In the beginning stages of marketing in America, the media distributors were entities completely dissociated from advertising and worked to institute journalistic standards, which in turn limited the range of advertising and forced advertisers to focus on the content, not the delivery. Newspapers were the primary media of the time and worked to ensure each advertiser was treated fairly, and received the same attention from readers of the paper. Advertisers were limited in terms of space, font size, and even capitalization of letters. Rather than abide by the standards the newspapers instituted, advertisers continually lobbied the editors to open up the format and allow advertisers to utilize the space to their needs. While smaller advertisers surely welcomed these restrictions as it leveled the playing field for them, marketers with greater resources felt frustrated at these limitations on their creative abilities to deliver a message to their audience.
Advertisers soon begin tweaking their content to deliver unique displays that fit within the publishers’ restrictions. Through sheer volume, the advertisers found ways around the specifications set out by the publishers. Robert Bonner’s use of iteration copy, where he simply purchased multiple consecutive spaces and inserted one advertisement, repeated over and over again seems an awful lot like today’s e-mail and postal mail spam; rather than providing consumers valid information, advertisers simply attack consumers with volume in the hopes that probability is on their side. Bonner had other tweaks, for instance, using first letters as capitals in consecutive lines to spell out words, such as LEDGER.
The creativity of Bonner’s tweaks, and surely the outrage felt by the publishers led to a fire storm of anticipation and rumors about the latest and greatest Bonner advertisement. At this point, the advertisers began to resemble true artists, whose attempts at creativity were restricted by the big, bad newspaper publishers. Was Robert Bonner the first rebel superstar of American advertising? It certainly seems so, as people would look forward to the next Bonner release to see what he had up his sleeve this time. Bonner’s advertisements became the product, and individuals consumed them in droves.
This increase in focus on the advertiser’s style led to another curious development, up to this point, businesses would attract consumers, which would lead to higher consumption and expansion. Now, however, businesses began expanding and creating large stores first, and then relying on unique advertisements to draw consumers to the business. Rather than an increase in demand leading to bigger business, bigger business now needed to increase demand!
It was no accident that the largest and most enterprising department stores were the pioneers of newspaper display advertising. Their need to attract crowds within a small geographic radius made the city dailies their perfect medium. (Boorstin)
This switch represents quite the paradigm shift, from the necessity of providing consumers good, valuable information as all advertisers were forced to compete with each other on the basis of content; now, with Bonner’s iteration copy and the break from the newspapers’ restrictions by department stores led to consumers being attracted to the style, not the content. This move also marked the declaration of advertisers that they will no longer be shackled by publisher’s restrictions. Bonner and the department stores’ advertisements marked the beginning of the integration of advertising into the rest of the material world, further fueled by Frederic Hudson’s proclamation that advertisements are a key feature of a newspaper.
The emergence of marketing style then led to the creation of consumption communities, the first signs of branding. As each brand now had it’s own style, consumers could in effect align their personal style and personality with a brand and more easily publicize themselves, as well as the brands they associated with. The distinction between consumption and marketing began to blur, as consumers themselves started to lose sight of why they were buying, and in essence promoting, these products. The positive effects of consumption communities for advertisers, meaning these consumers acted as spokesperson for their brands, caused firms to further desire to know who they were targeting successfully and why.
This desire led to the creation of marketing research firms, who could pinpoint demographic information about consumers buying preferences and advertising consumption. That’s right, advertising, and it’s related data, became a commodity, to be bought and sold by consumers, albeit they did not quite realize it yet. Rather than providing information to consumers, marketers had completely flipped the equation, and now bought information about their consumers. Advertisers became consumers, consumers became advertisers, and everyone became so confused we had to poll and survey individuals to determine just what, exactly, was going on.
It turns out, media, consumers, and advertisers were all mixing together, and adapting and performing functions normally associated with the other two groups. The chapter The Brand Expands, from No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies by Naomi Klein, presents a great analysis and summary of the symbiotic relationship between consumers, producers, media, and advertisers. For instance, producers would use advertisers to find musicians who were willing to be sponsored by their brand. Eventually, the brand became the showcase and the musicians were the sideshow. The advertisement for the brand became the product being consumed, and the musicians became the promoter (albeit sometimes negative) of that brand. Then, musicians grew wise of this trend, and began promoting themselves as a brand, extending so far as to create other forms of media (web-sites, posters, concerts etc.) and their own products with their logos on it. The market research phase naturally extended into the branding of anything and everything and the integration of consumption, marketing, production, and the public sphere, as it allowed all involved parties to access information about why the other entities were successful.
This brings us up to the modern age, where advertisers are viewed by children as the product, and the product is an advertiser (such as when the children in The Brand Extends questioned why athletes would pay to insert themselves into company advertisements). The separation of consumption and marketing has disintegrated to the point where we cannot truly determine who is buying and who is selling. Advertising has inserted itself into the material world in such a manner that we simply cannot consider a world with advertising constrained to 3 pt font in a tiny section in a newspaper. We pay for and consume so much advertising (in the form of movies, product placement, sponsorship, logo placement) that it has truly become a good to be bought, sold, and marketed, just like any other.