According to Oxford English Dictionary (hereafter OED), the word “advertising” appeared in English as a noun from 16th century. It derived from the verb advertise, Anglo-Norman and Middle French avertiss-, advertiss-, lengthened stem of the verb advert (averter, advertir). Both advertise and advert show sematic overlaps (i.e., to turn one’s attention to; to notify or inform) but advert reflects more of causative senses.

Advertising in the dictionary sense of the word has an old history as ‘warning, notification, and information’ such that some sort of formal announcement has to be made by one to the other (OED). However, this original sense of advertising is less important in understanding modern advertising since its contemporary meaning began only after the printing methods were developed as to make it possible to multiply the number of copies of a periodical (Calkins & Holden, 1909). Advertising now refers to ‘the action or process of making generally known by means of an announcement in a public medium; to publish information about things so as to attract public attention; (most commonly) to describe or present things in order to promote sales.’ It also refers to ‘the activity, trade, occupation, or profession of advertising or producing advertisements, now typically for a commercial product or service.’ This contemporary use of advertising to describe advertisements can be traced back to 18th century English (OED).

Economic Background of Advertising

The emergence of advertising is inextricably linked with economic changes of modern American society. According to Sandage (1951), the background of advertising is built upon “a luxury or surplus economy” which heavily depends on the psychological wants of consumers rather than their physiological needs (p. 258). Stimulating the public’s consumption desire beyond the necessary level is key to this society of plenty where the role of advertising as a driving force becomes spotted (Sandage, 1951). Potter (1954) also highlighted “American abundance” in a sense that advertising should be reckoned in terms of an economic abundance not as scarcity (p. 167). According to him, the increasing production capacity and the shift to a consumer society have important implications for the essential function of advertising in such abundant society. In a situation where supply excels demand, the production side of economy becomes more sensitive to the reactions of consumer culture with its flexible productive capacity as it is no longer a matter of basic necessities but of desires and wants (Potter, 1954).

Scholarly Discussion of Advertising

As seen in the economic background of advertising above, there have been many attempts to view advertising in terms of a marketing effort for sale. Kennedy (1912) in his Epistles on Advertising did not advocate the stance of viewing advertising as a profession nor did he acknowledge it as Literature, Psychology and Art. He rather revealed the reality of advertising as nothing but merely “plebeian Salesmanship” and “Salesmanship-in-type (p. 7).” His idea of advertising as salesmanship has been widely employed by practitioners. For instance, Hopkins (1917), based on years of experience in advertising, established well-proven laws and principles in his Scientific Advertising whose second chapter starts by setting the ultimate goal of advertising as making sales. He also mentioned the same principle in My Life in Advertising defining advertising as “salesmanship-in-print” just as Kennedy asserted (p. 145). He explained that the standards of salesmanship in person applies the same to print advertising in that it is basically about appealing to consumers and making profits by means of media. Following Kennedy and Hopkins’ idea of salesmanship, Reeves (1970) further emphasized the real aspect of advertising such that “advertising is the art of getting a unique selling proposition into the heads of the most people at the lowest possible cost (p. 121).” This ‘unique selling proposition’ is about how to make a unique claim about the product so as to pull over as many consumers as possible, which inevitably leads to a matter of salesmanship.

However, some scholars think that advertising exerts a tremendous impact on the public and society beyond the economic level. Calkins and Holden (1909) argued that advertising is influential insomuch that it changes people’s thoughts and daily lives as well as instills them a new set of ideas and lifestyle. With respect to the social impact of advertising, Potter (1954) viewed advertising as “the institution of abundance” while describing the character of America as plenty (p. 157). He referred to advertising as one of instruments of social control for creating new needs and desires in people who are constantly being educated as consumers and modifying their values to adapt to a consumer society. He also indicated that advertising holds no sense of social goal nor seeks for motivation to improve virtues in consumers. On the other hand, Sandage (1951) not only addressed the economic aspect of advertising but also asserted the ethics of it and the need for establishing new standards. He defined advertising as “a form of communication in which the communicator can control the character of his message and have it delivered to either a select of a mass audience at very low cost (p. 265).” Because advertising has a tremendous power to influence the thoughts and actions of vast number of people, Sandage (1951) emphasized its social responsibility and the need for truth and honesty on advertising industry.

Advertising vs. Marketing

Marketing refers to every activity to promote a brand including creating the product, pricing it, placing it where it can be bought, and promoting it (i.e., 4Ps) in which advertising falls under promotion as a subcategory of marketing (Thorson & Rodgers, 2012). Besides advertising, there are other forms of promotion such as public relations, sales promotion, and personal selling.
  • Public Relations relates to management activities that might be mutually beneficial to both side of organization and public (Smith 2002; Wilcox & Cameron, 2010).
  • Sales Promotions include incentives such as coupon, contest, or price discount to temporarily change the perceived value of a product or service. (Schultz, Robinson, & Petrison, 1998).
  • Personal Selling involves face-to-face persuasion to sell a product which is more personalized and costly than traditional advertising (Anderson, Dubinsky, & Mehta, 2007).

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