The book begins with pioneers of the ad industry: Volney B. Palmer, who coined the term "advertising agency"; George W. Powell, who published the first media directory; and Francis W. Ayer, creator of the agency-client relationship. Print work from this era leading up to the Great Depression is more than vintage memorabilia -- it's art. (Morton Salt's Umbrella Girl, for example, appears in her 1914 two-tone debut, five makeovers before the incarnation we see today.)
As the ads trace history through war and recession -- witness James Montgomery Flagg's rendering of Uncle Sam for the U.S. Army and the powerfully simple recruitment slogan "I Want You" -- we see an industry morphing constantly to meet consumer comforts and unanticipated needs. When shoppers' tastes and habits shift from decade to decade, so too do the campaign strategies: Agencies test the waters with bolder graphics and increasing shock value.
Even masters of the art world, from Picasso to Magritte, try their hand at the trade, introducing emotion and erasing hard-sell imagery in the process. But whatever the ad tactic, brand recognition dominates as a metric of agency efforts. "History" makes clear that the ad industry and the consumer are interdependent entities; the longer-lasting a campaign's impression, the more successful the work.
David Droga is one of several ad men (and women) quoted at the close of "History," which speculates on future challenges for the industry. "Just because you can, doesn't mean you should," Mr. Droga says, recalling wise words his father shared with him as a young child. It's an acknowledgment that indeed, not all branding opportunities segue to an advertising platform. "Understanding the consumer is much more than knowing how and when to talk to them -- it's also knowing when not to."