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As long as there have been concepts or goods for popular consumption, some form of advertising has existed to make them known. Primitive selling was face-to-face affair, but by 3000 b.c. Babylonian merchants were hiring barkers to shout out their goods to passers-by, and hanging signs over their doorways to represent what they sold. The Babylonians really launched advertising. Some prepared "institutional" advertising campaigns for their kings—stenciling the bricks used to build temples with letters announcing the name of the temple and the king who built it. This practice was followed by at least one Egyptian king, who has been accused of plastering his name over every worthwhile edifice in sight, whether built by him or not.

Written advertising as we recognize it today did not appear until the Romans began spreading literacy around the known world. In Roman times, announcements on town walls spread messages such as this one uncovered in the ruins of Pompeii:

The Troop of Gladiators of the Aedil will fight on the 31st of May. There will be fights with wild animals and an Awning to keep off the sun.

When the Barbarian hordes overran the Roman Empire in the fifth century, the Western world was plunged into the Dark Ages—a period when not just advertising but commerce in general was lost. Eventually, law and order returned, and not long after, so did advertising. Merchants hired town criers to interject "commercials" for their goods amid the news of wars and executions. And, in England, inn owners and tavern-keepers raised sign-making to a fine art, vying with one another to create the most eye-catching graphics.

By the end of the fifteenth century, tack-up want ads were regularly produced by scribes to be hung in public places. These were followed by "shopbills," artfully decorated business cards for tradespeople. Then, in 1625, two Englishmen printed the first "newsbook" that contained an ad—The Weekly News. A flurry of newsbooks, all with advertising, followed.

In America, early advertising efforts appeared when colonial merchants carried on the European tradition of symbolic tavern signs, like the early sign of the Crowing Cock known to Dutch settlers of Manhattan. (There is, in fact, still a Crowing Cock tavern sign hanging in midtown Manhattan.) Vehicles for print advertising also developed early: journalists ran off the first printing job on the Cambridge Press in Boston (still operating as The Harvard University Press), and in 1728 Benjamin Franklin established the Philadelphia Gazette, a newspaper that became a favorite of advertisers for plain writing and elegant typography. As commerce and newspapers grew up in America, so did advertising. By 1784, the Pennsylvania weekly called the Packet and General Advertiser had become semi-weekly, then daily, featuring an entire front page of advertising for dry goods, foods, wines, and other popular items.


1. What can you say about the Babylonians’ contribution to advertising?

2. When did the written advertising appear?

3. In what forms did ads exist in the 15-17 centuries in England?

4. What is the history of the American advertising development?

5. What do you thing the ”tack-up want ads” can mean?



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