For as long as people have been making and creating things, there has been someone angling to sell them. Advertising appears almost as natural to us as the process of production itself. The earliest recorded advertisements come from the criers of Babylon (c. 3000 BC) who would declare the virtues of their wares to the passing public (Mogel, 1993, p.4) .
Here, the building itself is the advertisement, complete with slogans and gargantuan top hats so that passers-by would be drawn in by the colours and styles on offer. This photo dates to the mid 19th Century in Philadelphia and shows how the city itself became a canvas for constant and ever-present advertising. In the 19th/20th Centuries, North America and Europe benefited from explosive urban expansion. Cities as centralised commercial centres were well placed for advertising as a separate sub-industry to develop and it is interesting to note what impact this had socially.
This next image shows the variety of goods advertised and the styles used. At a busy intersection on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Forty-second Street in New York City, one is offered whiskey, paint, cosmetics and a cure for constipation, all against the backdrop of a burgeoning city. These non-essential goods are bombarded at citizens of the city, the new consumers and were not restricted to a set gender or class but rather target as much of the city’s demographic as is possible.
The ladder-men of London show the scale of advertisement utilised in a major city such as London. The average citizen’s eye-level view would have dramatically changed during this period as the city grew upwards and outwards with mortar and brick replaced by posters and billboards. The act of advertising itself became an art and an industry in its own right.
In an Irish context, and though Castlebar was not a city, it had an urban population who desired the same goods as their contemporaries in Dublin. The art of photography is intrinsically linked to the development of advertising and allowed business owners to promote themselves in new and innovative ways.
Finally, not all advertising was a subtle enterprise, as seen here with a well-dressed gentleman and accompanying apprentice waving a bell with ass and cart in tow. Advertising then was a prevalent part of life in 19th/20th Century cities, sometimes crude, often effective, it percolated throughout society and created a city of consumerism, with each citizen as a prospective consumer.
- Mogel, L. 1993, Making it in Advertising: An Insider’s Guide to Career Opportunities, pg. 4