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  • What is Advertising?: An Anthology of Scholarship about Advertising and Society
  • William M. O’Barr

This inaugural issue of Advertising & Society Review presents 25 articles and selections from books that deal with issues central to the mission of this journal. Taken as a whole, the contents of this issue define the scope of this journal - namely, to examine the role of advertising in society, culture, history, and the economy in the United States as well as in other cultures and nations, in the past, present, and future. This is a broad mission indeed, but it is my belief, and that of the Editorial Board, that advertising must be studied from many perspectives if we are to understand its place in our world and in our lives.

The approaches and methods represented here are as broad as the backgrounds and orientations of the authors who include scholars and popular writers as well persons working in the advertising industry. The politics, analyses of issues, and remedies range from strongly critical to supportive of advertising. It is my belief that all perspectives deserve representation and that the marketplace of ideas will determine which perspectives readers will adopt as their own. In my own teaching, I have found it valuable to present both the critical perspectives of scholars and popular writers (who dislike advertising and blame it for any number of social ills) and those of persons who work within the industry (who tend be to strong advocates of advertising and emphasize its positive contributions). Only when the various perspectives are laid before them do students have an opportunity to decide for themselves which arguments and perspectives are more valuable.

I have a similar goal as inaugural editor of Advertising & Society Review. I want to lay out the various issues and perspectives on advertising and society before readers of this journal and allow them to decide which authors convince them and which ideas they accept. I believe that it is my role, and that of the Editorial Board that I have asked to help me, to decide which issues, which authors, and which arguments deserve the attention of our readers. I invite readers to write about their reactions and views as the medium for this journal allows special opportunities for discussion of the ideas that are raised here.

In this first issue, I have tried to represent some of the classic and key issues about advertising and its place in society, culture, history, and the economy. What is advertising? Where does it come from? Are its origins ancient or modern? Does it have parallels in precapitalist societies, or is it an artifact of capitalism? The articles in Part 1 provide some perspectives on the issues raised in these questions. Presbrey finds advertising’s origins in Ancient Greece and Rome whereas Williams, Schudson, and others see it as profoundly connected to capitalism and distinctly unlike the technique of marketing and selling found in earlier times and non-capitalist economies. Jhally, Pollay, and Twitchell explore the distinguishing characteristics of advertising and consider its broad connections to society, culture, and public institutions.

The articles and selections in Part 2 deal with the history of advertising in the United States in the period since the late 1800s when advertising, in its modern form, developed. The points of view of Ewen, Lears, and Marchand have influenced and shaped understandings of the role of advertising in American history and are valuable for both the historical depth and the interpretive approaches they provide. Ruffins and Belk deal with two important aspects of the history of advertising in America: the role it played in the development of Santa Claus and Christmas celebrations (Belk) and the way ethnicity has been portrayed in advertising (Ruffins).

Part 3 contains selections from two well-known books about advertising: Vance Packard’s The Hidden Persuaders (1960) and Ivan Preston’s The Great American Blow-Up: Puffery in Advertising and Selling (1975). No person is more responsible for the public fear of and distaste for advertising in America than Vance Packard. His book sold millions of copies and became the basis for anti-advertising public sentiments in the second half of the 20th century. Ivan Preston’s book...

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