The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 3, Issue 7 (November 1, 1928)
The great art in writing advertisements is the finding out a proper method to catch the reader's eye; without, a good thing may pass over unobserved, or be lost among commissions of bankrupt. —Addison.
And yet he was, I suppose, the predecessor in history of the air pilot who carries you and your wife and your baggage between one capital and another and lands you safe and sound to time.
Advertising has followed a very similar course to airmanship. It has become a reputable branch of commerce. It is becoming an exact science, and even now we can tell you with something approaching precision when and where it will act and when and where it won't.
And this is having a result of which some may not yet know.
In an Advertising Agency there are, of course, artists—artists in abundance. There are copywriters and there are men skilled in the niceties of lay-out and of print. But there are now coming in, in some numbers, young men from the public schools and universities, and I know of one or two Agencies in which the Balliol tie has been seen and the accents of Trinity are ceasing to excite any remarks. These young men enter upon advertising much as they would once have gone on to the Stock Exchange or joined the Civil Service. They come into advertising mainly on the directive side and they take the work very seriously indeed. They are not taking it any less seriously because sometimes they give you the impression that they are playing cricket or rugger or some team game, in which everyone must do his best for his side—even the man who only blocks the bowling while some one else—some brilliant poster man perhaps—scores runs. And so these young men can tell you a great deal about the principles and details of advertising. They know the size of a showcard which will go into a chemist's window; they will fight long and obstinately for or against the free distribution of samples; and, if they cannot tell you on the spot the actual number of babies and the potential number of bassinettes in Birmingham, they can take you to a pigeon-hole whence such a fact can be unearthed.
And so I keep on the sure ground of first principles and I say that the essential characteristic of modern advertising is the appeal by the maker of goods to the consumer. When a manufacturer brands his product with a name or mark, or, if that be not possible, encloses his product in a package which will henceforth be known, and proceeds to talk about his product—over the head of the wholesaler; over the head of the retailer—to the masses or the classes who will ultimately consume it—then advertising has begun. Immediately he begins to advertise, the maker of the goods shifts the basis of his goodwill, and whereas he used to hope that one retailer would mention his goods to twenty customers, he now intends page 47 that twenty customers shall mention them to one retailer.
Pro Bono Publico.
Now there are people who take serious moral objection to the whole process of advertising. Great thinkers have frowned upon it. But the worst of great thinkers is and always was that they do not think of everything! “Sometimes our indiscretions serve us well when our dear plots do fail.” We make all sorts of plans for the direct instruction and edification of the people, and we are often disappointed by their failure or only partial success.
And then advertising comes along. Assume it if you like to be an indiscretion, and yet look at its important and, on the whole, excellent results. It began in self but it has been overruled for good and has eventuated largely in service. Though it is still defaced by some sins against taste and others against truth, I do not think it would be possible to measure —certainly I know no gauge by which you could estimate the extent to which it has animated and instructed the people; raised the standard of life; awakened wants and, in awakening wants, stimulated effort; inculcated the ideals of comfort and cleanliness; held up happiness and health; taught the love and care of children and I know not how many other things that it is well for us to feel and to know —and how it teaches these lessons as lessons are best absorbed—by picture and story—avoiding those reactions which the moral teacher often provokes—rather defying the good than damning the bad.
The Sub-Conscious Appeal.
The essence of modern advertising lies in the appeal of the maker to the consumer of goods. We might go a little further and say that it is the appeal to the sub-conscious mind of the consumer. That is perhaps a useful thought, because it at once distinguishes mail order advertising and the advertising of drapers’ stores from the modern commercial advertising we have more particularly in mind. The press advertising of a drapery store is the projection of the shop window into the domestic scene. One's wife sees the hat or the costume, she sees it illustrated and also priced. Aided by the constructive imagination which always surprises me, she knows in a moment when it is or is not her style. She acts accordingly. The advertisement has hit or missed.
But a very great deal of very successful advertising, indeed, is done on behalf of articles which will not be bought by anyone till the arrival of the proper time. You cannot imagine a man seizing his hat and coat and running into the street to buy a camera. Yet the advertising of cameras has been done with sensational success.
I am convinced that I shall not paper or paint my drawing-room till next spring. Nothing that you could say about wall papers would induce us in my house to undergo the ordeal of a spring cleaning in the autumn months. And yet my education about wall papers and house paints is going on all the time, and may eventually end in some reward to the firm which conducts it. I should not perhaps buy a new easy chair unless I was upheaving my present house or removing into a new one—yet easy chairs are advertised and not without the best commercial results. This then is the appeal to the sub-conscious mind. It is like the sowing of seed which seems to fall into the ground and die until it comes to life again in the harvest.
Art and the “Serious Cause.”
And then, from yet another point of view, we might think of advertising as the use of art and allurement in the service of commerce. That is what it is coming to be more and more. We need have no surprise in seeing art serving a serious cause like this, because art has served serious causes before. For centuries art was employed entirely in the cause of religion, and you have only to think for a moment to see how much public affairs have been shaped by the powers and persuasion of the spoken word. The French revolution was produced in France by words, and it was fended off from England—again by words. Mr. Baldwin, who tells us that he distructs and despises rhetoric, yet falls into it when he wishes to shape public opinion, and I should have taken “Give us peace in our time, O Lord,” for a very good attempt at a slogan.
But the subject of art and advertisement is a thorny one. I said a little time ago that advertising did not always enter into salesmanship. But salesmanship always enters into advertising. Art in advertising is art for the sake of selling. That leads us sometimes to go further and to swear in our wrath that if an advertisement sells the goods it is ipso facto—no matter how it may offend our sense of decorum and design—a good advertisement. This is nearly true but not quite, because you cannot be sure that a more seemly advertisement might not have sold the goods better or just as well. Neither is it precisely true to say that an advertisement is necessarily bad because it has failed to sell the goods. The goods themselves may be unsaleable. In that case it is not the art which has been bad, but the advice.page 48
It is the work of the advertising agent to express enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is the article in which he deals. But it is his duty sometimes to check it. I have known this done. My mind goes to the livest spirit I have ever known in advertising. I think of his devouring zeal and his drive. I think of his habit of living with the problems of his clients. And then I think—and I think still more—of the times when I have heard him say “No,” and seen him discourage some proposal in which there could be nothing but failure and waste.
I have more than once taken, or been one of a small party which has taken, advertising schemes to great firms. And the moment has come—could indeed be no longer delayed, when the work has been done and the samples which have been prepared have been extracted from the portfolio and laid before the assembled board. And at the moment of slight chill and apprehension, when the chairman has distributed all the drawings, finished or rough, round the table, and some are not looking at the drawings but reading the copy—I say that in this highly non-committal atmosphere, I have sometimes seen at the other side of the table a gentleman who seems to be warmly recommending the exhibit he has in hand to the director who sits next to him. And several times I have discovered that this humane and sympathetic man is the Sales Manager of the firm. Sometimes he is also the Advertisement Manager. Sometimes he is not the Advertisement Manager but an authority upon the subject of the Advertisement Manager. And then afterwards going across the factory yard—on the way to lunch—he and I have gravitated together and we have made friends. Bohemians, both of us! We have come into this affair from the side of the humanities. That is our angle of approach. We are not concerned with oil and shafting—nor with time-keeping—nor yet with overheads, but only with the human appeal which is to shift these excellent goods from their present place to their proper place, perhaps on the pantry shelf of the consumer.
And, since I have imagined us in the factory yard, I would say in conclusion—one word about the effect of advertising upon the firm which practises it. Briefly it is this. A firm's advertising tends to force upon the firm itself an ideal up to which it must live. We are always being told just now that England is going down, and how this, that, or the other institution is not what it was. Of some things the saying is true. But it is not, I think, true of British business. The corner in which it finds page 49 itself is a tight one, but it faces its trials with an improved mind and an improved heart.
We know something about the nineteenth century Victorian business man. We know for one thing that he did not advertise. We are expected to believe that he would have scorned to advertise. And yet we know from history that he was not a wholly satisfactory type. However just and righteous he may have been in his private life, in office hours he was rather too prone to think that “business was business.” He was not wholly insensible to the useful resemblance there is between sand and sugar; he had been compelled by rigorous law to make his premises decent and safe; his work people were not a very happy gang.
Advertising The New Zealand Railways.
The above snaps show Mr. M. J. Chapman (Tablet Porter, Wahngamarino), who won the first prize for the most original dress at the Mercer Fancy Dress Ball recently. The snap on the left shows Mr. Chapman holding a suit case (well pasted over with N. Z. R. luggage labels, and a miniature railway line on which was printed the slogan: “Travel by Rail for Safety, Comfort, and Economy.” The snap on the right shows the wellknown Bull Poster on which was printed the words: “Send your Stock by Rail. Enquiries welcomed at all Railway Booking Offices.” The dress created much interest and served a useful purpose in advertising the New Zealand Railways.
Be that as it may, this sense of service in business is now a very real and conscious thing, and I think we should find it not less but rather more real among firms who habitually advertise their goods. The factories of these firms are often model factories; the light of day abounds in them and I have seen such firms impregnated with a sense of what I might call “cricket”—a genuine concern for the worth of what they do. Is it possible that the advertising which a firm issues should react thus healthily and happily upon itself. —Extracts from a speech given at the Sales Managers’ Session at Birmingham.