Every editor longs for such a perfect world, one shielded from the clamorous demands of commerce. Imagine: no powerful advertisers who might pull their ads if displeased by an editorial, no imperious publishers who drive revenue by cutting newsroom staff, no fighting to get your great investigative story three full pages in the Sunday paper — what a wonderful world it could be!
That will never happen, and it’s just as well. Newspapers, magazines and advertisers have been in bed together longer than the immortal couples in vampire movies, and are just as perfectly matched.
The first newspaper advertisement appeared in the Boston News-Letter in 1704. It was a real estate ad from a gentleman seeking a buyer for an estate in Oyster Bay, Long Island. By 1729, when Benjamin Franklin took over the year-old Pennsylvania Gazette in Philadelphia, much of the publication was devoted to advertisements.
The division between classified and display ads was already apparent, as merchants and business owners often included artwork, while individuals seeking to recapture indentured servants (“Mary Heaney, an Irish Girl, short and thick”) or teach obscure arts (“John Ormby, lately arrived from London, teaches fencing with foils and dancing”) chose simple line ads.
Throughout the 1700s, hundreds of newspapers chronicled Colonial America, the revolution and the birth of the United States — and thousands of publications have continued their work ever since. None would have existed without advertisements.
It’s a rich and remarkable partnership, which has evolved and changed over the centuries.
Advertisements began as straightforward requests to buy or sell. They evolved into showy braggadocio, as patent medicine vendors (“Professor Modevi’s Beard Generator”), real estate promoters, asbestos coffin makers, draymen, tobacco merchants (“Joy’s cigarettes for asthma and bronchitis”) and businesses of every description sought customers.
Consumer market explodes
In the 20th century, advertisers became far cannier as companies reached out to national consumer markets. They quickly understood that they weren’t just selling products — they were selling health, vigor, success and happiness.
Advertisements in the Nov. 11, 1940 issue of Life Magazine contrast jarringly with the magazine’s content. Franklin D. Roosevelt had been elected to a third term five days before, while Nazi Germany triumphantly celebrated the conquest of Europe. The magazine reported that the Rome/Berlin/Tokyo axis had decreed that Germany and Italy would control Europe, Japan would get Asia, and the United States would be left alone in the Americas “pending good behavior.” The photographs accompanying the story are disturbing: Hitler, Mussolini and Von Ribbentrop, then absolute rulers of 300 million people, preening and posturing in the Reich Chancellery.
But the ads in the 136-page issue of Life are lighthearted and sunny.
“A General Motors Masterpiece,” the 1941 Pontiac Streamliner Torpedo Six sedan coupe will give you restful comfort and driving ease for $923.
If you want a boat, how about a speedy little Chris-Craft runabout for $805?
If you’re worried about bad breath, Listerine, Pepsodent and Colgate are ready to help.
Zenith’s Universal Recorder will allow you to make your own records — record your voice and play it back instantly!
DeBeers will sell you a three-carat diamond for $1,500, and the Canned Pea Marketing Institute brought you a full-page color ad for … canned peas, “the sweetheart of the meal.” The Pan American coffee producers would like to remind you that coffee “sharpens the mind, improves reason and judgment and self-control, physical strength and accuracy of movements. These facts are all found in medical literature.”
And speaking of facts, light up a Lucky Strike (“it’s toasted”) and take the Budweiser test: “Drink Budweiser for five days. On the sixth day try to drink a sweet beer. You will want Budweiser’s flavor thereafter.”
The ads strengthen and reinforce each other. The Great Depression was over and a prosperous middle class had re-emerged. Life, acquired and reimagined by Henry Luce in 1936, had a circulation of 2.86 million in 1940. By the late 1940s it claimed more than 13 million readers, not to mention hundreds of loyal advertisers.
Pent-up consumer demand after the end of World War II helped create a golden age for newspapers and magazines. The September 1949 issue of Fortune (also a Luce creation) was a 190-page, 13-inch x 10-inch behemoth with well more than 100 pages of advertising. The editorial content is interesting, but the advertising is remarkable. Pages 57-58 were claimed by CBS Television and featured a panoramic view of Manhattan with TV antennas in the foreground.
“It is now tomorrow,” the ad copy began. “Look closely at your new horizon. These are not the shapes of things to come, but of things already here.”
Brave words, given that two years earlier there were only 44,000 TV sets in the country with 30,000 in New York City. But the copywriters weren’t finished.
“Television is creating new patterns in the basic habits of Americans,” they continued, “changing the way they work and play; the way they think and talk, and buy and sell.”
Prescient words indeed.
Fortune’s pages are crowded with B-to-B ads, businesses selling to other businesses. Advertisers included such then-iconic firms as Combustion Engineering, Pittsburg Paints, American Export Lines and Union Carbide. But the most interesting are those in a 12-page spread of advertisements about advertising.
This portfolio of house ads ran simultaneously in all three Luce publications (Time, Life and Fortune) to “explain to their millions of readers the role of advertising in the U.S. economy. Using food, clothing, drugs, house furnishings and household appliances as examples, they tell how advertising creates the demand which puts mass production to work to boost quality and lower prices in a free competitive market.”
The dance never ends
The 1893, 208-page “boudoir edition” of the Colorado Springs Blue Book included at least 100 pages of advertising. Livery stables, dry cleaners, grocers, florists, druggists, saddle makers, bakers, silversmiths and scores of other businesses joined the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad on its pages, an impressive roster for a city of 20,000 souls. And the Blue Book had lots of competition — two daily newspapers, several weeklies, and an array of specialty publications.
Today, 122 years later, two of the Blue Book’s advertisers are still in business: the Oxford Hotel and the Colorado Springs Gazette.
Eighty years later, advertisers and publishers were still moving forward together.
The June 16, 1974 edition of the Colorado Springs Sun, one of the city’s two daily newspapers at the time, featured large display ads from downtown department store May D&F, Sterling Furniture, Denver mattress vendor World of Sleep, Weberg Furniture and Kmart, among many others. Page upon page of classified ads must have fattened the paper’s bottom line (Craigslist? Craig hadn’t been born), while smaller display ads invited moviegoers to see The Sting, the Exorcist, or the xx-rated Sex and the Single Vampire. A full-sized broadsheet, the paper contained 44 pages, not including “Silhouette,” a Sunday supplement that featured “Sex on the CC campus — a student survey.”
The first issue of the Business Journal was published on April 1, 1989. Advertising manager Roger Powell managed to put together a respectable 20-page paper with Central Bank taking the inside front cover and Cheyenne Mountain Conference Resort on the back page. Other advertisers included Griffis/Blessing, Chase Manhattan, Rosenbaum/Dean, Rutledge’s and Craddock Development.
Making a difference
Twenty-six years later, CSBJ’s March 6 edition ran 32 pages, almost all in color. Advertisers included BBVA Compass, Colorado Business Bank, Kaiser Permanente, Comcast, Freedom Financial Services and Red Noland Infiniti, among many others. We try to put out a useful and interesting publication, but we couldn’t do it without our advertisers.
And does print advertising work? Sure, and here’s proof.
Scanning that 1940 copy of Life, I noticed an ad featuring two housewives chatting over the picket fence, Mrs. Glum and Mrs. Glad.
“If we’re suffering from constipation, we all need a special kind of food called “bulk,” Mrs. Glad told Mrs. Glum. “You may not be getting all you need. If so eat Kellogg’s All-Bran …!”
Later that afternoon, picking up a few things at King Soopers, I found myself in the cereal aisle — and there it was! I’d been feeling a little glum, so I picked a box of Kellogg’s All-Bran.
A full 74 years after the ad was published, it pulled a sale. And yeah, I’m feeling better — call me Mr. Glad.