The History of Advertising

By Gabriella Corvese

Magazines bombarded readers with advertisements for a multitude of products, and Harper’s Weekly was no exception. As American mass production expanded in the 19th century, manufacturing companies needed to sell everything from soap to cocoa. Americans transitioned from customers of craftspeople to consumers of these products, with publications like Harper’s Weekly displaying the numerous — and slightly overwhelming — options for goods that eventually became “material representations of that transition.”

Strasser, Susan. Satisfaction Guaranteed. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Books, 1989. 5.

Harper’s Weekly, 1887

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Americans did not know their children needed Quaker Oats until Quaker Oats told them so. The emergence of consumer products in the early 20th century motivated advertisers to not only promote the product, but also to connect the product to new social and cultural needs. Though Quaker Oats are not exactly a basic human need, the advertisement presents them as an important and necessary part of a child’s growth.

Strasser, Susan. Satisfaction Guaranteed. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Books, 1989.

Newspaper, 1900

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According to Kellogg’s, there is no better indicator of a good mother than a happy child. As America grew modern after World War I, advertisements tried to emotionally connect with consumers in reaction to an overly complex and depersonalized society. Child satisfaction and presentable parenting meant buying products designed to please — in this case, those that snap, crackle and pop.

Marchand, Roland. Advertising the American Dream. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1985.


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Advertisements are for more than just consumer products, as seen in this World War II advertisement for American war bonds featuring a racist caricature of a Japanese soldier. Similar to prior advertisements, it appeals to the reader’s emotions, like propaganda that says “buy me and you will overcome the anxieties I have just reminded you about.” It aligns military success with buying war bonds through a simple message: to be a loyal American means being a consumer.

Schudson, Michael. Advertising, The Uneasy Persuasion. New York: Basic Books, 1984.


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Though this Coca-Cola advertisement describes very little about the product at hand, the bright, circular logo on the right makes it instantly recognizable as a Coke ad. Over time, American goods became recognized as brands, associating a symbol and name with psychological recollection of a good. Coca-Cola was one of the first truly noticeable brands, with a public identity and so prominent that all this ad needs is the word “yes.”

Danesi, Marcel. Brands. London: Routledge, 2006.

1946, downloaded December 15, 2013.

If being a member of the Pepsi generation means being alive, then being alive means purchasing Pepsi products. Advertising in the 1960s reflected the fun, free-spirited attitudes of the hippie counterculture — after all, it was a vast improvement from the bland and mechanical decade that came before.

Frank, Thomas. The Conquest of Cool. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1997.


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Christmas is no longer just a religious holiday — American advertising transformed it into an outlet for consumer culture. This 1984 advertisement proposes consuming Disney products and media as a way to spread Christmas cheer, essentially making the iconic cultural tradition of Christmas itself a day indicative of American consumption.

Schudson, Michael. Advertising, The Uneasy Persuasion. New York: Basic Books, 1984.

1984, downloaded December 15, 2013

The American beer brand Miller attempted to reach out to the Hispanic market, but in doing so, it perpetuated many of the stereotypes that run rampant in marketing to Hispanic people. The glamorous women are one of many Hispanic stereotypes that emerge from the “social hierarchies of daily life.” The beautiful, jewelry-clad women are more than images Miller uses to advertise their beer — they are repetitive cultural images largely present in the minds of white American advertisers and society.

Dávila, Arlene. Latinos, Inc. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2001.


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The Present and Future of Advertising

Advertising transcends borders and cultures — just take a look at this Nike commercial featuring animated NBA player Lebron James against Chinese goddesses. The capitalist and consumerist ways of American advertising are equally present in nations like the socialist China, albeit with some difficulties from contrasting cultures. In fact, this advertisement was banned in China since Lebron’s success against Chinese figures did not “uphold national dignity and interest.”

O’Barr, William M. “Advertising in China.” Advertising Educational Foundation.

Televsion commercial, 2004

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Seeing brands in television commercials is common, but the Vizio brand in this advertisement is not what stands out — rather, the question “Is this ad relevant to you?” and the options to swap or share the ad. Advertising in the digital age combats resistance to more traditional forms of advertising by employing interactivity and mass customization to “make a difference in attention or lead to a purchase.” In a digital age when internet users want content without the annoyance of advertising, making their ad experience interactive is certainly one way to catch their eye.

Turow, Joseph. Niche Envy: Marketing Discrimination in the Digital Age. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2008.

Internet commercial,, 2013. Downloaded December 14, 2013.