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What is advertising?

Today you are surrounded, as it were, by advertising. It is all around you. You cannot escape looking at it or listening to it. Even if you are not consciously looking at it or listening to it, the message of advertising reaches and influences you. It is often recorded somewhere in the back of your mind and is recalled when you are buying something or looking for a particular kind of service. In the morning, you switch on the transistor to listen to the news. As it ends it is followed by an advertising message. In television these days the news is interrupted by an advertising message. You pick up the morning newspaper; it is full of advertisements. You go out into the streets. A bus by, its body carries an advertisement. On the lampposts there are boards carrying advertisements. Situated atop a building is a hording with an advertisement. You stand in front of a shop to buy something; there on the signboard too is an advertisement of some product or other. In a show-window of a shop a beautiful display of different types of products attracts your attention. You step into the shop and on the counter is a cutout display of a packet of biscuits that you are looking for. In every big city, there is some exhibition or trade fare, providing an opportunity to the manufacturers to display their products in an attractive fashion and even explain the way their products in an attractive fashion and even explain the way they work if they are mechanical products, such as a video cassette recorder or a sewing machine.

From morning to night you are using advertised goods and services every day of your life. You start the morning with a cup of tea; use a toothbrush and toothpaste to brush your teeth; at breakfast, you might have a bread, butter and jam, and maybe some cereal; you have a bath with a toilet soap, rub down with a towel and may be rub a little hair oil on your head; you put on undergarments, a shirt, trousers, socks and shoes to go to work; you travel by a bus uses petrol or diesel; at your place of work you might be handling machines or sit in an office with cupboards, and use a computer, a ballpoint pen; you go to a bank to cash a cheque; an agent calls and you invest in a mutual fund; you might go out with some colleagues for lunch in a well-known restaurant; in the evening you might go to see a movie or a play or to listen to a music recital; or maybe you get back home straight from work and seek entertainment on your television set; you may have decorative lamp stands in your room; if it is summer you may have an fan or an air-conditioner providing you relief from the heat; if it is winter there might be a blower giving you warmth; after dinner you go to bed and sleep comfortably on a rubberized coir mattress covered by a bed sheet and matching pillows encased in pillow covers. One could go on and on and you would find that every item that you use is an advertised product. Advertising has in some way or the other influenced you to buy that particular brand of the product in question.

Thus today, advertising is a part of your everyday life. It is generally accepted as a recent phenomenon. In reality it is as old as human civilization itself. Let us first take the dictionary definition of advertising. According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, the verb ‘to advertise’ means: “To make generally or publicly known; describe publicly with a view to involving sales.” In this sense advertising began when somebody had something to sell and there was somebody else who wanted to buy that particular product. A way had to be found to bring the seller and buyer together to effect a sale or clinch a deal. This needs some form of communication between the two. This communication was advertising.

When such a transaction took place within a small community, where everybody knew everybody, what everybody produced or needed, no special effort was necessary to establish such a communication link. Then came a time, when communities’ expanded, human labor produced a surplus and this surplus began to be exchanged not between individuals, but in the market place. This is when the communication link became necessary and advertising really began. The moment individual exchange of goods was replaced by a system of public exchange; public announcement or advertising became necessary. At that stage, the human voice was the only medium for advertising. It is there even today. The street hawker still comes round selling a variety of goods. In the local bazaar or the village fair and on trains the human voice continues to be the means of advertising communication. Many of these hawkers use catchy often-rhythmic slogans and even sing their own jingles. Thus the advertising on radio or more so on television is only a more sophisticated expression of this primitive form of advertising.

As trade and commerce expanded and reached overseas, writing came to serve commercial communication and advertising. Handwritten posters were used. The shop signs and trade marks or symbols or logos that we associate with different products or services, or maybe marketing organizations, have also been common for centuries in the service of advertising. There were shop signs in Mohenjodaro and Harappa. The seals discovered in these ancient cities were possibly used for stamping on merchandise, just like our symbols and trade marks of today.

As civilization advanced, with technological progress, trade and commerce expanded, mass production brought about by the industrial revolution required mass markets, often at vast distance from the base of production. Trade and commerce became more complex. The entire activity of producing goods and services and reaching them to vast masses of people required a number of different organizations engaged in different activities. Production costs increased and so did prices of products and services. With education and experience people became more conscious of their rights as consumers. Competition increased as new manufacturers came into the market. Along with the expansion of commerce and industry, printing brought in the newspaper. Then came films, radio and television to open up new channels of communication between the producer and the consumer, or advertising.

In the process, advertising itself became a complex business involving different intellectual disciplines and institutional structures. Thus emerged modern advertising as the handmaiden of industry. It is the product of mass production, mass market, mass distribution and mass communication. It keeps trade and commerce moving and helps the growth of the economy, by creating demand for mass produced goods and services.

It is at this stage of our discussion that we can come to a more precise definition of advertising. Advertising can be defined as paid dissemination of information through a variety of mass communication media to motivate a desired action. Let us analyze this definition. First, advertising is not free. It has to be paid for. Space is bought in the newspapers and magazines or the print media; time is bought on radio and TV. Through this paid-for space or time, for a purpose. The purpose is to motivate a desired action.

Thus brings us to the question: Why does one advertise? What is the desired action that the advertiser wants? It could be just to create awareness in the consumer about a new product or service in such a way as to make him or her look for it. Associated with this objective could be introducing an existing product or service to a new market – consumers of a certain type or a new geographical area. I was involved at one time, for example in introducing an milk product, already established among bulk consumers, such as biscuit manufacturers, caterers, hotel and so on, to the domestic consumer.

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