The History of England

from Celts through 20th century

Advertising in Britain

Category: Economy

In Britain, as opposed to America, businessmen have inherited a distrust of advertising and a feeling that, if what they make is good enough, there will be no need to boast about it. They have regarded advertising as a useful luxury, not an essential tool.

However many industries in Britain have been built on advertising and never forget it. Margarine, patent medicine, cigarettes or cosmetics were born into an age of posters, and the firms which make them, the Unilevers or Beechams, are dominated by “marketing men’’. It is the older industries which existed before posters or newspapers — like food, beer or coal — which resist advertising most strongly.

Where the ratio of advertising to cost is small, the effectiveness of advertisements is hard to judge: no one, for instance, knows whether “Drinka Pinta Milka Day’? makes more people drink milk. But with cold cures, detérgents: or hair-oil, the sales ebb and flow with advertising, and the -adman enters the heart of business. Often the adman not only provides the posters, television commercials and newspaper displays: he moves in to redesign the packaging, to analyse the market, to recommend on the strategy of selling and even — in some cases — suggests new kinds of products. Like bankers or management consultants, advertising men can act as a kind of sheepdog to a sleepy flock.

Often the advertising has a broader objective — a fostering of goodwill, a “projecting of a corporate image’’— to гse a favourite advertising expression. “Company advertisements’, SAYS: a significant pamphlet issued by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, “can influence the public to regard the company in a certain way: as forward-looking people with a vigorous policy of scientific research; as friendly helpful people with enough humanity to laugh at themselves; or as craftsmen in the English edradition to whom ‘automation’ and ‘assembly line’ are naughty words.’’

The growth of institutional advertising since the war marks an important trend, for it shows advertising trying to act as interpreter for the business corporations, and beginning in some fields, to usurp the role of journalism.

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