The Psychology of Advertising

"Advertisements are sometimes spoken of as the nervous system of the business world ... As our nervous system is constructed to give us all the possible sensations from objects, so the advertisenent which is comparable to the nervous system must awaken in the reader as many different kinds of images as the object itself can excite"
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[This article, the first of a series of studies of Modern Advertising, has been written by Walter D. Scott, Assistant Professor of Psychology in Northwestern University.—THE EDITORS.]

The only method of advertising known to the ancients was the word of mouth. The merchant who had wares to offer brought them to the gate of a city and there cried aloud, making the worth of his goods known to those who were entering the city, and who might be induced to turn aside and purchase them. We are not more amused by the simplicity of the ancients than we are amazed at the magnitude of the modern systems of advertising. From the day when Boaz took his stand by the gate to advertise Naomi's parcel of land by crying, "Ho, ... turn aside," to the day when Barnum billed the towns for his three-ringed circus, the evolution in advertising had been gradual, but it had been as great as that from the anthropoid ape to P. T. Barnum himself.

As soon as printed symbols were invented the advertising man made use of them to give publicity to his merchandise. We find advertisements engraved on walls and tombs, written on parchment and papyrus, and printed by the first printing presses. Although these various forms of advertising were employed, but little thought and care seem to have been expended upon them. Postells, painted signs, street-car placards, booklets, calendars, almanacs, handbills, magazine and newspaper advertising have now become forms of advertising so well established that we look upon them as a necessity, and are surprised to learn that most of them are modern innovations.

The first advertisement printed in English appeared in the Imperial Intelligencer in March, 1648. Advertising in magazines was not begun until comparatively recent times. For instance, the first advertisement appeared in Harper's Magazine in 1864. In this magazine more space has been devoted to advertising during the past year than the sum total of space for the twenty-four years from 1864 to 1887, inclusive. Indeed, advertising may be said to have been in its swaddling clothes until about the year 1887. The most rapid development has taken place during the last fifteen years. The change has been so great that the leading advertisers say that in comparison with to-day there was in existence fifteen years ago no advertising worthy of the name.

The gain in the quantity of advertising can be seen by observing the increase in the number of pages devoted to advertisements in any of our publications. The month of October is regarded as the typical month, therefore we present the number of pages devoted to advertisements for the month of October in Harper's Magazine for each year from the first appearance of advertisements in that magazine to the present time,—1864, 3 ¼; '65. 2; '66, 3 ; '67, 6; '68, 7 1/3; '69, 5 1/3; '70, 4 ½; '71, 3 ½; '72, 2; '73, 1; '74. 0; '75, 0; '76, 0; '77, 0; '78, 0; '79, 0; '80, 0; '81, 0; '82, 1 ¼; '83, 8 ½; '84, 8; '85, 11 ½; '86, 20; '87, 37; '88, 54; '89, 48: '90, 73; '91 80 ½; '92, 87; '93, 77 ½; '94, 75 ¾; '95, 78 ¼; '96, 73; '97, 80 ¾; '98, 81 ¾; '99, 106 ¾; 1900, 97 ½; '01, 93 ½; '02, 128; '03, 141.

It will be noticed in the data as given above that during the years of special prosperity there was a very great increase in the volume of advertising while there was but a slight falling off following a financial depression. The increase was not pronounced until about 1887, but from that time on it has been very marked, not only in Harper's, but in almost all of our publications.

There has not only been an increase in the number of advertising pages in the individual publications, but the number of publications has increased enormously of recent years. The increase of population in the United States has been rapid during the last fifty years, but the increase in the total number of copies of the different publications has been many fold greater. Thus the distribution of the copies of these periodicals to each individual was as follows:— In 1850 each individual received on the average 18 copies from one or more of these periodicals: in 1860, 29; in 1870, 39; in 1880, 41; in 1890, 74; in 1900, 107.

A significant cause of this increase is the reduction in the subscription price which is made possible because of the profit accruing to such publications from their advertisements. The total income secured from subscriptions for all these publications last year was less than the amount paid for the advertising pages. We have this current year about 20,000 periodicals carrying advertisements, each with a constantly increasing number of pages devoted to them, and with a rapidly advancing rate secured for each advertisement. In addition to this, the increase is phenomenal in the use of booklets, posters. painted signs, street-car placards, almanacs, and many other forms of advertising. One firm is supposed to have distributed 25,000,000 almanacs in a single year.

The expense connected with these various forms of printed advertising reaches far into the millions. One authority puts the total annual expense of printed forms of advertising at six hundred million dollars. This sum does not seem to be an exaggeration. Mr. Post spends as much as six hundred thousand dollars annually in advertising his food products. One million dollars was spent last year in advertising Force. Over six hundred thousand dollars is spent annually in advertising Ayer's remedies; and over one million dollars in advertising Peruna.

The advertising rate has been advanced repeatedly in many magazines during the last few years. Firms which formerly paid but one hundred dollars for a full-page advertisement in the Century Magazine now pay two hundred and fifty dollars for the same amount of space. The Ladies' Home Journal has increased its advertising rate to six dollars for a single agate line (there are fourteen agate lines to the inch), the width of one column, for a single insertion. The cost of a full page for a single issue is four thousand dollars. The Procter & Gamble Co. have made a three years' contract for a single page in each issue, to he devoted to the advertisement of Ivory Soap. For this space they pay four thousand dollars a mouth, forty-eight thousand dollars a year, and one hundred and forty-four thousand dollars for the term of three years. Think of the risk a firm runs in investing four thousand dollars in a single page advertisement! How can they expect to get back the equivalent of such a sum of money from a single advertisement?

There are very many advertisements that do not pay. One man has roughly estimated that seventy-five per cent of all advertisements do not pay; yet the other twenty-five per cent pay so well that there is scarcely a business man who is willing to stand idly by and allow his competitors to do the advertising. The expense connected with advertising has increased; the competition between rival firms has become keener; and consequently the demand for good advertising has become imperative. The number of unsuccessful advertisements are many, and yet the loss incurred in an unsuccessful advertising campaign is so great that many firms stand aghast at the thought of such an undertaking. Many merchants see the necessity of advertising their business, but feel unable to enter the arena and compete with successful rivals.

The day of reckless, sporadic, haphazard advertising is rapidly coming to an end so far as magazine advertising is concerned. Although the number of pages devoted to advertising in our best magazines has increased during the last ten years, the number of firms advertising in these same magazines has decreased. The struggle has been too fierce for any but the strongest. The inefficient advertisers are gradually being eliminated, and the survival of the fittest seems to be a law of advertising as it is of everything else that develops.

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