A Brief History of Advertising: From Art to Nuisance

brief history of advertising by stopad

In the pre-internet days, advertising was considered an art form.

Ads were generally more expensive, and their production was taken more seriously than it is today. It was the good old time of printed ads, billboards, and commercials on radio and TV–a time commonly referred to as the “golden era of advertising.” That was the time when David Ogilvy wrote his world-renowned slogan for Rolls-Royce, the timeless Marlboro ad by Leo Burnett Co. saw the light of day, and DeBeers’ diamonds gained their “forever” status thanks to N.W. Ayer & Son Agency.

A lot has changed since then.

The internet has revolutionized the advertising industry in the most remarkable way. New forms of advertising have emerged, diverse opportunities for targeting have appeared, and—most importantly—the cost of massive advertising has started to drop.

Over time, this has resulted in an oversaturation of ads and people getting increasingly annoyed by being bombarded with advertising at literally every turn. Hence, advertising has turned from a form of art to a nuisance. Consequently, more and more users end up installing ad blockers and paying for premium content in order to quiet the advertising din.

It did not transform overnight, though. The problem we’re dealing with today has been snowballing for years. To understand how it happened and at which point advertising started to lose its magical spell, it makes sense to look back at the history of advertising.

The Evolution of Advertising: From Great to…Pop-up Ads

Below is the visualisation of how we moved from printed ads and billboards to smart IoT-based ads and commercials for VR and AR (and everything that happened in between).

history of advertising by StopAd

The History of Advertising is Cyclic

Looking at the history as a whole, it’s clear that there is nothing new under the sun. History is cyclic, and the rule applies to the history of advertising, too. Consider this.

With each new medium emerging–would it be printed media or radio or the world wide web–it never takes much time for advertisers to recognize new opportunities and start taking advantage of them.

Think about it.

How much time did it take for the first ad to appear on a newspaper after the invention of printed media? Or how long did it take for advertising professionals to put the first ad online? How much time do you think it will take for advertising to become the new normal in VR?

Trends can also be spotted in how people react to ads. It did not take much time for people to get sick and tired of multiple advertisements on each and every medium and start looking for ways to get rid of them. Think about TV commercial skipping, skip-ads solutions for radio, in-browser ad blockers or stand-alone software for uncompromised ad blocking on the web.

The algorithm is simple. A new medium appears, advertisers realize there is a emerging space for their ads, a few ads soon turn into too many ads, people get overwhelmed, ad blocking solution is released.

Because we spend so much time on devices these days, it is hardly possible to escape from advertising altogether. In one form or another, ads will always find their way to us. What we can do, however, is minimize the number of ads we see, get rid of the most intrusive and annoying ones, and only allow advertising that is polite, gentle, and native.

Do you think the golden era of advertising is forever gone or there’s still a chance for revival? What forms of advertising you see today can be considered a form of art?