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The Evolution Of Advertising: How Consumers Left An Industry Forever Changed

evolution of advertising

author – Johanna Pung

Advertising is persuasion. It’s a business convincing a market that their product or service is worth the consumer’s dollar. However, like all facets of business, advertising styles have fluctuated and shifted depending on social change. The question is, how have we gotten to this point? How have marketing tactics changed over the years, and how has the advertising voice evolved into what we see today?

Let’s start from the beginning:

Magnificence of Promises

Early advertising voices were factual and generic. The mere existence of magazine or billboard ads was a wonder to consumers, requiring very little effort on the part of business owners. In fact, most advertisers just relied upon headlines to grab readers’ attention.

Eventually, the proliferation of advertising led to a general disinterest. It’s safe to say that consumers got bored. This boredom was captured perfectly (and perhaps first realized) in an essay by Samuel Johnson in 1759:

“Whatever is common is despised. Advertisements are now so numerous that they are very negligently perused, and it is therefore become necessary to gain attention by magnificence of promises, and by eloquence sometimes sublime and sometimes pathetic.”

Whether or not Mr. Johnson’s critique was the only influencing factor, the following years experienced a mild to insane case of false advertising. Because marketing was yet in its infancy, no regulations had been established and the “magnificence of promises” ran rampant.

It wasn’t until 1906 that the U.S. government began penalizing mislabeled or hyperbolic products — starting with dangerous food and drugs. From that point on, the advertising voice was shaped by a series of government interjections, such as the Federal Trade Commission Act in 1914.

New Mediums of the 20th Century

Advertising voice and style has always been (and continues to be) hugely impacted by the means of reaching consumers. As new technology was developed, new mediums of advertising sprang up and took advantage of the general public’s interest in fancy gadgets. The early 1920’s saw the beginning of radio advertising. This method only grew in popularity over the next decade, with over half of Americans using radio in 1933.

The significance of technology in advertising voice can be summed up in one word: mass. Think about it – radio, television, and telephone allowed businesses to reach an unfathomable amount of consumers. Brands developed massive marketing strategies, increasing national ad spending across the board. Marketing agencies spent fortunes on reaching the broadest audience possible.

21st Century Media and Beyond

While past advertising voices focused on mass, today’s marketing is all about specificity. The internet’s rise to power has resulted in a wide variety of markets, fandoms, niches, and interests, all of which have specific advertisements catering to them. Businesses were given the ability to reach their target demographic – in whatever unique online form best fit the people group. Consequently, consumers are given new ways to interact with brands. This interaction has sparked a new, consumer-oriented trend in the advertising voice worldwide.

Here are just a few ways that customers affect 21st century advertising style:

  • The consumer is informed. Simply put, there’s no shortage of information. If someone wants to know about an item, they know exactly where to go. Today’s marketing agencies have come to realize that false advertising will not only get them in trouble, but it simply won’t sell their product.
  • The consumer is cultured. Returning to Samuel Johnson’s essay, the commonplace is often disregarded. People have seen it all — they’re weary of the generic sales pitch. They require innovation in marketing and they constantly prove that a creative or inspiring advertising voice is well worth the effort.
  • The consumer has influence. Reviews; social media; personal blogs; online rating systems. The consumer also has voice. And they’re not afraid to use it. Effective advertising of a quality product (or service) will utilize these tools, encouraging potential customers to join the conversation.

In the end, the modern consumer understands value. The advertising voice has evolved to the point where interactive, transparent, company-to-customer communication is invaluable. Survival of the fittest can easily apply here! Businesses are quickly discovering that consumers demand value, innovation, and benefits. They are realizing that customers want to be involved, and, what’s more, are willing to contribute their own promotional efforts if the product is up to par.

Evolving your business’s advertising voice is vital. Without consistently reviving and revamping your marketing reach, you risk falling behind.

Jesse Luse

Account Manager at Reader, writer, classical pianist, and drinker of heavily caffeinated tea.

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