but not Advertising itself . . .

I watched some TV this week and like most people, I paused the TV and went to make myself a coffee during the adverts.   I often record a programme so I can watch it all the way through skipping ad breaks and recaps whilst still remembering the content and mood of the thing before it deflates in my mind.  Since I was young (long ago) the reach and extent of advertising has mushroomed.  I never expected to find adverts in my child’s school book-bag, for example!

It wasn’t always like this and yet advertising in some shape or form has existed for thousands of years.  Of course, it is completely unnecessary in small communities you can simply ask face-to-face or find what you need via a close friend or relative.  Word of mouth is still the most effective form of advertising; after all, what could be better than a trusted friend telling you something is good?   The rise of large populations and cities meant that sellers could reach buyers with no personal knowledge of them and hence the first adverts on clay tablets in ancient Babylon from 3000 BC.

It was, however, the onset of printing that gave advertising its biggest boost.   Tracts were common in the seventeenth century and the line between informing and advertising or spin began to blur.   By the nineteenth century adverts were well-established but they often made extraordinary claims.

In a landmark case for advertising and law in 1892, a Mrs Carlill sued the Carbolic Smoke Ball company for breach of contract.  The company advertised that if you took the product correctly you would be guaranteed not to contract flu (amongst other things) and that it would pay anyone who succumbed to the illness £100.  Mrs Carlill, needless to say, took the product correctly, caught flu and claimed her £100.  The company argued that their claims had been sales puff, and that it was not a proper contract.  The judges ruled in her favour and now advertisers everywhere need to take care of claims they make concerning their products.  Disclaimers are often found at the foot of adverts for this reason and adverts needed to be more subtle in their approach.

 Adverts work on various levels and companies do employ psychologists.  Many are inspirational; if only you eat this chocolate bar, you will feel like a beautiful woman riding a white horse on the beach.   They’ll try to establish intimacy with a well-loved personality, harping back to the old days of a friend’s recommendation.  They might try to make you feel guilty or anxious; your house will be full of germs if you don’t buy an expensive brand of disinfectant.  Adverts might make you feel that you can accomplish something impressive with the product, your cakes will rise higher if you use the right eggs, for example (although care is taken not to guarantee anything!).

It goes on. Subtle advertising goes on even in films and in news stories that `announce the launch of …’ or say a celebrity has `revealed’ something (bearing in mind that celebrities are now industries of their own).

Old Ad of Pears Soap

Recently, there have been concerns.  One issue is that adverts target those that are most vulnerable, the very elderly or children, for instance and some countries have tried to ban advertising aimed at children.  Advertising is so common these days that we are close to the Phillip Dick sci-fi worlds of advertising floating by your window day and night or the personally targeted adverts that follow you round such as you find in `Minority Report’.

The fact is, however, that adverts are an integral part of the modern world.  The price of newspapers would rocket without supporting adverts and most internet content would not exist.  A great deal of creative output relies on advertising revenue because it is hard to protect intellectual rights or make money from content.  Recently however, I did read an article about Keith Moor of Santander (a bank) who had doubts about advertising on a particular social media, `I was guaranteed 1.7 placements of the video…..There were 603,000 views but only 5 percent were all the way through.  And I was told by my agency that was good!  It’s not… is it?’   The problem is that some advertising is rather like vanity publishing, it is a business making money from clients who are not guaranteed sales revenue for their expenditure.  Often I don’t mind adverts but there are places I want to keep private and I am hostile to the product accordingly if sold there.

Perhaps, however, we will find now companies questioning the saturation in places that we do not want to see adverts, I hope so.