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An interesting place to begin investigating the story of diamonds and their relationship to marriage is Margaret F. Brinig, "Rings and Promises," Journal of Law, Economics and Organization 6:203-14. This article is available through JSTOR online.

Each of these examples illustrates an important aspect of advertising: it is the commodity that supports the cultural values. Using mouthwash and giving diamonds are the means of realizing and attaining the ideals. Advertising practitioners argue that these values come from society.

Today's openly contested values and social diversity represent enormous challenges for contemporary advertising as America recognizes and embraces its multiculturalism and diversity. Advertising cannot afford to take a homogenized approach to cultural values. Contemporary advertising recognizes the plurality of American culture and has recognized that figuring out what "the middle class" thinks and reflecting it back will no longer work.

8. Defining Advertising Empirically

Humpty Dumpty: When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.

Alice: The question is whether you can make words mean so many different things.

— Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland, (1866).

The Department of Advertising at the University of Texas at Austin maintains an extensive website about advertising.

Jef Richards is an active researcher and teacher in the field of advertising. The Brainy Quotes website has assembled some of his statements about advertising.

Should we ask advertising professionals what they mean when they use the terms advertisement and advertising? Professor Jef Richards of the University of Texas's Department of Advertising asked advertising and marketing experts how they use these terms.12 He wanted to know whether there is enough agreement to formulate a definition that everyone can agree upon, especially for the purposes of teaching about advertising. If so, this would minimize the necessity for each professor, researcher, or author to explain the terms over and over. It could foster agreement about the scope of topics in an advertising curriculum. It might also have other practical implications, for example when courts look to professionals to define terms and find inconsistency rather than agreement in usage.

Richards assembled a team of experts to discuss their definitions. This led him to propose: Advertising is a paid, mediated form of communication from an identifiable source, designed to persuade the receiver to take some action, now or in the future.13 The clarity and precision of this definition are significant, but only time will tell if others adopt it.

9. Advertising Is "Selling Corn Flakes to People Who Are Eating Cheerios."

There are many biographies of Leo Burnett on the Internet. Time named him one of the 100 most influential builders and titans of the 20th century. The American National Business Hall of Fame also honors him.

Leo Burnett Worldwide has an extensive global network with many global brands.

Leo Burnett, one of advertising's most colorful figures, was born in the American heartland, studied at the University of Michigan where he edited the college newspaper, and worked briefly as a police reporter before being hired to work in the advertising department of the Cadillac Motor Company. Burnett moved on to form his own advertising agency, the Leo Burnett Company, Inc., in Chicago in 1935. Today Leo Burnett Worldwide is one of the world's large multinational advertising agencies.

Burnett is famous for having created some of advertising's most important personalities — Tony the Tiger, the Keebler Elves, the Jolly Green Giant, the Pillsbury Doughboy, the Marlboro Man, and Ronald McDonald. These icons are associated with strong brand names, and it was brand loyalty that Burnett had in mind when he said advertising is "selling corn flakes to people who are eating Cheerios."14 While only a small proportion of advertising is devoted to introducing new products, most deals with promoting brand loyalty among users and persuading those who are not to switch brands.

Fig. 1.26 Strong Brand Images
Populate Modern Ads [Source]

10. Advertising Is a Form of Mythmaking

Consumer myths, marketplace mythology, and mythmaking are central concepts used by some advertising professors and advertising professionals today. But just what is it they have in mind by defining advertising as form of mythmaking? In his book, Mythmaking on Madison Avenue (1993),15 Sal Randazzo writes:

Myths are more than entertaining little stories about gods, goddesses, and heroic characters. The universality of myths, the fact that the same myths recur across time and many cultures, suggests that they originate somewhere inside of us.... Advertisers sell products by mythologizing them, by wrapping them in our dreams and fantasies.... Advertising is not simply in the business of "selling soap".... Advertising turns products into brands by mythologizing them — by humanizing them and giving them distinct identities, personalities, and sensibilities that reflect our own.... Advertising has discovered a powerful truth: Dreams sell.16

McDonalds — where a clown comes to play and everyone is happy — is a fantasy. Coca-Cola — blissful fellowship over a soft-drink — is a dream. Marlboro — independence, strength, and companionship away from the strains of urban life — is a fantasy. Mr. Clean — a genie released from a bottle who cleans house for you — lives in the world of advertising. The myths that advertising has created around these brands has transformed the ordinariness of hamburgers, soft drinks, cigarettes, and housework into powerful brands.

Fig. 1.27 Mr. Clean: A Genie from a Bottle [Source]


So what is advertising? Advertising is a complex phenomenon — intimately tied to society, culture, history, and the economy — that defies any simple or single definition. Some aspects of it are universal, whereas others are culturally specific. It is personal salesmanship transformed into mediated communication. It sometimes provides new information, often cajoles, and always attempts to persuade. In addition to selling messages, it encodes cultural values and social ideals. And depending on your point of view, it is a positive or negative force in society and the economy.


1 De Vries, Leonard, Victorian Advertisements. (London: William Clowes and Sons Limited, 1968).

2 De Vries, 6.

3 Williams, Raymond. "Advertising: The Magic System." In Problems in Materialism and Culture. (London: Verso, 1980), 170-195. This article is available online in Advertising & Society Review, Vol. 1, No. 1 (2000), accessible through most university libraries or through

4 Gunther, John. Taken at the Flood: The Story of Albert D. Lasker. (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1960).

5 Lasker, Albert. The Lasker Story: As He Told It. (Chicago: Advertising Publications, 1963).

6 Lasker, 19.

7 Mitra, Anusree, and John G. Lynch, Jr. "Toward a Reconciliation of Market Power and Information Theories of Advertising Effects on Price Elasticity." Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 21. March 1995. 644-59

8 Galbraith, John Kenneth. The Affluent Society. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1958.

9 For example, Albert Lasker is reported to have referred to advertising as "news" prior to his embracing Kennedy's definition of advertising as salesmanship in print. See Lasker, 15-21.

10 William Deresiewicz, Professor of English at Yale University, characterized advertising copy in similar words in an essay about references to advertising in George Eliot's novel, Middlemarch. (William Deresiewicz, Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 38, No. 4 (Autumn 1998), 723-740. This appears in Note 23, Page 740). In analyzing a passage from Chapter 60 concerning the auction of a tray of miscellaneous knickknacks, he wrote: "Trumbull [the auctioneer] opens his mouth and out comes advertising copy, or what will become advertising copy. But what is advertising copy if not the middle-class unconscious talking to itself? (italics added)."

11 Marchand, Roland. Advertising the American Dream. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985.

12 Richards, Jef I, and Catharine M. Curran. "Oracles on 'Advertising': Searching for a Definition." Journal of Advertising, Vol 31, No. 2 (Summer 2002), 74.

13 Richards, 74.

14 Bendinger, Bruce. The Copy Work Shop Work Book. Chicago: The Copy Workshop, 1993. 60.

15 Randazzo, Sal. Mythmaking on Madison Avenue. Chicago: Probus Publishing, 1993.

16 Randazzo, ix, xii, and 1.

Media Credits

Fig. 1.1 Courtesy of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, Inc.

Fig. 1.2 De Vries, Leonard, Victorian Advertisements. (London: William Clowes and Sons Limited, 1968) p. 23.

Fig. 1.3 De Vries, p. 57.

Fig. 1.4 De Vries, p. 25.

Fig. 1.5 Photo by Paolo Crisante.

Fig. 1.6 Victoria & Albert Museum, London / Art Resource NY.

Fig. 1.7 Photo by Mike Freedman for

Fig. 1.8 © Corbis.

Fig. 1.9 Image from "A History of Advertising" by Henry Sampson, held at the library of The History of Advertising Trust Arcive.

Fig. 1.10 Brown, Henry Collins. Fifth Avenue Old and New 1824-1924. Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford: NYC. 1924. p. 46.

Fig. 1.11 Provided courtesy HarpWeek LLC. February 16, 1889, p. 134.

Fig. 1.12 Brian Atkinson/ Alamy.

Fig. 1.13 Buonarroti, Michelangelo. Michel Ange: l'oevre du maitre: peinture, scupture, architechture. (Paris:Hachette, 1909) p. 1.

Fig. 1.14 PictureNet Corporation / Alamy.

Fig. 1.15 Scala / Art Resource NY.

Fig. 1.16 Scala / Art Resource NY.

Fig. 1.17a Courtesy of Cramer-Krasselt.

Fig. 1.17b Courtesy of DDB Worldwide Communications Group Inc.

Fig. 1.18 Courtesy of Special Collections & Archives, Wright State University.

Fig. 1.19 Courtesy of

Fig. 1.20 Sideways Dir. Alexander Payne. © Fox Home Entertainment. 2005.

Fig. 1.21 Picture by Eric Gilbert,

Fig. 1.22 J. Walter Thompson Co. Archives, Domestic Advertisements, Lever, 1936, John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising and Marketing History, Rare Book, Manuscript and Special Collections Library, Duke University, (hereafter JWT/Duke).

Fig. 1.23

Fig. 1.24 Courtesy of © Adam Moore.

Fig. 1.25 Courtesy of J. Walter Thompson.

Fig. 1.26 Reprinted with permission of Kellogg Company.

Fig. 1.27 Home Made Simple

William M. O'Barr

William M. O'Barr is Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Duke University where he has taught since 1969. He holds secondary appointments in the Departments of Sociology and English. He has been a visiting professor at Northwestern, Dalhousie, and Oxford Universities. He has been recognized for his outstanding undergraduate teaching by both the Duke University Alumni Association and Trinity College (Duke University). His course, Advertising and Society: Global Perspectives, is one of Duke's most popular undergraduate courses. His many seminar courses include Advertising and Masculinity, Children and Advertising, and The Language of Advertising.

He is author or co-author of ten books, including Culture and the Ad: Exploring Otherness in the World of Advertising, Rules versus Relationships, and Just Words: Law, Language and Power. He has conducted anthropological research in East Africa, Japan, and the United States. In addition to his interest in social and cultural aspects of advertising, Professor O'Barr has researched law in a variety of cultural settings.

In 2000, he founded Advertising & Society Review and served as editor from 2000 to 2005. He is author of Advertising and Society: An Online Curriculum which will consist of 20 units published as supplements to AS&R.

Copyright © 2005 by The Advertising Educational Foundation, Inc. All rights reserved.

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