This is Jelly Helm. I'm pretty interested in what he has to say, especially this.
So I wrote to him, and he wrote back. We agreed to a series of questions and here is the first:
Q1. In what ways do you see that honesty has or hasn't existed in the advertising industry so far and how would honesty exist differently within a post-consumer society for 21st century brands?
Jelly agreed to work with me, as long as I was willing to put in the work.
Here is the assignment:
#1. I think it is worth starting with the beginning. Advertising hasn't been around that long, so it's easier than studying, say, art or philosophy. We'll stick to the US since that's really the dominant model, globally, or at least its roots. Go soak in some old advertising, stuff from the 1850s to 1910 or so. Find out what were the most popular magazines and newspapers and look at them. Get a sampling of a dozen or so issues over that time period, and spend some time with the actual issues, copies, or more likely, microfilm at the library. Just look at the stuff, leisurely. Read articles if you want, but soak in the advertising. Just notice it, pay attention to it, see how they did it. Observe what role honesty played. Notice everything.
Step 1: Find out which magazines were popular.
Where to start? This took me a lot longer than I thought it would. I tried some internet searches, I tried to teach myself how to use indexes at the library and then I realized that this might be more of a guessing game at first. So I thought about which magazines are popular now and went straight to Wikipedia and then to the online catalog at the Multnomah County Library (I am really thankful for the internet).
Step 2: Figure out ancient technology.
Time warp! The microfilm viewer is much easier to use than Poole's Index to Periodical Literature or a Reader's Guide, but still not as obvious as the internet.
Step 3: Enjoy yourself at the library.
What did I look at?
Harper's Monthly Magazine
Ladies' Home Journal
New York Times
Emergence of Advertising in America 1850-1920.
In the vein of honesty, this one takes the cake:
So okay, he left a few things out, like his address. I guess I won't order the catalog. I actually didn't know what a lamp chimney was for. Apparently it's the glass that surrounds the wick of a kerosene lamp. Macbeth is right though, they are forever, unless some accident happens. Oops.
The first thing I noticed was the placement of advertisements. In the earlier years, there were few ads placed, existing in a cluster in either the front or back. Eventually, ads found themselves near articles that echoed their importance and reiterated necessity. Magazines like Harper's Monthly and Atlantic Monthly did well without advertising. The others started to rely upon it heavily as years went by. Common words and phrases used to describe products include: the best, the only, safe, forever, trust, cure, free, healthful and millions.
I noticed that there were a lot of ads and articles about products to cure digestive problems and a lot of ads about new foods and articles about the best things to feed to your family.
I noticed that there were a lot of ads about products to clear up itchy irritated skin and a lot of ads about laundry soap. I don't like to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but itchy skin is exactly why I use clear and free detergents.
The most important thing I noticed was that there was zero transparency. People looked to periodicals for enlightenment. There was zero regulation and products were able to state any claim, no matter how absurd. (Enlarge and read these testimonials, you won't be sorry.)
Apparently this Elixir has been proven to remove dozens of annoying cats, cure vigor and cheerfulness, polish furniture, keep daughters from marrying ugly freckle-faced ticket vendors, and suppress the odd sensation of hunger that comes about every few hours. For the record, Pie-Plant = Rhubarb.
Don't worry, these testimonials are all honest and true, and everyone is willing to pay you a dollar to say something good:
I am not sure if honesty ever existed in the advertising industry. Maybe its foundation is built more upon earnestness, but not honesty. The other day I got into a conversation about all of this. I said that 21st Century Brands should be honest and that they will have to be transparent to exist and thrive in post-consumer societies. I was challenged with the meaning of honesty. All I can guess is that as we move out of the industrial age and into the information age we will have two options:
1. Tell more lies (ignorance is bliss)
2. Live transparently (stop taking shortcuts)
After taking a look into the past, I realize that things really aren't that different yet, but I think they will be soon. They have to be.