Advertising Age Essay

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Advertising  Age  (or  Ad  Age)  is  a  printed   and online   news   publication  for   the   advertising, marketing, and media industries.  It is the flagship publication of The Ad Age Group, Inc. Ad Age has considerable influence on the industry; it is recognized    as   the   leading   news   source   for marketing and media and is sometimes referred to as the industry  handbook or industry  bible. Launched  in 1930  as a weekly newspaper  by the publishing  company  Crain  Communications, Ad Age’s content  is now  also distributed on multiple electronic  platforms, including  a Web  site (, e-mail newsletters,  blogs, and podcasts.  Besides covering industry  events, trends, and professionals of medium-sized and large companies, Ad Age also publishes various rankings. These  include  not  only  yearly  rankings,  such  as the Agency A-List, the 100 Leading National Advertisers,  and  the  Annual  Agency Report,  but also    historical    rankings,    such    as   the    Top 20th  century  in advertising.

In 2014, Ad Age had a total circulation of more than  65,000 for  its magazine,  while  its Web  site received on average 1.2 million unique visitors monthly.   Its  audience   profile   includes   the   top 100  leading  national advertisers  and  the  leading 100 national advertising  agencies. Its readers rated Ad   Age   as   more   credible,   trustworthy,  and influential   than   Harvard   Business  Review,   The New  York  Times,  Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and other  similar  publications. Through the  pages  of Ad  Age,  industry   professionals  become  familiar with one another and their various companies  and organizations.

Like other magazines of its type, Ad Age makes money by selling space to other advertisers. Alongside its editorial content, readers will see advertisements  from  other  companies,   including other publications, trying to reach industry  professionals.  Placing an advertisement in Ad  Age typically costs tens of thousands of dollars;  the 2015 rate for one full-page color print  advertisement in Ad Age was just over $35,000.

History And Competition

In  1916,   G.  D.  Crain   Jr.  (1885–1973)  founded Crain Communications with two publications and three  people  on the staff. The company  launched Advertising Age as its third publication in January 1930.  The  magazine  initially  struggled  to  survive through the early days of the Great Depression  but continually gained  strength  as it received positive reviews from readers and advertisers  alike.

Rance Crain, G. D. Crain’s eldest son, began his own  career  as a reporter for Ad  Age. Rance  was named  a senior editor  of the publication in 1965, editorial   director   of  Crain   Communications  in 1971,  and  company  president  the  year  his father passed away in 1973. To date, he leads Ad Age as editor  in chief, writing  a biweekly column  for the publication.

As Ad Age grew, it displaced Printer’s Ink as the industry  bible.  Printer’s Ink  launched  in 1888  as the  first  national trade  magazine  for  advertising, but as its name suggests it focused on print media. When  advertising   expanded into  radio,  Ad  Age covered the change with balanced  reporting while Printer’s Ink  fought  with  self-interest  against  the expansion of broadcast media.  In 1972,  Printer’s Ink  had to close because of lack of advertising.

The Ad Age Group,  Inc., which  operates  as a subsidiary  of  Crain  Communications, also publishes Creativity. This sister publication features the  editors’  selections  of  new  and  exciting  ideas and   creative   work   across   the   advertising   and design  industries.  It  is more  popular specifically among advertising creatives who use it for inspiration. Creativity  opened  as a monthly  print magazine  in 1986  but has continued solely online ( after  its  last  printed issue  in  2009.   Editors’   picks   typically   include credits   for   the   showcased   work,   which   gives creative recruiters and industry headhunters opportunities  to   identify   the   individuals   who worked to produce otherwise anonymous advertisements.

Today, Ad Age’s primary  competitor is Adweek, which launched in 1978. The two publications and their various  digital offerings cover similar topics, although Adweek typically gives more attention to the  media  industry, popular culture,  and  creative work (which Ad Age leaves to its sister publication Creativity).  Adweek also  uses a more  casual  and irreverent  tone compared with Ad Age. The rivalry between   the   two   publications  is  not   only   for relevance but also for advertising  dollars.

Many  print  publications have  had  to adapt  to digital media, and Ad Age is no exception. In 2012, the  magazine  underwent a significant  redesign  as part   of  the  publication’s  efforts  to  orient   itself toward online readers. Rance and his senior executives acknowledged that  the publication’s primary focus  was  shifting  toward,  but  they assured reporters that the print format  was here to stay. The change  took  place 1 year after  the rival publication Adweek also redesigned  its print offering.


Because of its clout, Ad Age is a primary  source for many advertisers  seeking to evaluate worthy agencies. For instance, the marketing consultant William Weilbacher  recommends that marketers looking for an advertising agency refine their search to only those recognized  in Ad Age’s annual  lists.

Ad  Age  began  publishing  annual  estimates  of the total  billings for advertising  agencies in 1945. Whereas  billings had previously  been confidential, their  publication gave  advertising  practitioners a method  to  rank  themselves  against  one  another. Some industry leaders, including the famous adman Stanley Resor  of the  J. Walter  Thompson agency, criticized   these   annual   rankings,   arguing   that gross billings did not capture  the value of the services agencies could provide for their clients. Regardless, it remained a method used to rank agencies,  with  prestige  granted  to  whichever  are the “biggest” in terms of billings.

Besides billings,  Ad  Age  also  offers  an  annual Agency A-List, a  prestigious  award  for  agencies. Ad  Age’s panels  select A-List  agencies  based  on three criteria:  (1) the creativity  of their advertising work,  (2) success in winning  business pitches, and (3)  the  effectiveness  of  their  campaigns—that is, whether  they had  measurable results. Advertising textbooks often present agencies recognized on the A-List as prime case studies for students.

Furthermore, Ad Age’s critical reviews and editorial rankings  can greatly hurt or help advertising agencies and  their  relationships with  their  clients. Bob  Garfield,  as  author of  Ad  Age’s AdReview from  1985  to  2010,  was  blamed  for  ending  the agency N. W. Ayer’s $200 million relationship with the fast-food  chain  Burger King after  his scathing front-page review  of the  agency’s latest  work  for their   client.   The   former   advertising   columnist Randall  Rothenberg also  suggests  that  Garfield’s reviews  of Wieden+Kennedy’s  advertisements for Subaru—along  with   Ad   Age’s   proclamation  of Wieden+Kennedy as Agency of the Year in 1991— temporarily rescued an otherwise  rocky relationship.

Ad Age serves as a medium  of self-policing for the  industry, with  what  the  sociologist  Michael Schudson  describes  as a “generally  liberal,  ‘good government’  tone.”  In the 1960s  and later, articles and letters to the editor decried the sexist portrayal of women  in advertising.  In 1992,  Ad Age ran  an article reporting the severe underrepresentation of African Americans  in the industry. Another  article explained  the importance of cause-oriented marketing by arguing  that “companies do well by doing   good.”   Editorials   in  the  late  1960s   also called out  the tobacco  industry  as morally  bereft, particularly after  it recognized  the  Federal  Trade Commission’s  rulings  on tobacco  advertising  as a legal  disaster  for  the  entire  advertising   industry. The   magazine’s   distrust   of   tobacco   remained evident   into   the   2000s,   when   it  criticized   the tobacco company Philip Morris’s practices of distributing branded textbook covers in schools.

Ad Age influences not only marketing professionals but also advertising scholars. Because of its extensive archives dating back to its founding in 1930  and  the  various  reports  and  rankings  it produces, the publication is often cited in academic accounts  about  the advertising  industry. Drawing on its own archives, The Ad Age Group,  Inc. itself published  The Advertising Age Encyclopedia of Advertising  in  2003.  In  the  introduction to  the three-volume set, the editors note that  the archives of Advertising Age offer one of the best records on the advertising  industry.


  1. Fox, Stephen. The Mirror Makers: A History of American Advertising and Its Creators. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1997.
  2. McDonough, John and Karen Egolf, eds. The Advertising Age Encyclopedia of Advertising. New York: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2003.
  3. Moriarty, Sandra, Nancy  Mitchell,  and William D. Wells. Advertising & IMC: Principles and Practice, 9th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2012.
  4. Rothenberg, Randall. Where the Suckers Moon: The Life and Death  of an Advertising Campaign.  New York: Vintage, 1995.
  5. Schudon, Michael. Advertising, the Uneasy Persuasion: Its Dubious Impact  on American  New York: Basic Books, 1984.
  6. Tungate,   Adland: A Global  History  of Advertising. Philadelphia, PA: Kogan Page, 2007.
  7. Weilbacher, William M. Choosing  and Working With Your Advertising Agency. Lincolnwood, IL: NTC Business Books, 1991.

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