Bernays… 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:

Reading Challenge

This is a longer and more challenging text, but spending time on this piece, and discussing it with your teacher, will help you master this topic:

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.

Discussion Points

After you’ve got your head around the material in this section, pair up, pick a question, spend five minutes thinking and noting down your thoughts – then discuss your ideas with a friend and report back to the class.

  1. What is ‘success’? How is success depicted in advertising? Who gets to be successful in advertising? Does advertising offer an alternative vision of success to the mass media, or does it replicate messages you see elsewhere? What other definitions of success might there be that you do not see in advertising?
  2. How many adverts do you think you see in a day? Do you think there are too many adverts in today’s world? Does being surrounded by advertising affect people in negative ways? Do you think the number of adverts people are exposed to should be regulated more strictly?
  3. What does it mean to be a citizen, a consumer and a conscious consumer? How does advertising encourage or discourage you to be one or more of these things? How does advertising create or erode a sense of community?

Learner Portfolio: The Golden Age of Advertising

Create a blogpost about the history of advertising. You could summarise the history of advertising, or focus on a particular period, place or product (eg ‘The Golden Age of Advertising’; ‘A History of Chocolate Ads’; and so on). Look at one or two of the blogposts in this section to find a model or style guide. Ensure you include a nice range of visuals that you’ve researched 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)

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.’ Here are two suggestions as to how you might use this Body of Work to create a Global Issue. You can use one of these ideas, or develop your own. You should always be mindful of your own ideas and class discussions and follow the direction of your own thoughts, discussions and programme of study when devising your assessment tasks.

  • Field of Inquiry: Art, Creativity and Imagination
  • Global Issue: The Need for Escapism
  • Rationale:

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.

  • Field of Inquiry: Beliefs, Values and Education
  • Global Issue: The Manipulation of Language
  • Rationale:

Advertisers are experts at using language to lead and mislead. From the early adverts where Lucky Strike recruited doctors to extol the virtues of smoking as a health benefit, to later adverts that associated Lucky Strike with patriotism and American successes in World War Two, these adverts showcase all kinds of rhetorical methods, both verbal and visual, that are used to manipulate the reader.

Sample Individual Oral

Here is a recording of the first ten minutes of an individual oral for you to listen to. You can discuss the strengths and weaknesses of this talk as a way of improving your own oral presentations. Be mindful of academic honesty when constructing your own oral talk. To avoid plagiarism you can: talk about a different global issue; pair the Lucky Strike adverts with a different literary work; select different passages to bring into your talk; develop an original thesis.

Possible Literary pAirings
  • Ismail Kadare’s Broken April – to what extent does Gjorg trick himself into believing the tenets of the kanun? Is his wandering an attempt to escape reality or come to terms with his fate? How do the administrators of the kanun use various methods to mislead the people who live on the High Plateau? Whatever approach you take, this could be an ideal pairing.
  • 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 dangerous 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 Marquis’ dazzling seduction of the narrator in Carter’s title story, The Bloody Chamber.
  • 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. alternatively, you could explore how the salesmen in Mamet’s dark comedy expertly wield language to deceive their clients – and each other.
  • Friedrich Durrenmatt’s The Visit – in this biting satire, almost nobody says what they mean and truth is a slippery concept. A perfect pairing for a talk about the power of language to mislead and manipulate.
  • 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.
  • J.M.Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians – in the first chapter of this powerful novel is a perfect illustration of how language can be used to mislead and manipulate. After torturing an innocent man to death, Colonel Joll submits a report on his interrogation which conceals the reality of what really happened.
  • Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home – this graphic memoir is a perfect illustration of how somebody might need to ‘escape’ into a fantasy in order to cope with life’s struggles. Not only is the graphic novel genre an imaginative depiction of escapism, but her frequent allusions to other literary works help her to come to a better understanding of herself and her father Bruce.
  • Barbara Demick’s Nothing to Envy – what happens when there are no permitted outlets of escapism in everyday life or the society around you? Many of the defectors Demick interviewed began to harbour secret ‘inner’ thoughts and dreams in order to escape from the reality of the world around them.

Towards Assessment: HL Essay

Students submit an essay on one non-literary text or a collection of non-literary texts by one same author, or a literary text or work studied during the course. The essay must be 1,200-1,500 words in length. (20 marks).††

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 are 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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