This exercise teaches how to read documents that depend heavily on images for their effect. It focuses on advertising in the 1920s, an important period in the development of modern advertising.

Advertising has a long history in the US, but professional "Ad agencies" don't appear till the late nineteenth century. The first agencies concentrated heavily on patent medicines, an unregulated field in which manufacturers made elaborate claims.
The example on the left is from 1898. It claims a wide variety of cures thanks to its unexplained "extract." The ad is calculated to catch the eye, with its headline, but spends most of its space listing the product's virtues and warning against counterfeits.

Besides capitalizing on worries about health, ad agencies early on recognized that people were anxious about social status--about appearing prosperous or comfortable, wealthy and "up to date. The ad below, also for "Pond's Extract," comes from 1915. By then, it had become easier (and cheaper) to include illustrations in mass advertisements.

Understanding Advertising: Decoding an Ad's Appeal

Any ad you see has been through an extremely elaborate production process. Initially conceived by one person or a team or people, it has been assembled by a variety of experts—artists, graphic designers, typographers; copy writers and editors, printers, all of whom contribute to the team's efforts. Ads are expensive to produce, and expensive to run, so there is nothing "accidental" in an ad—it is never "just a picture." There is too much money at stake for that attitude.

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