Resources – The Evolution of Print Advertising

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Advertising has existed for as long has humans have been trading with each other, from our earliest days, evident in archaeological artefacts found from all parts of the ancient world. In 1440, German Goldsmith Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, a mechanism that would allow merchants to duplicate advertisements for their wares. With the advent of mass production in the late 19th and 20th centuries, print advertising became the primary means for companies to communicate with consumers through newspapers, magazines, flyers, posters and billboards. Print advertising has always reflected and evolved in symmetry with societies’ cultures and technological advancements. This post brings together 22 examples, laid out chronologically, representing the creative and technical development of print advertising throughout its history.
1. Advertisement for a Microscope Demonstration (John Cuff, c.1760)

After the development of the printing press, advertisements began appearing in weekly newspapers and periodical journals in England, notably during the 17th and 18th centuries. These adverts often promoted the publishers’ other productions, declared new medicines, or reported the discoveries and inventions of the Enlightenment era. This advert from the 1760s announces a demonstration of a microscope by John Cuff and his collection of ‘Objects, Insects and Animalcula.’

2. Edo Period Japanese Print Advertisement (1806)

Japanese printmakers pioneered woodblock printing during the Edo period, as an art form and as a method of advertising. This flyer from 1806 promotes Kinseitan, a type of traditional medicine.

3. Hoyt’s German Cologne (1880s)

In the second half of the 19th Century, trade cards became a popular means of advertising goods. The cards could be given out in towns and cities, distributed by shops and businessmen, or shared in social circles. Scented cards were used to promote perfumes, such as this example from the 1880s advertising Hoyt’s German Cologne.

4. Cadbury’s Cocoa (1896)

The first newspaper to sell advertising space on its pages was the French publication La Presse, in 1836. The move allowed the paper to be sold more cheaply, thus increasing readership and profitability. Newspapers and magazines around the world soon copied this commercial strategy. The advert above for Cadbury’s Cocoa appeared in an 1896 edition of The Illustrated London News. The paper was famous for covering military and scientific adventures, and the image of Arctic explorers enjoying a warming cup of cocoa would have appealed to the readers’ imagination and aspirations.

5. Coca-Cola (1914)

From its inception Coca-Cola has maintained a strong brand image with instantly recognizable graphics, red and white colour scheme and distinctive logo. The period at the start of the 20th Century before the outbreak of the First World War was, in many ways, a time of optimism; the hope, youthfulness and style of the times are reflected in the graphics of this 1914 advert.

6. Oxo (1914-1918)

This poster by artist Frank Dadd promoted Oxo during the First World War, appealing to the public’s sense of patriotism and almost suggesting that it was a duty to send stock cubes to soldiers fighting on the front.

7. Holeproof Hosiery (1922)

The ‘Roaring Twenties’ were a time of social and cultural dynamism, the era in which the ‘flapper’ redefined modern womanhood, and the Art Deco style reached its pinnacle. All these elements were reflected in the print design of the decade, such as this American ad for Holeproof Hosiery.

8. Blaupunkt Radio (c.1930)

Art Deco continued to be a major style of graphic design into the 1930s, such as this brightly coloured and sharply designed ad for Blaupunkt Radio.

9. Stetson (1943)

During the Second World War, companies marketed themselves as patriotic and in service of the war effort. This ad for Stetson hats promotes the launch of a new design while carrying advice about careless talk.

10. English Electric (1953)

As Britain recovered from the war, a new optimistic world, aided by new technological advances, was represented in the cheerfully reassuring advertising graphics of the times.

11. Philco Portable Television (1957)

In the 1950s, consumerism boomed in the United States, with suburban families competing to acquire the latest developments in home entertainment. This advert is typical of the era, with images demonstrating the portable TV’s functions, and a block of text explaining some of the product’s details.

12. Career Club Shirts (1967)

The style of the Swinging Sixties was reflected in the advertising graphics of the time, with bold colours and ‘hip’ language in the tag lines, such as this example for Career Club Shirts.

13. Olivetti (1969)

This advertisement for the Olivetti Lettera 32 typewriter is an example of the sublimely stylish commercial graphics made by Italian designers in the late sixties.

14. Chelsea National Bank (1971)

By the early seventies even banks were using psychedelic graphics in their advertising. This poster was designed by Peter Max, the German-American artist known for his cosmic art and album covers, for the Chelsea National Bank.

15. Triumph TR7 (1975)

This advert for the Triumph TR7 focuses on the car’s distinctive ‘wedge’ design, ‘The Shape of Things to Come’.

16. Commodore 64 (1983)

In the early 1980s, home computers were becoming more and more popular. Advertisers aimed to explain to consumers the differences in specifications of their products, or the differences in price, as in this example promoting the Commodore 64.

17. Versace (1988)

Fashion design in the eighties was often bold, brightly coloured and glamorously aspirational. In this ad from 1988, Swedish model Paulina Porizkova wears a dress by Gianni Versace, one of the leading fashion designers of the decade.

18. Pepsi (1990)

In the summer of 1990, Pepsi distributed a series of special ‘Cool Can’ designs as featured in this print ad.

19. Absolut (1996)

Absolut Vodka’s long-running ad campaign features the iconic shape of the spirit’s bottle and adapts it to seemingly endless settings and cultural references. This design from 1996 pays homage to the famous image of Marilyn Monroe from the film The Seven-Year Itch.

20. iPod (2001)

Apple’s launched the iPod media player in 2001 with an ad campaign that rapidly lent the brand a recognizable image. The designs feature dark silhouettes of dancing figures wearing the iPod’s distinctive white headphones.

21. Diesel (2007)

In the early years of the 21st Century, worries of climate change and ethical concerns resulted in many companies trying to emphasise their green credentials and the sustainability of their product by means of their advertising. This 2007 ad campaign for Diesel Jeans is more ambiguous with its message, with models making the most of environmental disaster and enjoying ‘Global Warming Ready’ clothing.

22. Nike (2009)

In contemporary print advertising designers are able to visualise almost infinite possibilities through digital image manipulation, but some of the best graphics return to basics to carry a commercial message. This advert was handmade by Nike Basketball League players using traditional screenprinting techniques. This unique image is one of 350 designs, of which no two are alike, a fine example of print advertising’s continuing evolution.

About the Author

Tom Walker writes and designs for a supplier of PhotoSmart inks, refills and toner who are based in the UK. For more of his writing on the arts and print media design, visit the CreativeCloud.