The Advertising expertise was needed at the turn of the century to promote Brands. That’s when it all started circa 1900.
‘Advertising businesses’ (as they were known) had in fact sprung up to act as middlemen between the advertiser and the newspapers in the late 1700’s and 1800’s. Albeit limited, because advertising activity was low, but some Advertising businesses had existed.
In fact, the Advertising business model was to pre-buy space in newspapers in bulk and sell it on to advertisers at a profit. A really important point in today’s world.
These were, what we would term today ‘Media Agencies’ and as early as 1786, with what is often called ‘the first Ad Agency’ was opened in London by William Taylor. It subsequently opened in the US in 1840.
In fact, Taylors was not an ‘Agency’ at all, but rather a wholesale media seller, almost like an office for direct newspaper advertising executives currently residing in newspaper ad departments. A go-between.
Because too of the continual growth of newspapers, a raft of ‘Advertising’ Media businesses opened after William Taylors.
Whites opened in 1800, Palmers in the US in 1850 and George Reynell opened in 1812. George Reynell had been an executive with ‘The London Gazette’ newspaper.
In 1869 came Ayers, which became most well-known, which opened in the US.
So, it was through the 1800’s that Advertising companies as such, came into being because they had a medium, newspapers, to sell Ads in. The fact that they existed in a small way, pre and during The Industrial Revolution, put them in a place that they were ready for it, just as brands emerged at the turn of the century.
They had existed of sorts, but now found themselves in the right time, right place, as brands came into being.
It is crucial to understand that these early Advertising businesses bought bulk advertising space in Newspapers (being largely the only media available at the time) and resold them on to Advertisers at a profit. ‘Media Brokering’.
So, they were not ‘Agencies’ or ‘Agents’ as we understand it today, of the newspapers, but rather newspaper brokering wholesalers. They did not produce ‘Ads’ or creative work. They would simply buy the space in advance and then try and sell it on to Advertisers who wanted to advertise, at a margin. A straightforward proposition but an important one to understand as to where Agencies came from and how they started. And, where they are today.
It was not the creation of Ads that started Advertising businesses, it was as Media sellers.
They weren’t appointed ‘Agencies’ or Agents by Media Owners until later and so could simply buy and sell media space at will. Importantly too, Advertisers understood that model.
Advertisers were happy with the convenience of dealing with these middlemen who knew the newspaper market and Newspaper owners welcomed these Advertising salesmen, so that they could get on with their day job, producing newspapers.
It was a win-win.
But by pre-buying media space and selling it on, these Advertising businesses were not in a position to offer impartial media advice, nor did they pretend to. Rather, they were trying to turn a profit through the sale of newspaper space.
Most of the advertising at the time, was simple newspaper text. They were not interested in creativity, and it had not been an issue for advertisers.
The rigid page layouts of the newspapers didn’t allow for ‘creativity’ anyway.
However, it soon emerged that through this new introduction of mass brands circa 1900, which had something to say, to advertise, that the Advertisers needed other services such as creating ads, to help them to buy that newspaper space.
Or more importantly, to help these Advertising businesses sell their newspaper space.
This would all mushroom later as brands developed as we will see.
In effect, to place an Ad in a Newspaper, you had to have an Ad – and so these new Advertising companies had to start to provide other services in order to sell their media space. They had to design Ads to sell the space.
But that was more, at the time, about writing text rather than ‘design’ – copywriting was at the core – as the ‘design’ options were limited.
It was a ‘necessary evil’ for these Advertising businesses to provide these copywriting services in a way, nothing more.
In 1836, a French media publisher of ‘Le Presse’ became the first publisher to depend on Advertising income to lower the cost of the newspaper for readers. Of course, a floodgate of quackery and Ads for ‘traditional cures’ (snake oil) appeared.
Pears Soap we have mentioned, the gentle soap brand based on glycerine, developed in 1807 in Oxford Street London, which was acquired by Lever Brothers (now Unilever) in 1917, produced their first Marketing Campaign called ‘You dirty boy!’
In 1878 they produced coherent, innovative outdoor advertising using illustrations, which appeared too under the slogan, “Good Morning. Have you used Pears Soap today?” and which remains iconic today. Lillie Langtry, the then infamous actress, became an early Pears Soap endorsement. What today, we would call an Influencer. And outdoor posters also started to appear. It was the start of ‘sex appeal’ (although nudity appeared much later, in 1936 for another soap brand, Woodbury with a naked woman in a bath under the headline “The Sun Bath”).
By 1893, 104 companies spent over $50,000 each on Advertising their products and notably, Quaker Oats, The American Tobacco Company, Remington typewriters and Procter & Gamble Soap. Tobacco, Automotive, Food and Cosmetics were the big sectors.
Obviously exactly replicating the mechanisation of society as the Industrial Revolution rumbled on.
Ad design too in a way, had started as a small notional idea mid-century but the concept became more widely known.
Whilst it was all about copywriting text, only in newspapers, some early attempts were made to distinguish a press Ad by having it produced differently on the page.
The first to do that is often quoted as Matthew Brady.
In 1856, Mathew Brady, an award winner at The Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851, was a photographer.
Photo imagery had started actually by Wedgwood using chemicals but in 1825, Niepce in Paris had created the first permanent camera using a wooden box and Giroux produced the first commercial camera in 1839. Eastman had produced film for cameras in 1888 under the brand ‘Kodak’.
So Brady, the son of Irish immigrants and who claimed to be born in Ireland, created what is considered to be, the first “creative” Ad in The New York Herald to sell his new photographic portraits. Brady opened a photography studio in 1844 off Broadway in New York and created famous Civil War photo portraits of Grant, Adams, Lincoln, Custer, Lee, Jackson, Sherman, and many others.
In fact, his portrait of Lincoln was the last portrait some weeks before Lincoln’s assassination. It is the one you still see most often to this day.
So, Brady’s ‘Ad’ was an attempt to encourage sales of his photographs but what made it interesting, is that it was created using different typefaces and fonts that stood out from the newspaper page. A new ‘creative’ ad idea then. He also tried to attract young soldiers to have their photos taken under the headline, ‘You cannot tell how soon it may be, too late’.
Interestingly, Brady died penniless in 1896 from a ‘streetcar accident’ but his new ‘Ad’ style got attention in 1856, as he was trying something different to get his Ad seen. His Ad therefore, had started the notion that newspaper advertising could ‘stand out’ from the page and could be in some way, different.
The Advertising businesses, now started to pivot away from not just being media brokers but rather to start designing Ads to sell, their media space.
Notably The NW Ayer Agency which had started in Philadelphia in 1869, which calls itself the oldest American Agency. It came to the fore in originally representing and selling space in religious weekly newspapers but in 1884, started into ‘advertising’ proper. Designing Ads.
Famous years later for campaigns like “A million voices” for AT&T in 1906, “I’d walk a mile for a camel” for RJ Reynolds in 1921, “A diamond is forever” for DeBeers in 1947, Ayers developed artists to work in ‘creative teams’. But the focus was to design Ads to sell space, not just to produce Ads. The money was in the media, not in creative design.
In 1864 James Carlton opened an Agency (‘Carlton & Smith’) again selling space in the religious publishing market and was described then by The New York Times as a “Newspaper space brokerage”.
They appointed in 1868, a former Civil War US marine (who served on the USS Saratoga), as salesman/bookkeeper. Interesting to note, he was an accountant. A James Thompson, born in Massachusetts in 1868.
In turn, James became their best salesman and bought the Agency in 1877 for $500, renaming it, The ‘James Walter Thompson Company’ because he felt the name ‘James Thompson’ was too common to stand out, so he added ‘Walter’ – an Adman to his fingertips – and an Agency that remains today as JWT.
Again, these Advertising businesses were fundamentally in the business of media wholesaling or brokering, but the world was changing, and as you will see from their 1903 house Ad, J Walter Thompson were focused on selling their copywriting skills. This was the essential skill in bringing brands onto the newsprint page in a different way, creating standout.
Copy was important because that was all they had to work with.
It’s interesting to note too that later from the 1950’s, Agency legends such as Bill Bernbach, Harry McCann (McCann Erikson), Raymond Rubicam (Y&R), Jay Chiat, David Abbott, Charles Saatchi, Ogilvy and Burnett, were themselves, all copywriters.
It was the craft of copy that developed first because they were working in the printed word – newspapers. The role of visualisation although a feature of later press Ads and came more to the fore in the 1930’s and especially after Television exploded in the 1950’s as a visual medium.
James Walter Thompson also realised that the creative services (creating Ads) would sell more media space and so he set about creating what we know today as a ‘Creative Department’ the first in the world.
By 1889 circa 80% of all-American Advertising went through the Thompson Company. An unbelievable feat, if true.
Advertising Agencies always overestimate their turnovers, even to this day.
Thompson is also consequently credited as the ‘father’ of advertising by some and opened his London Agency in 1899, the first American Agency to do so. In 1900 JWT developed a ‘trademark’ strategy, which we now know as a legal ‘brand’ and ‘brand management’. Thompson sold the company in 1916 for $500,000 and went back to his navy love of sailing, becoming Commodore of The New York Yacht Club. He died in 1928.
Although often still seen as the quintessential ‘English’ Agency, in fact JWT was an American Agency and the first to expand internationally into places like Asia, South Africa and Egypt but notably not France where American Agencies, and attitudes, were less ‘welcomed’. JWT deliberately “hid” its American roots when it opened in London in 1899, as Americans were seen as ‘brash’ and ‘dollar driven’ by even UK Advertisers. Indeed, as too in France particularly, which did not become part of that initial JWT expansion as a consequence.
JWT’s subsequent global expansion was on the back of the expansion of its Client too, General Motors, as its mass produced cars became popular globally. A typical effect of The Industrial Revolution bringing new export markets for products and the Advertising businesses followed them. Ford had the same effect on the expansion of its Agency, Ayers, too in the 1930s.
‘Mass marketing’ had led to export markets and Advertising businesses wanted an office in those export countries to support their Client’s needs. It was Agency globalisation driven by their Client needs.
In other words, Agencies opened their doors in countries where their Clients needed them to be, because of their Clients export markets. Whereas, in the 1980’s, Agency expansion overseas was driven not by Client’s needs, but by Agency expansion for themselves as they opened in virgin territories in a quest to become just ‘big’.
Other Agencies opened their doors at the turn of the century.
McCann’s was founded in New York in 1902 and introduced their credo, ‘Truth Well Told’ in 1912. They merged in 1930 to become McCann Erikson. Famous later for Coca-Cola campaigns “it’s the real thing” and the 1971 “I’d like to buy the world a coke” hilltop campaign (which in this writer’s view, is the greatest Ad campaign of all time).
So too, 1964’s Esso campaign, ‘Put a tiger in your tank’ and in 1973 L’Oreal’s “Because I’m worth it”. In 1927 they opened in Paris, Berlin and London.
So, by the turn of the century, these new Advertising services were developing and included consumer research, strategic planning, creativity in designing Ads and the consequent Client service to look after the Advertiser needs.
Loosely developing what is called ‘Marketing’ and providing that service to Advertisers so Advertisers did not need their own ‘Marketing Department’. These Advertising companies had now developed from pure Media Brokering (buying media space in bulk and selling it on to Advertisers) to more sophisticated Advertising creative models. Ideally placed therefore, to help build brands both in creative terms and through their tradition of media brokering, as brands emerged in 1900.
Perfectly placed to help these new brands.
Brands had already differentiated themselves through logos and packaging but now they needed to differentiate themselves through their Advertising. And these Advertising Media brokering companies, who had started to develop creative services, were well placed to do it.
But the Advertising companies core desire was always to sell more media, albeit in newspapers and magazines, as these were the only media options at the time. The limitations of media choices, limits advertising too.
But that was about to explode.
The opportunity for Advertising businesses to make more media money, through selling more media to Clients, came as media development and invention, surged. Advertising businesses needed brands to advertise, but they also needed media to advertise in, to spend the Clients money.
What we had by the turn of the century, was a blossoming new era of mass produced and branded products with companies like Kellogg’s, Ford, Tobacco and Soap/Cosmetics brands, with the need to increase sales following the Industrial Revolution.
What we had too, albeit in their infancy, was some semblance of an Advertising business ecosystem. Having developed to a degree, into more ‘creative’ models in order to sell more media space (as James Thompson had done) they had created a market.
But what also critically needs to be seen is this new momentum for innovation and invention, that had created the 19th century Industrial Revolution. It was an era steeped in innovation.
Underscoring it all, was an atmosphere of creation and building better processes. Imagination and new thinking.
A widespread strive to create new things and new ways of doing things better, was very much the order of the day. It was a time to challenge the old order, the old world thinking and media business would prove to be no different.
Advertising businesses couldn’t move much beyond their early roots without a new introduction of mass media to promote the new mass- produced products and of course, the brands.
And in turn, mass media would need Advertising income to survive – so one pushed the other.
So consequently, to develop new media advertising opportunities, they turned their attention firstly, to Radio.
It is only in 1950’s that we see Ad Agencies properly emerge – The Madmen.