ISBA SUPPLEMENT: Advertising through the ages - As ISBA draws near to its centenary, James Curtis charts the growth of the advertising industry and the ways in which society has shaped its course over the past 100 years



By 1900, advertising was a rapidly growing business. In the late 19th century, soap company Pears created some of the first brand-building ads, using the work of famous artists to create beautiful posters. Its use of Millais' Bubbles caused outrage among the artistic community, but set advertising on its way to becoming an art form.

In the earliest days of the 20th century, the value of art in advertising began to be noticed. The Johnnie Walker character, with top hat and cane, first appeared in 1906. And John Hassall's 'Skegness is SO Bracing' ad for the Great Northern Railway is typical of the jolly style of the time, an early example of humour being used in an ad.

Advertising was further fuelled by rapidly growing newspaper and magazine circulation. Higher literacy rates among the working class had created a strong popular press, providing advertisers with a mass-market platform to publicise their wares and in 1900, the Daily Mail became the first newspaper to achieve a readership of one million.

There was particularly strong demand for advertising to communicate the benefits of new inventions, such as sewing machines, motor cars and safety razors.

No evaluation methods

However, newspaper owners were reluctant to reveal their circulation figures, so advertisers had little idea of whether they were getting value for money.

It was into this environment that ISBA was born, in 1900. Originally called the Advertiser Protection Society (APS), it was formed by a group of advertisers typical of the time, selling goods which reflected the affluent consumer society - watches, house furnishings and stylographic pens.

In 1908, the APS won a landmark case against The Observer, forcing it to disclose its actual circulation figures. The case led to circulation figures being published as a matter of course.

As the industry grew, further regulation was inevitable. In 1914, a parliamentary committee was formed to tackle some of the worst excesses of misleading advertising. During the late 19th century, the medium had become a quack's paradise, with ads claiming miracle cures for non-existent problems. There was soap to tackle 'skin constipation' and a toffee described as 'a delightful concord of sugar, full cream milk and Irish butter - three fine body-building foods'.

Regulations were also required to prevent advertisers destroying the landscape. In 1901, Quaker Oats proposed erecting a giant hoarding above the cliffs at Dover.

The outbreak of the First World War saw advertising come to the fore.

The government harnessed its power as a recruitment tool, creating one of the century;s most iconic images in the process. Alfred Leete's 'Kitchener Wants You' poster of 1914 was part of a massive propaganda campaign which used advertising to play on people's emotions.

Morality debate

The 'Daddy, what did you do in the Great War?' series sparked the first debate over the morality of advertising. Later criticised when the extent of Britain's losses became apparent, these campaigns found an unlikely admirer in Adolf Hitler, who, writing in Mein Kampf, called Britain's propaganda 'brilliant' and 'ruthless'.

As the industry matured, the number of advertising agencies multiplied.

To give them a voice, the Association of British Advertising Agents was established, finally becoming the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising in 1954.

Many of the world's most famous and heavily advertised consumer brands arrived in the UK during this time.

Coca-Cola made its debut in 1900, Heinz Baked Beans in 1901 and Persil detergent in 1909. And Kellogg's Corn Flakes, which hit the US in 1895, finally made its debut on the UK breakfast table in 1922.


1900 Advertising Protection Society (APS) formed.

1901 On the death of Queen Victoria, The Daily Express publishes the first ever front-page headline.

1909 Gordon Selfridge spends pounds 36,000 promoting his new store, Selfridges, before its opening.

1914 Audit Bureau of Circulations formed in the US.

1917 Association of British Advertising Agencies formed (later became IPA).

1920 APS renamed as Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA).

1921 ISBA holds first ever National Advertising Conference.

1922 BBC starts radio programming. Commercial radio begins in the US.

1923 Women's Advertising Club of London founded.

1924 National Vigilance Committee set up to police advertising complaints.

1925 John Logie Baird makes first TV transmission.

1926 Advertising Association formed.

1927 Public opposition forces Shell to withdraw all ad signs in rural areas.

1928 John Logie Baird makes first colour TV transmission.

1930 First closed-circuit use of TV for advertising, at the London Olympia Hairdressing Fair.

1931 ISBA helps found the Audit Bureau of Circulations in the UK.

1935 Rowntrees launches KitKat Chocolate Crisp.

1936 BBC begins UK public service TV.

1938 International Advertising Association launched.

1939 ISBA helps launch the ICC Advertising Code of Standards. Ads claiming cures for cancer prohibited.

1941 First colour TV ad in the US.

1948 ISBA secures the screening of cinema ads with house lights down.

1950 First female head of an ad agency - Olive Hirst at Sell's in London.

1952 Misleading descriptions in alcohol advertising banned.

1954 UK Television Act sets up ITA. Advertising Advisory Committee established.

1955 First UK TV commercial, for toothpaste Gibbs SR, September 22.

1956 Debut of the longest-running campaign still on air - PG Tips Chimps.

1957 First UK sponsored sports event, Whitbread Gold Cup horse racing.


In 1920, the APS was renamed as the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers. With wartime restrictions of advertising lifted, the sophistication and size of the industry grew apace. Strong brands began to appear, built by beautifully illustrated ads. The Bisto kids, created by Will Owen, made their debut in 1919 and remained the cornerstone of the brand for another 77 years.

In 1924, 2000 advertising executives from around the world arrived in London for the first International Advertising Convention.

This ground-breaking conference was a statement of the industry's new-found stature and also saw it make strides towards self regulation. A National Vigilance Committee - designed to police abuses of truth and promote public confidence in advertising - was set up.

Advertising expenditure grew from pounds 31m in 1920 to pounds 57m in 1928. The trade became more scientific, with a new emphasis on market research and planning.

ISBA, which had already established the practice of investigating newspaper circulations, went a step further and established readership surveys.

These studied everything from readers' class, sex, spending habits and age - everything an advertiser needed to plan a campaign. The National Readership Survey was formally completed by ISBA, newspapers and ad agencies in 1936.

Coping with the Depression

The Wall Street Crash of 1929 paved the way for the Depression of the 30s. This sombre time was lit up by the work of John Gilroy. His iconic work for Guinness, including 'Guinness for Strength' and 'My Goodness, My Guinness' is possibly the most famous ad campaign of all time. The posters, which ran from 1929 to 1969, were some of the earliest and most effective uses of humour to convey product qualities. Gilroy also created another of the most successful campaigns of the 30s, 'That's Shell - That Was'.

During this time, ISBA continued to exert its influence in making advertising more measurable. In 1931, it helped found the Audit Bureau of Circulations, continuing its quest to provide advertisers with the information they needed to measure returns on investment. For three years, the ISBA Secretary was also director of the ABC. And in 1939, ISBA helped launch the ICC Advertising Code of Standards, providing the industry with an internationally accepted blueprint.

Before the outbreak of the Second World War, the broadcast medium emerged.

Cinema, radio and TV all opened exciting new doors for advertisers. Once John Logie Baird had made the first TV transmission, in 1925, it was only a matter of time before advertisers harnessed its potential.

The actual first use of TV for advertising was in 1930, but this was a closed-circuit affair, created for the Hairdressing Fair of Fashion at London's Olympia.

In the same year, commercial radio was beamed into the UK for the first time, by Radio Normandy.

The BBC launched public service television in 1936, but this was suspended on the outbreak of war.


As with the Great War, WWII was a defining period for British advertising. The government spent pounds 9.5m on advertising between 1940 and 1945, communicating information, regulating public behaviour and boosting morale.

A team of 60 artists and designers were employed by the newly formed Ministry of Information to produce leaflets and posters in what became known as 'the phoney war'.

One of the biggest initiatives was an anti-gossip campaign, reminding the public that information falling on the wrong ears could be useful to the enemy. Classic slogans such as 'Careless Talk Costs Lives' and 'Keep it Dark' formed part of a campaign that used nearly three million posters.

The 'Careless Talk' ads made a particular impact, injecting some refreshing humour into the gloom. Princess Elizabeth paid tribute to the artist, Fourgasse, saying: 'How carelessly we should have talked during the war but for Fourgasse.' Other slogans included 'Dig for Victory' and 'Grow your Own Food', as the government reminded the public of the need to pull together.

With the government taking much of the available ad space, opportunities for brand owners were limited. And with rationing making many basic goods unavailable, there was little purchasing behaviour to influence.

Nevertheless, some major firms continued to advertise, striving to keep their names 'alive'. The few consumer ads there were emphasised economy, with lines including 'Viyella socks that do not shrink, save more coupons than you think'.

The war was also the time that broadcast came to the fore as a propaganda tool. Both the Germans and the British used radio to great effect. Once the war was over, commercial advertisers had been given a valuable lesson in how the media could be used to influence behaviour on a mass scale.

In 1947, ISBA succeeded in getting a proposed tax on advertising withdrawn and replaced by voluntary controls on spend. The next year, ISBA scored a victory which seems ridiculous now - persuading cinema owners to screen ads with the house lights down.

Women's growing role

The war had made women far more influential in society - particularly the commercial world - and women's media began to take off, with huge circulation successes such as Woman providing a valuable new outlet for advertisers. By 1950, Olive Hirst had become the first female head of an ad agency, Sell's Advertising in London.

Another important change was the end of food rationing in the UK in 1953, which led to a flood of advertising. More and more aggressive US firms also entered the market. Procter & Gamble launched Daz in the UK in 1953, while Marlboro hit our shores - accompanied by the Marlboro Man - in 1955.

This was the golden age of cigarette ads, relying on endorsements by the likes of Ronald Reagan and John Wayne and false claims about the benefits of smoking. In one ad, opera singer Delores del Rio said she smoked Lucky Strike because 'They're gentle on my throat'. Another showed a white-coated doctor holding a cigarette and the line, 'More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette'.

In 1954, the UK Television Act was passed. This paved the way for the launch of commercial TV in the UK and established the first framework for TV advertising. The first UK television ad was screened at 8.12pm on September 22, 1955.

The ad, for Gibbs SR toothpaste, made by Young & Rubicam, was watched by two million people. Twenty-four advertisers were allocated air-time in the variety show that kicked off commercial TV that night. Gibbs won a draw to be transmitted first. Cadbury's Drinking Chocolate was the second.

Opposition to TV ads was fierce at first, but, thanks to a range of safeguards, introduced by the Television Advisory Committee in 1955, public fears soon eased. Among the early stipulations were: no ads for undertakers, money lenders, smoking cures or treatments for alcoholism.

In 1955, the first full year of TV advertising, spend was pounds 2.4m. One year later, it had risen to pounds 10.6m.


In the 1960s, advertising began a creative revolution, driven by two of the giants of modern advertising - Bill Bernbach and David Ogilvy.

In the US, Bernbach's press ads for the Volkswagen Beetle - including 'Think Small' and 'Lemon' - were remarkable for their simplicity. His original approach led him to make a virtue out of Avis Car Rental's second rank in its industry, with the immortal line 'Avis Tries Harder'.

Ogilvy had a similarly simple style, and hated overly arty ads. Having worked for US pollster George Gallup, UK-born Ogilvy was an advocate of using market research in advertising, and was obsessed with the imperative that advertising must sell products. He spelled out many of the principles of effective advertising, famously saying, 'The two most powerful words you can use in a headline are 'free' and 'new'.' Two of his most famous ads were 'The Man in the Hathaway Shirt', featuring a distinguished gent with an eyepatch, and an ad for Rolls Royce which used the line 'At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls Royce comes from the electric clock'.

Soon, advertising had a new emphasis on striking, attention-grabbing imagery and simple executions based on a powerful idea. Cramer Saatchi's 1969 'Pregnant Man' ad for the Family Planning Association is a classic example.

Although at the time many thought it bad taste, the image is a good example of how advertising in the 60s and 70s became braver and more challenging.

The London office of Bernbach's agency, Doyle Dane Bernbach, repeated the success of VW's US campaigns for the Beetle with an ad featuring bug-eyed actor Marty Feldman and no sign of the car. Referring to the ugliness of the car, the strapline said, 'If he can make it, so can Volkswagen'.

During this period, the industry continued to attract more regulations.

In 1961, ISBA instigated the so-called 'Anti-Clutter' code, dealing with unsightly outdoor advertising. In ten years, it ensured that 500,000 ads were either re-sited or removed. In 1966, the Advertising Standards Authority was formed from a partnership between ISBA and other bodies federated to the Advertising Association.

In 1965, with health risks from smoking acknowledged, cigarette ads were banned from UK television and print became the main medium.

Rise of oblique advertising

The restriction marked a turning point: tobacco ads became more surreal in the 70s, creating a new style of advertising in the process.

Collett Dickenson Pearce's ads for Benson & Hedges, including the famous 'Pyramids' image, marked a new territory of oblique advertising. The B&H ads had no copy, just striking imagery. The fact that CDP felt the public was ready for these ads says a lot about how ad-literate society had become.

Ads like these helped make the late-70s and early-80s the golden age of British advertising. With ITV enjoying a monopoly of the commercial TV audience, ads were seen by everyone and clients responded by ramping up their spend.

BMP created brand icons including the Cadbury's Smash Martians. Leo Burnett gave us the Milk Tray Man. CDP made comedy a cornerstone of British advertising, producing classics for Heineken, Hamlet and Cinzano (with Joan Collins and Leonard Rossiter). The 'Heineken refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach' motif began in 1974 and survived into the 1990s. And the 'Happiness is a cigar called Hamlet' campaign spawned countless gems.

The excellence of advertising in this period was all the more remarkable considering the state of the economy. Three-day weeks and 20% inflation had caused a slump that threatened the industry.

Given these conditions, perhaps it is not surprising that in the late-70s, political advertising bared its teeth. Saatchi & Saatchi's 'Labour Isn't Working' poster wasn't the first of its kind - Harold MacMillan's government also made clever use of advertising - but it was the first time a poster had been used to such devastating effect. It proved a decisive influence in the fall of the Callaghan government and opened the door for Margaret Thatcher's victory in 1979.


The excessive 80s saw advertiser budgets soar and ad agencies reach the peak of their power. Saatchi & Saatchi's work with British Airways encapsulated the new style. Its 1983 'Manhattan' ad used Hollywood special effects to depict Manhattan Island landing on London.

The airline's ads became grander in scale and ambition - assembling a cast of thousands to make a human face or covering an entire island in blue silk. More was spent on making ads than on many feature films.

The mood of the decade can be charted through advertising. Leo Burnett's ads for Perrier (clever puns such as 'H2 Eau' and 'Eau La La') helped turn us into a nation of mineral water drinkers.

BMP's 'Changes' helped the rise of the car of the 80s, the VW Golf. Model Paula Hamilton reacted to being dumped by her lover by throwing away her fur coat, ring, and pearls. But she baulked at dropping her car keys down the drain and drove away in a silver Golf.

Another 80s icon brand, Levi 501s, was built by one of the most successful TV campaigns ever. BBH's work for Levi's kicked off in 1985 with 'Launderette', featuring a firm-torsoed Nick Kamen stripping off to I heard it through the Grapevine. The ad was hugely influential, lifting Marvin Gaye's 60s classic straight to the top of charts, and beginning a trend for ad soundtracks to spawn hit singles. The campaigns boosted sales of Levi 501s by a massive 800%.

The 80s also saw the beginning of what has now become one of the biggest issues in advertising - media fragmentation. ITV's commercial monopoly ended with the launch of Channel 4 in 1982, while Rupert Murdoch introduced satellite TV with Sky in 1989. As the new venture reported losses of pounds 2m a week in its first year, many observers said it had little chance of success.

ISBA had lobbied hard throughout the previous decade for increased competition for ITV. Radical changes in free-to-air TV made the 80s a busy time for ISBA, culminating in 1990 with the Broadcasting Act, which created the conditions for consolidation in ITV.

ISBA was also actively involved in the setting up of BARB in the early-80s, and it fought hard for competition in other media, encouraging the launch of both Eddie Shah's Today and The Independent.

In 1989, a little-known IT expert called Tim Berners-Lee created a new system for sharing information by computer. He called his brainchild the 'Worldwide Web'. At the time, the advertising world had no idea what impact it would have on commercial communications.

As the recession of the early-90s bit, ad agencies came under pressure from clients to cut costs. ISBA found itself involved in helping advertisers challenge the telephone number budgets suggested by agencies. This led to some heated discussions in the bars of Soho and the rise of more accountable media such as direct marketing.

Direct Response TV was an anathema to the 'creative is king' days of the 70s and 80s, with real telephone numbers spoiling advertising's arty party. Direct Line spearheaded the revolution and, by 1993, DRTV accounted for 13% of adspend.

But huge brands were still built on the back of great advertising. HHCL's slapstick ads for Tango, starting with 'Orange Man' of 1992, reinvented the soft drink brand. And the cheaper-looking, hand-held camera style was also an antidote to the epics of the 80s.

This was also when Nike began its assault on the UK. The 1992 'Kick it' ad, featuring Arsenal hero Ian Wright, coincided with the new-found sexiness of Premiership football. Nike aligned itself with soccer's new foreign superstars, like Eric Cantona, and became the coolest brand in sport.

Mobile war

Another brand built by great ads was Orange, which launched in 1994 with WCRS's 'The Future's Bright, The Future's Orange'. The ads helped the last of the major mobile brands to launch capture 25% of the UK market in just two years.

The campaign also heralded a new advertising war between the mobile platforms.

The 1996 'Who Would You Most Like to Have a One 2 One With' kicked off a classic series, pairing celebrities with their heroes. Kate Moss paid tribute to Elvis, while John McCarthy remembered Yuri Gagarin.

In 1995, Marketing revealed Guinness was launching an ad featuring a gay kiss. It sparked a furore and the ad never aired. It was in 1998 that the taboo was finally broken and a gay couple appeared in 'Close Encounter' for Impulse.

The experience didn't stop Guinness taking risks. One controversial ad spoofed the auto-erotic death of MP Stephen Milligan. This aside, Guinness has produced some of the best ads of the decade, achieving the seemingly impossible and making stout cool. Its 'Dancing Man' ad was hugely popular and, most recently, it hooked up with Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO to create the award-winning 'Surfer'.

Guinness' record spend on a TV ad comes at a time when advertisers are trying to spread their budgets across an unprecedented number of marketing channels.

Marketing on the internet is now a necessity, not an option. Digital TV, launched in 1998, has created a truly multi-channel marketplace and opened the door for interactive advertising. Open is the first true interactive advertising portal, but more is set to come. Procter & Gamble and Domino's Pizza are among the brand owners blazing a trail into interactive advertising.

The web has also created a host of dotcom brands, such as Egg, Amazon and Yahoo. These, along with the new challenge of multi-channel marketing, signal the direction for advertising in the new millennium.

As it was in 1900, ISBA is in the thick of the action.


1960 Advertising allowed on ambient media, such as taxis and buses.

1961 ISBA initiates 'Anti-Clutter Code'.

1962 Advertising Standards Authority founded.

1962 Tobacco companies prohibited from linking smoking with romance.

1964 US Surgeon General publishes report on smoking and health.

1965 Cigarette ads banned on UK TV.

1966 The Sunday Times launches the first UK colour supplement.

1967 BBC launches colour TV.

1969 First British colour TV ad, for Birds Eye Peas.

1971 Government health warnings appear on cigarette packs.

1973 Commercial radio launches.

1976 ASA toughens tobacco ad restrictions. 'Surreal' print ads appear.

1981 BARB formed.

1982 Channel Four launches. TV-AM launches.

1985 Mobile telephony hits the UK.

1986 Today, the UK's first full-colour daily newspaper, launched.

1989 Sky TV starts broadcasting.

1992 BSkyB pays pounds 304m for Premier League football rights.

1993 First TV ad for Church of England, during News at Ten.

1994 Lads' mags phenomenon begins with launch of Loaded.

1995 Voluntary ban on TV spirits ads lifted. Ads from Bell's and Bacardi.

1996 Pepsi turns blue.

1997 UK government announces future ban on tobacco sponsorship of sport.

1998 UK government agrees to extend ban to all tobacco advertising.

1999 Domino's delivers first pizza ordered from interactive TV.

Source: History of Advertising Trust/ISBA.


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