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The modern sense of advertising can be traced to its origins in late-sixteenth century attempts to establish information bureaus. Theophraste Renaudot established the Bureau d’adresse et de Rencontre in France in 1630 and published one of the first advertising newspapers. Similar offices and newspapers soon formed across Europe. By the 1750s, advertising newspapers proliferated in forms ranging from the state monopoly Intelligenzblatt in Prussia to the mixed economy of newspapers in England. The office function was superseded by the growing network of coffee houses. Coffee houses played a role in the development of financial institutions acting as travel agents, insurance agents, hotels and ‘conference centers.’ Their main connection, however, was to the press and advertising. The earliest coffee houses distributed newspapers and acted as reading rooms.
The advertising agency system developed from these early connections to coffee houses and newspapers. The first British advertising agency was Tayler and newton, established in 1786, followed by Whites in 1800 and in 1812 by Reynells, Lawson and Barker, and Deacons. Archive material shows agencies involved in the distribution of news and newspapers, political parliamentary correspondence, and advising on advertisement design and placement. Some agencies combined advertising trade with services such as bookselling, insurance, dentistry, and undertaking. By the early twentieth century, advertising agencies in a recognizable form dominated the institutional field, with agencies increasingly offering a range of services to clients or ‘accounts’ under the ‘fullservice agency’ model. Full-service was the term adopted by agencies which provided services including research and creative design, account management, and media space-buying. The fullservice model competed with agencies providing minimal service and offering low rates by ‘commission splitting’ or farming bulk-bought space. By the middle of the twentieth century, the advertising industry had largely settled into the full-service model.
Historians differ over the precise dates of the first printed advertisements. The word ‘advertisement’ appears in print in the sixteenth century and over press announcements in the seventeenth century. These were not really advertisements in the contemporary sense. Rather, the term was interchangeable with ‘announcement’ or ‘notice’. By the 1700s ‘advertisement’ was deployed in some newspapers to refer to particular types of advertisement while other newspapers completely refused paid content. Newspapers had a vested interest in accepting advertisements but this vied with reservations, best illustrated by the regulations imposed upon advertisers. The ‘agate-only’ rule, for example, stipulated that paid advertisements must use only small, classified typefaces. Advertisers used numerous techniques to circumvent these regulations for instance by using drop capitals, repetition, and acrostics to produce patterns. Instead of newspapers, broadsheets and posters were often used to create visual displays. Poetry, jokes, puzzles, rhythm, association, endorsement, and emotional blackmail were also used as persuasive devices. Samuel Johnson’s comment “the improper disposition of advertisements,” by which “the noblest objects may be so associated as to be made ridiculous,” reveals the long historical disapproval of such rhetorical excesses.
Throughout its history, advertising has used a range of media and technologies. From the 1830s, gas lanterns were used to illuminate posters and shops, by the 1870s, magic lanterns displayed animated messages. Advertisements were placed on walls, windows, bridges, public transport, trees, barns, and cliff-faces. Poster sites were unregulated and competition was fierce. Placard bearers were extensively used. Costumed men, women, and children carried boards or dressed up as the object advertised. There were also forgotten contraptions like ‘advertising vans.’ These mobile horse-drawn devices came in a variety of shapes: globes, pyramids and mosques, and were complemented by stationary advertising devices that stood in busy thoroughfares. The atmosphere was summed up in The Times in 1892 “advertisements are turning England into a sordid and disorderly spectacle from sea to sea … Fields and hillsides are being covered with unwonted crops of hoardings. The sky is defaced by unheavenly signs.” Through such means nineteenth-century advertising messages pervaded both public and private, urban and rural environments.
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