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Table of Contents Introduction American Advertising: A brief History What Is the Ad Trying To Do? Who Is the Intended Audience? What Strategies Are Used To Sell the Product? What Do Ads Reveal or Conceal About an Era? What Else Do You Need To Know To Analyze an Ad? Model Interpretation Advertisements Online Annotated Bibliography Try It Yourself! Download Entire Essay (Acrobat PDF) Advertisements Online

The Web has opened up myriad possibilities for the historical study of advertising. Comprehensive collections of advertisements draw together resources that would take a single researcher an eternity to compile. Specialized Web collections—ranging from notices for escaped slaves to celebrations of recent advertising campaigns—supplement the general sites. Old advertisements formerly available only in research libraries (and not always there, since many libraries cut out advertising sections or front and rear covers before binding popular magazines) or (haphazardly) in “coffee table” books are now accessible to anyone with an Internet connection.

But this commercial cornucopia has limitations. Most collections of advertisements concentrate on print ads, and in particular those in national magazines. Access to television advertising (certainly the dominant medium since the 1950s) is more scarce; most sites feature current commercials, not older ones. Another technical problem results from the digitizing process and the graphic formats used. Sometimes, ad details don’t appear or are difficult to discern. This may serve the purpose of the website perfectly well, but it hinders scholarly research.

Combining these problems with the difficulty of contextualizing advertisements appearing outside their original media framework, the challenges of using the Web for advertising history should not be underestimated. Yet the Web’s resources are vast and ever-growing. Combined with research in more traditional sources, studying advertising history on the Web should be a stimulating and fruitful experience. This list of sites is intended as a brief overview, providing links to some of the largest collections of advertisements of various types, as well as a glimpse at the diversity of materials available online. Many other collections can be found in History Matters (from the full search page, check “advertising” under “Primary Sources Online”).

Ad*Access, Digital Scriptorium, Duke University
This well-developed, easily navigated site presents images and information for more than 7,000 advertisements printed primarily in the United States from 1911 to 1955. Material is drawn from the J. Walter Thompson Company Competitive Advertisements Collection of the John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising, and Marketing History at Duke University. The advertisements are divided into five main subjects areas: Radio; Television; Transportation; Beauty and Hygiene; and World War II. Ads are searchable by keyword, type of illustration, and special features. “About Ad Access” provides an overview of advertising history, as well as a list of advertising repositories in the U.S.

Adflip is a privately financed archive of more than 6,000 print advertisements published from 1940 to the present. Products advertised, including everything from dog food to DeSotos, are divided into 17 search categories, from automotive to travel, and eight themed categories such as comic books and obsolete products. The site may be searched by year, product type, and brand name. Many ads may be sent as electronic postcards for free. For each ad, the site tells when and where it appeared. This collection includes advertisements from 65 magazines and comic books, from Archie to Wired. Downloads may be slow.

All Politics Ad Archive, CNN Online
A video collection of 11 television presidential campaign advertisements from 1952 to 1988. Includes three from the 1952 Dwight D. Eisenhower-Adlai Stevenson election and three from the 1988 battle between George H. W. Bush and Michael Dukakis, including the infamous “Willie Horton” ad. Also offers such memorable classics as the “Daisy” ad used in Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1964 campaign against Barry Goldwater and the Ronald Reagan 1984 “Morning in America” creation. Limited but useful for studying communications and postwar American politics trends in the effective use of the media for selling presidents to the American public.

By the People, For the People: Posters from the WPA, 1936-1943, American Memory Library of Congress
This colorful online exhibit showcases more than 900 original Works Project Administration posters produced from 1936 to 1943 as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal program to support the arts. The silkscreen, lithograph, and woodcut posters were designed to publicize health and safety programs, art exhibits, theatrical and musical performances, travel and tourism, educational programs, and community activities in 17 states and the District of Columbia. Each poster is accompanied by very brief (15-20 word) descriptions and notes on the artist, date, and place produced.

The Commercial Closet, Commercial Closet Association
Advertised as “the world’s largest collection of gay advertising,” this site provides video clips, still photo storyboards, descriptive critiques, and indexing to more than 600 television and print media ad representations of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and the transgendered. Users can access ads by year; brand; company; business category; themes; region; agency; target group (gays or mainstream); and portrayals (“what the imagery/narrative conveys about gayness”) categorized as vague, neutral, positive, or negative. Although the earliest ad is from 1958, the majority are drawn from the 1990s. Creator Michael Wilke, a business journalist, notes that “the project is also creating a historic document that charts the burlesquing of the gay community and the move toward more positive and inclusive portrayals.”

Emergence of Advertising in America: 1850-1920, Duke University Digital Scriptorium
Contains more than 9,000 advertising items and publications from 1850 to 1920. Selected items illustrate the rise of consumer culture in America from the mid-nineteenth century and the development of a professional advertising industry. The images are grouped into 11 categories: advertising ephemera (trade cards, calendars, almanacs, postcards); broadsides for placement on walls, fences, and sides of buildings; advertising cookbooks from food companies and appliance manufacturers; early advertising publications created by agencies to promote the concepts and methods of the advertising industry; J. Walter Thompson Company “House Ads,” promotional literature from the oldest advertising agency in the U.S.; Kodakiana collection of some of the earliest Kodak print advertisements; Lever Brothers Lux (soap) advertisements; outdoor advertising; and tobacco advertisements. Each image includes production information such as the date issued, advertising agency, and product company.

Fifty Years of Coca Cola Advertisements, Library of Congress American Memory
Highlights of Coca-Cola television advertisements, including 50 commercials, broadcast outtakes, and “experimental footage reflecting the historical development of television advertising for a major commercial product.” There are five examples of stop-motion advertisements from the mid-1950s, 18 experiments with color and lighting for television ads from 1964, and well-known commercials, such as the “Hilltop” commercial featuring the song “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” (1971). Also offers the “Mean Joe Greene” commercial (1979); the first “Polar Bear” commercial (1993); the “Snowflake” commercial (1999); and “First Experience,” an international commercial filmed in Morocco (1999).

A History Teacher's Bag of Tricks, Area 3 History and Cultures Project
This memorial to Roland Marchand, a well-known historian of advertising and popular culture, includes a slide library with more than 3,000 advertisements drawn from Marchand's collection. Each image includes a citation and many also offer Marchand’s notes. The images are organized into 31 subcategories, from “aging” to “class and status” from “technique” to “women.”

Library of American Broadcasting Sound Bites, University of Maryland Libraries
Part of the Radio Advertising Bureau Collection, this site offers a sample of 13 audio files of radio commercials from the late 1950s through the early 1960s. The Bureau, a national trade organization, was formed in 1950 (as the Broadcast Advertisers Bureau) to promote radio as a medium for advertisers. The samples are available in .WAV and .AIFF include ads for toothpaste, cold medicine, soft drinks, gasoline, beer, cigarettes, cookies, automobiles, dog food, deodorant, and pimple cream.

Phillip Morris Advertising Archive, Philip Morris Incorporated
More than 55,000 color images of tobacco advertisements, dating back to 1909, are now available on this site, created as a stipulation of the Master Settlement Agreement with the tobacco industry. In addition, more than 26 million pages of documents concerning “research, manufacturing, marketing, advertising and sales of cigarettes, among other topics” are provided in linked sites to the four tobacco companies involved (Philip Morris, R. J. Reynolds, Lorillard, and Brown and Williamson) and to two industry organizations (the Tobacco Institute and the Council for Tobacco Research). Ads and documents are accessible by date, brand name, title words, and individuals mentioned, among other searchable fields. Images may be magnified and rotated.

Virginia Runaways Project, University of Virginia
Provides full transcriptions and images of more than 2,200 newspaper advertisements regarding runaway slaves, mostly from the Williamsburg Virginia Gazette, between 1736 and 1776. Includes ads placed by owners and overseers for runaways as well as ads for captured runaway or suspected runaway slaves placed by sheriffs and other governmental officials. In addition, the site’s creators have included ads for runaway servants and sailors as well as military deserters, to offer “a unique look at the lower orders in eighteenth-century Virginia.” Searchable by any words appearing in ads.


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