Advertising Trough History

Man’s desire to leave his own original mark or signature in his own time can easily be defined as a beginning of advertising. Ancient potter has a lot more to do with our modern understanding of advertising than one could think. Placing an original painting, as well as an artist’s signature, on a piece of pottery was an important method of conquering the market in ancient times. Vase with recognizable scene from Greek mythology or Greek cultural life in famous market places, far from Greek cities from which this product originates, asserts itself as much more than a pottery filled with Greek oil or cosmetic product.

After all, this vase, more specifically painting that decorates it, is a strong message that says that Greek products come from mighty, successful, rich and culturally supreme land. Thus, by gaining this kind of reputation, certain Greek products would become well established “brands” in an ancient world.

As it is well known, pieces of Greek pottery containing certain products were often used as luxurious gifts. It’s obvious that a unique artistic signature on the packaging was important as the quality of the product inside of it, if not even more important. This phenomenon is not to be related exclusively to the Greek culture, it was very much present across the ancient world, in Egypt, Roman Empire and China. Certain “brands” originating from certain countries became almost a synonym for those products in general. It is not hard to grasp this fact if we have in mind that certain “brands” were bound to be produced in one country due to its resources that would be crucial for the production process. Even though, this ancient “advertising” reveals to us its two most important aspects that can be linked to the essence of modern advertising.

First aspect concerns the representing of a general idea of well being of one country or nation that is usually depicted through a cultural aspect that is something that that nation is either especially proud of, or something that that nation sees as its most original footprint in global culture, or both. This aspect is the mostly responsible for the artistic qualities of “ancient packaging”. Some of the paintings on Greek vases are truly an outstanding works of art.

The second aspect has to do with the main aim of advertising, even one as we know it today. The idea is to represent your product as something that can bring you a piece of a great well-being that is all around present in its place of origin. The goal is than to paint and thus represent an outstanding society and send a message that a consumer can also enjoy one fragment of that prosperity.

Simple, sharp and minimalist ad for Kobelco Shinkansen Buttet Train, Japan, 1992.

This goals didn’t change through history, they just evolved, but, let’s be honest, they evolved to the extreme proportions. Big changes were made after 15th century when independent entrepreneurs started to struggle with bigger and bigger competition in their own countries and even cities. Many social aspects increased this role of marketing in economy, and the most important one is enormous progress of capitalism. This brings us to a review of some of the first examples of modern advertising, in order to understand how much has changed once the advertisement concerns a singular entrepreneur or a singular company. Modern marketing begun much earlier than you might thing, the first ad published in the American magazine dates from year 1742. This ad was published in Benjamin Franklin’s General Magazine. But, the first paid ad published in Boston newspaper dates from an early year of 1704!

Very different from its ancient roots, modern advertisement doesn’t depict the culture of nation general, but rather the supremacy of one community as a company. But, let’s just not yet declare that depiction of one nation is absolutely excluded from modern advertising. Better said, its included in a completely new way. The visual expression and style of one ad can always remind a viewer of a general qualities that are usually related to one nation, or even remind a viewer of that nation’s way of life. So, reputation of one society still plays a big role in global advertising. But, let’s have in mind that ads still strongly point out that all those qualities are something you will find in that company. So, qualities that are usually associated to the whole nation can be successfully used for conquest of national market, you just need to use and claim them in the right way. Now we get to the role of art in modern advertisement. Ads can send strong messages, but only due to the keen eyes of its creators.

Corporate style design of the advertising brochure for Super Palatia, Germany, mid ’50.



Since we are talking about art in advertising let’s just remember how much did the legacy of Bauhaus influence the design 20th century advertisement. Just the choice of coloring used in many 20th century ads could strongly remind us of those clean and simple contrast, celebrated in Bauhaus era. This vintage trend easily plays a trick with our knowledge of significant achievements of that period, thus evoking in us a sense of security in some product’s quality. Sharp design definitely is compatible with many industrial product’s purposes.

Unusual piece of advertisement that sheds some light on historical events that transpired in New Delhi, India in late 1954.




Due to its often connection to the visual arts, vintage advertisement became on more item that passionate collectors focus their attention on. On the other hand modern advertising offers more than a link to certain form of artistic expression, created in the purpose of making one product stand out from the crowd. In the XIX century, Croatian chocolate factory “Rijeka” promoted a unique style of advertising their product. First, they used to wrap their chocolate bars in specially designed pieces of paper that certainly play a role of a form of advertising.

Elefant Cacao, advertising leaflet, Rijeka end of XIX c.

This factory was one of the first companies in the world that made this move their marketing strategy. Not just that, this factory used very original colored drawings for their ads, such as drawings of an exotic animal or women and children enjoying their chocolate bars. So, there is even something that we can learn about XIX century society through their marketing: it looks like the general opinion of the time was that chocolate is a product for exotic and gentle enjoyment for the gentle sex. On the other hand, Marlboro ads used to depict a strong, muscular men. So, ads don’t just compete for attention on global or national market, but also for attention between different age or sex groups.






Tijana Todorović
Tијана Тодоровић
Images from listings at Sigedon Books and Antiques store.
Elefant Cacao advertising leaflet image taken from


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