L’HISTOIRE DES PUBLICITE’ (The Story of Advertising)

L’HISTOIRE DES PUBLICITE’ (The Story of Advertising)

November 1, 2011 Off By Tinam Borah

The urge to advertise has been a part of human nature since ancient times. The story of advertising has evolved immensely since then. When the barter system was in practice, people in feudal or tribal societies used to produce goods for themselves or for their neighbours whose needs they were aware of. Each man with something to sell was his own advertiser.

It is believed that long, long ago, in ancient Greece, the art of advertising started for the first time when important pieces of news needed to spread among the people. That was when town criers were hired particularly to go around spreading the information and making advertisements in the streets of Athens by shouting or by beating a drum. Even in ancient India, the earliest form of advertising was by the means of town criers.

There goes a story about how a ruler of a small kingdom fell sick and was advised to drink the milk of different buffaloes everyday for hundred days at a stretch. He arranged for a town crier to spread the news to the people. Fifty people came up to sell their buffaloes to the king in the next few days. But, those were the only buffaloes in the kingdom. Thus, the king had to think of other ways to advertise for the rest of the buffaloes. He then adopted other means like putting up signs and notices in the neighbouring kingdoms. But, he got no response from people. Then, someone gave him the idea to offer a reward to anyone who would come up with the required number of buffaloes. Thus, he revised his advertisements and offered a thousand gold coins for each buffalo. Within three days, another fifty buffaloes were in the king’s possession. This was one of the most effective, ancient forms of advertisements.

Even before that, in ancient Egypt, papyrus was used to make advertisements and display messages. Archeologists have discovered signs, campaign messages and lost and found advertisements in the ruins of Pompeii, Rome, ancient Greek and ancient Arabia.

Advertisements were also displayed on rocks and walls. In fact, outdoor advertising was one of the oldest forms of advertising.  In early days, when most of the people in the society could not read and write, the craftsmen and builders used to mark their products with a symbol of it, so that buyers could identify their goods with the help of the symbol or trademark. For example, a cobbler would put up a sign or an image of a shoe outside his shop. These symbols led to the idea of brand logo that every product or service possess nowadays.

The printing press, with movable type was invented in the year 1441. Then came the first print advertisements which appeared nearly forty years after the invention of the typewriter. William Caxton of London printed the first advertisement which was a handbill of rules and regulations for the guidance of clergy at Easter and was put on the church doors. The first ad to be printed in a circulated sheet appeared in German news Pamphlet in about 1525. The ad praised the virtues of a mysterious drug.

In the 17th century, many advertisements started appearing in English daily newspapers, most of which promoted books and journals. In June, 1836, French newspaper La Presse became the first to include paid advertisements in its pages.

Weekly newspapers started to be circulated from the middle of the 17th century, where most of the advertisements were in the form of announcements. In America, the first ad appeared in the Boston Newsletter offering a reward for the capture of the thief. The first ad offering coffee appeared in a newspaper in 1624, which was followed by an offering of chocolate in 1657 and tea in 1658.


In 1886, Coca-cola was invented in Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. John S. Pemberton penned the name Coca-cola in the free hand, which continues to be used as its logo even today.

The Industrial revolution changed the face of advertising to a great extent. The use of expensive machinery required production on a mass scale to break even and then make profits. Also, with similar products available, companies needed persuasive communication to create demand for particular brands. The need for distinct branding made advertising more widespread. The late 19th Century advertising witnessed magazines becoming an important advertising medium.

In the 19th century, the first advertising agent turned out to be Volney B Palmer, who established an office at Philadelphia, and worked as an agent for about 1400 newspapers. Palmer bought large amounts of space in various newspapers at a discounted rate then resold the space at higher rates to advertisers.

The first half of the 20th century can be said to be the age of science. Advertisements had advanced from just print media to various electronic media such as radio, cinema and television. By the 1930s, manufacturers started changing their strategies from mass production to producing goods that customers needed. A number of research organizations and ad agencies were formed around this time. One of the earliest ads of this period was that of Lifebuoy, which became very popular. The 1950s saw interesting conceptual developments in advertising like the concept of unique selling proposition (USP) and brand image.

The 1960s and 70s were considered the creative era in advertising. The 1960s saw the resurgence of art, inspiration and intuitional advertising. Leo Burnett, David Ogilvy and William Bernback were the three creative geniuses of the era. The period from 1970s to 1990s on the other hand, saw the effects of the economic downturn which led to reduction of staff and pruning of expenditure on the part of advertising agencies. This period witnessed some very famous campaigns including ‘The ultimate driving machine’ (BMW), ‘Thank small’ (Toyota) and some memorable campaigns in the Indian context, like Pepsi (Yehi hain right choice baby).


Advertising has come a long way from the art of using sign language in the ancient times to the present, using explicit messages to sell a product. In short, the various advertising periods can be divided in to i)the personal selling era where people used to sell goods for goods, i.e, during the barter system was in presence… ii) the product era In which the manufacturers concentrated on how to manufacture products that attract the consumers, iii) the sales era where in the mode of is shifted information to persuasion and iv) consumer era where human behaviour were analysed.

Coming back to the present, a recent advertising innovation is ‘guerilla marketing’ which involve unusual approaches such as staged encounters in public places, giveaways of products such as cars that are covered with brand messages, and interactive advertising where the viewer can respond to become part of the advertising message. Guerrilla advertising is becoming increasing more popular with a lot of companies. This type of advertising is unpredictable and innovative, which causes consumers to buy the product or idea. This reflects an increasing trend of interactive and “embedded” ads, such as via product having consumers vote through text messages, and various innovations utilizing social networking site such as Facebook.

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