Modern advertising was created in the US between 1870 and 1920 when advertisers and the increasingly specialized advertising industry that served them crafted means of reliable access to and knowledge of audiences.
This highly original and accessible book re-centers the story of the invention of modern advertising on the question of how access to audiences was streamlined and standardized. Drawing from late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century materials, especially from the advertising industry’s professional journals and the business press, chapters on the development of print media, billboard, and direct mail advertising illustrate the struggles amongst advertisers, intermediaries, audience-sellers, and often-resistant audiences themselves. Over time, the maturing advertising industry transformed the haphazard business of getting advertisements before the eyes of the public into a market in which audience attention could be traded as a commodity.
This book applies economic theory with historical narrative to explain market participants’ ongoing quests to expand the reach of the market and to increase the efficiency of attention harvesting operations. It will be of interest to scholars of contemporary American advertising, the history of advertising more generally, and also of economic history and theory.
“The chapter on data mining, direct mailing, and the new role of the federal post office in the advertising during the late 19th and mostly the early 20th century is densely citational with delicious detail, all organized according to a central thesis. I believe this chapter will likely be heavily utilized and referenced by future economic historians of advertising and marketing.”
- Jack Amariglio, Professor Emeritus, Merrimack College
“I find Sherman’s work on advertising extremely clear, rigorous, and persuasive. I am not exaggerating in saying that I find her work the best I have seen as a rigorous analytical treatment of the theme of the ‘culture industry.’”
- Antonio Callari, Professor, Franklin and Marshall College
“Since Marx wrote of the fetishism of commodities and Polanyi explored fictitious commodities, it has been clear that a key to understanding market economies is in the social creation of the commodity. This is what Zoe Sherman is doing: working as a historian as well as a social scientist, she is reconstructing the political and social creation of consumer attention as a commodity.”
- Gerald Friedman, Professor, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Chapter 1 — Introduction: Audience Attention as Commodity, Commodification as Historical Process
Chapter 2 — Packaging Readers: Newspaper and Magazine Advertising
Chapter 3 — Pricing the Eyes of Passersby: Outdoor Advertising
Chapter 4 — Home Invasion: Advertising Delivered Door-to-Door
Chapter 5 — Conclusion: Multimedia Demands on the Resource of Attention