Have We Got a Deal for You!
From the earliest colonial times, newspapers have been the primary way for those with wares to sell to connect with buyers. Expanding to notices of lost and found articles, medicines, and other items, entrepreneurs and everyday folks wanting to get the word out could do so quickly, assured that a large group of readers would be able to see their ad.
According to the Massachusetts Historical Society, the first American advertisement was in 1704, when a real estate ad appeared in the Boston Ledger just two weeks after the paper launched.
Some ads, such as this one for cough medicine, appear to have been inserted randomly. I learned from Katie Watts, who wrote the Argus Courier “Yesteryears” column that this happened often in earlier newspapers with briefs and small ads as it was important to fill all the space.
Because there was no oversight in the making of medicines or other drugs, there was plenty of opportunity to sell tonics and mixtures promising to alleviate common problems, including those that allegedly might cause marital discord. Almost all of these concoctions included items that make us gasp today: often alcohol and cocaine.
Argus Courier, March 27, 1900
With the first photograph inserted into a U.S. newspaper in 1880 (The Daily Graphic; March 4, 1880), the visual world opened up.
Over time newspapers began incorporating this new technology in their daily editions. While most photographs in these early years were of people, by the mid-20th century, other photographs were regularly seen in newspapers.
The Petaluma papers were no exception to the advertising trends of the time. Take a look with us at a few of the astonishing, amusing and/or shocking advertisements that the Argus published – this is the tip of the creative iceberg that the Argus floated. Often, they were clever, interesting and loads of fun.
The Argus regularly placed ads recommending its readers place ads. They were designed to amuse and engage and, of course, spur advertisers to join in!
April 20, 1896
Time to target the audience with clever and catchy images and sayings.
Newspaper ads were an excellent way to get the word out about lost items.
Hopefully no one lost their little boy!
With the addition of new technologies, advertisers turned towards ensuring that their readers were comfortable, healthy and up to date with the latest appliances and work-saving devices.
Advertisements from the turn of the Century were often directed to women who were beginning to make the shift to working outside the home. Those work-saving appliances were to become important articles in daily lives.
While the Depression was beginning to impact the lives of many Americans, there was still the desire to be a part of the new movement towards ease and style.
Stand above the crowd! Advertisers are beginning to figure out what folks want and target ads toward perceived needs and desires.
While most ads were directed towards women, the men were not forgotten.
A new, mobile United States opened up after World War II. Advertisements were directed to purchasing new automobiles with which to ‘hit the road’. Consumers were encouraged to trade in for newer models after a few years. Along with frequent trade-ins was the concept of credit: making payments on high-cost items.
While women had been encouraged to work in the factories of the early 1900s, by 1950, with a desire to find ‘normalcy’, women were discouraged from working outside the home, and ads promoted the idea that maintaining a beautiful face was as important as maintaining a beautiful home. Many ads highlighted beauty products and weight management.
This $12.77 would translate to about $144 a month today.
A building boom and modernization to be one of the new suburban homeowners was a creation of advertising companies building on the desire to become ‘normal’ after tumultuous war years.
Clever does often win.
References to iconic characters were, and still are, often used in the advertising business to help consumers identify with their product.
We can use advertisements to gauge the economy, take the pulse of a culture, or just get an overview of what seems important or desirable.
With the advent of social media, advertising has become ubiquitous in our information stream. Take a moment to check the source of the next advertisement you see – and become a savvy user of today’s news and ads.
Drop by the library this month to see the display of advertisements from earlier years in Petaluma.