Vintage Print Advertising: Technology Through the Years

Current technology advertising trends veer towards the iconic, minimalist and slick, with limited amounts of copy and super-glossy design. However a quick look back through the annals reveals that this wasn’t always the case. As the world began to move towards a more technologically savvy age at the turn of the twentieth century, consumers sought reassurance and information from their press advertisements, whether they were looking to upgrade to the latest gramophone in the 1920s or indulge in the newest mobile phone in the 1980s. Here we take a brief look at the trends and styles that have defined press technology advertising throughout the last 100 years, bringing us bang up to date with today’s cutting-edge approach.

This press campaign for a 1920s telephone from Western Electronics shows just how much product information consumers craved at this time. The headline “a metal tongue millions of miles long” is both trying to de-mystify the product and create a tangible customer benefit, and the illustration underlines this statement. It’s far removed from today’s approach, which shies a “say what you see” headline and image partnership wherever possible.

Similarly this 1930s advertisement for a domestic battery pack uses bold typography to literally communicate the benefits of the product. Whether bought for a radio, lighting or other power source this simple approach leaves the target audience in no doubt about the product’s function. And if you still weren’t too sure, the headline reiterates the point.

Cue the 1940s and this campaign, for a Magnavox television, shows a distinct step towards the future of technology advertising. It shows the television in situ, selling both a lifestyle benefit as well as the product, and features thumbnail detail shots to highlight functionality. The level of copy has been kept to a minimum, relying instead on the headline and price-point to do the hard sell.

The stereotypical 1950s, a housewife is used to promote this television set from RCA. Using friezes to display its versatility and user-friendly functions, it is portrayed as the perfect addition to the perfect household – both the television set and the model; the epitome of 1950s domestic bliss.

During the 1960s as the commercially competitive world expanded, advertising agencies began to take a more sophisticated approach to press advertising. Gone is the smiling housewives, the literal headline and the use of multiple product shots. Instead, as can be seen here, a simple, confident line replaces the literal and the product is presented conceptually as opposed to in-situ; stylistically much more akin to the technology press advertisements we are familiar with today.

This stunning example, taken from RCA’s 1970s campaign for the home-radio, shuns product shots, models and price points entirely. It demonstrates a marked change in technology advertising, where iconography, typography and lifestyle benefits are all that are required to help this product revolutionise home entertainment.

What’s most interesting about this 1980s campaign for one of the very first mobile phones is that it shows a clear step backwards in press advertising creative techniques. Note the excessive amount of copy, the numerous shots of the product in use by aspirational models and the direct customer-benefit headline. One can only assume that as this was a brand new product to the market, advertising creatives returned to the tried and tested approach taken earlier in the century when launching the first television sets; seeking to reassure, inspire and convince customers with a self-conscious hat-tip to the past.

Step into the 1990s and this fridge-freezer campaign takes a fresh new approach. Rather than showcasing what the product can do for the customer, it chooses to assert the prestige of the brand. Claiming that “this is what happens when you think about food 24 hours a day” places GE Answer Center in a position of authority, a brand consumers can aspire to own.

Moving into the 2000s this shot, taken from the highly successful “I’m a PC” campaign, shows just how little information technology consumers now require when it comes to making a purchase decision. It relies on the audience making character assumptions based on Mitchell and Webb’s Peep Show personas and the positive and negative connotations associated with them. By selecting the right representative to endorse your product it can appear over-confident, smug and pretentious or smart, understated and sensible without even requiring a headline; welcome to the 21st century.

Kirk is a software / web developer & business consultant. He has been doing online marketing and product development for the last eight years, and been an entrepreneur for the last five. BlogWebDesigner was created to help Internet Marketers sell more stuff online.
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