Essays, Analyses and Meditations


Back to my essays | Back to the Philosophy pages | Author

History of Advertising

  • The history of advertising is usually perceived and presented as a history of media used to advertise; but the real story is instead in the "places" where advertising was done
  • Originally, it was in physical places such as roads, whether on buildings or on special "billboards"
  • As they spread, magazines and newspapers became the next place for advertising
  • Eventually someone realizes that you could make a magazine that is only made of advertising: the Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward mail-order catalogues
  • The first radio commercial aired on WEAF (owned by AT&T) in august 1922
  • The business plan for radio programming rapidly shifted from selling radio boxes to selling advertising time
  • Television simply adopted the same model. These media that were adding sound and image to the text of the newspapers/magazines simply allowed for more sophisticated ads, but the general idea remained the same: place an ad "where" there is "traffic" and charge it accordingly.
  • Advertising enabled the birth of independent radio and television stations
  • Advertising has now entered the world of computing: computers are rapidly becoming tools to push ads into the everyday life of every person connected to the Web.
  • Computers are a lot more powerful than newspapers, radios and tv sets: they can tailor information instead of simply displaying the same information everywhere, and they can also acquire information.
  • Advertising has de facto become one of the most powerful engines of progress: a technology progresses more rapidly if it lends itself to advertising.
  • Search engines and social media may have been invented for a different purpose but the reason that they persisted and evolved lies in advertising revenues.
  • Because advertising represents an ever increasing factor of the economy, it continues to be refined: it used to be a generic ad for every listener, now it is being customized for each "listener"
  • Therefore an increasing factor of the economy consists in technologies to spy on people, understand their personality, target ads based on their habits and personality
  • Note that this giant advertising machine does not build anything of any usefulness. It is not like a factory or an agricultural field, and not even like the expert's review published in a professional magazine: it creates no goods, it provides no information (other than the availability of the good).