Advertising Through History

Ancient Times

Man’s desire to leave his own original mark or signature can easily be defined as a beginning of advertising. Ancient potter has a lot more to do with modern understanding of advertising than one could think. Placing an original painting on a piece of pottery was an important method of conquering the market in ancient times. Vase with recognizable scene from Greek mythology or Greek cultural life  asserts itself much more than a pottery filled with Greek oil or cosmetic product.

Products and “brands”

After all, painting that decorates the vase is a strong message that says that Greek products come from rich and culturally supreme land. Thus, by gaining this kind of reputation, certain Greek products would become well established “brands” in ancient world.

As it is well known, pieces of Greek pottery containing certain products were often used as luxurious gifts. Obviously, unique artistic signature on the packaging was important as the quality of the product. This phenomenon is not to be related exclusively to the Greek culture. That was common occurrence  in ancient Egypt, Roman Empire and China. Certain “brands” originating from these countries became a synonym for those products in general. This ancient “advertising” reveals to us its two most important aspects. These aspects can be interpreted in context of modern advertising.

Two aspects of modern advertising

First aspect concerns the representing of a general idea of well being of one country or nation. That is usually depicted through a cultural aspect of that nation. This aspect is the mostly responsible for the artistic qualities of “ancient packaging”. Some of the paintings on Greek vases are truly an outstanding works of art.

The second aspect has to do with the main aim of advertising, as we know it today. The main idea is representing the  product as something that can bring you a piece of a great well-being. The goal is to paint an outstanding society and send a message to a consumer. The message is: “You can also enjoy one fragment of our prosperity”

Simple, sharp and minimalist ad for Kobelco Shinkansen Buttet Train, Japan, 1992.

The Evolution

This goals didn’t change through history, they just evolved. But let’s be honest, they evolved to the extreme proportions. Big changes were made after 15th century when independent entrepreneurs started to struggle with growing competition. Many social aspects increased this role of marketing in economy. The most important one is enormous progress of capitalism. This brings us to a review of some of the first examples of modern advertising. Modern marketing begun much earlier than you might think. The first ad published in the American magazine dates from year 1742. This ad was published in Benjamin Franklin’s General Magazine. But, the first paid ad published in Boston newspaper dates from an early year of 1704.

Nature of modern advertising

Very different from its ancient roots, modern advertisement doesn’t depict the culture of nation. It rather concentrates on supremacy of a company. But, let’s just not yet declare that depiction of one nation is excluded from modern advertising. Better said, its included in a completely new way. The visual expression and style of an ad always remind a viewer of a general qualities that are usually related to one nation. Also, they can remind a viewer of that nation’s way of life. So, reputation of one society still plays a big role in global advertising.

The qualities that are usually associated to the whole nation can be successfully used for conquest of national market. You just need to use and claim them in the right way. Now we get to the role of art in modern advertisement. Ads can send strong messages, but only due to the keen eyes of its creators.

Corporate style design of the advertising brochure for Super Palatia, Germany, mid ’50.

Art in advertising

Just remember how much did the legacy of Bauhaus influence the design 20th century advertisement. The choice of coloring used in many 20th century ads could strongly remind us of those clean and simple contrast, celebrated in Bauhaus era. This vintage trend easily plays a trick with our knowledge of significant achievements of that period. thus evoking in us a sense of security in some product’s quality. Sharp design definitely is compatible with many industrial product’s purposes.

Unusual piece of advertisement that sheds some light on historical events that transpired in New Delhi, India in late 1954.

Due to its often connection to the visual arts, vintage advertisement became fairly popular collectible. On the other hand, modern advertising offers more than a link to certain form of artistic expression. In the XIX century, Croatian chocolate factory “Rijeka” promoted a unique style of advertising their product.

Elefant Cacao, advertising leaflet, Rijeka end of XIX c.

Drawings and images

This factory was one of the first companies in the world that made this move in their marketing strategy. Not just that, this factory used very original colored drawings for their ads. They made drawings of exotic animals or women and children enjoying their chocolate bars. So, there is even something that we can learn about XIX century society through their marketing. It looks like the general opinion of the time was that chocolate is a product for exotic and gentle enjoyment for the gentle sex. On the other hand, Marlboro ads used to depict a strong, muscular men. So, ads don’t just compete for attention on global or national market, but also for attention between different age groups or sex.

I hope you have enjoyed reading. Stay tuned for more articles.

Images from listings at Sigedon Books and Antiques store.
Elefant Cacao advertising leaflet image taken from

Miloš Stanković
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