Warren's Shoe Blacking was one of the first consumer products advertised on a large scale in the U.K.; its advertising appeared on the walls of city buildings, on fences along country roads and in newspapers throughout England, Scotland and Ireland in the early 19th century. One particular ad depicting a cat spitting at its reflection in a shiny boot was the first instance of "idea" illustration in U.K. print advertising.
Poster advertising grew along with newspaper advertising, which jumped from about 500,000 in 1800 to 1.9 million per year in 1850. By midcentury, Holloway's pills, Rowland & Co.'s Kalydor skin oil and tailors Moses & Son and Heal & Son were among the U.K.'s biggest advertisers.
Rise of agencies
The earliest advertising agents in the U.K. emerged from newspaper agencies and coffeehouse reading rooms, making recommendations, extending credit and sometimes writing copy. Some early agents represented advertisers, placing advertising, negotiating rates and offering opinions on which newspapers to use. By the mid-1800s, agents were publishing directories of British and foreign newspapers, indicating papers' publication schedules, political affinities and in some cases average circulation and per-copy ad volume.
The abolition of newspaper and ad taxes in the 1850s led to the growth of newspapers and consequently an increase in the amount of ad space they offered marketers. Magazines also flourished, especially women's magazines, whose number increased from four in 1846 to 50 by 1900.
Meanwhile, consumer product choice began to expand, and advertising was used to introduce new products; the practice of branding also spread to basic household items. Newspaper ads chased rising incomes, offering furniture on credit, men's ready-to-wear clothes and sewing machines for women.
As the 19th century closed, the ad industry blossomed, with soap manufacturers leading the way. A. & F. Pears was one of the first to introduce pictorial art to poster advertising. Pears acquired Sir John Millais' painting "Bubbles," from which in 1888 the company's agency, T.B. Browne Ltd., produced a celebrated poster.
As competition among a growing number of ad agents in London increased, many went farther afield in pursuit of new clients in cities such as Glasgow and Liverpool. By the turn of the 20th century, T.B. Browne Ltd. was the largest agency in the U.K., employing more than 200 people and with offices in London, Glasgow, Manchester and Paris.
At the same time, the ad industry was becoming more international in scope. Paul E. Derrick, who opened an agency in London in 1894 to service Quaker Oats Co. when that company decided to enter the British market, is credited with introducing innovative American methods into British advertising.
Agencies also began to offer more services to clients. Some became "service agents" that kept the full commission of 15% on the cost of media purchased on behalf of advertisers and, in addition to placing ads, provided creative and technical expertise. Mather & Crowther offered print production, art and editorial departments; S.H. Benson advised marketers on media selection, copy and design.
Most smaller agencies functioned solely as space buyers, retaining a small part of the commission and rebating the remainder to the advertiser. By 1900, most large agencies employed copywriters, who used such approaches as extended anecdotes, testimonials and endorsements—real or fabricated—from satisfied users, especially British royalty.
Abuse and regulation
Advertising during the 19th century was largely practiced responsibly, but abuses did occur. Patent medicines promoted with false claims were a prime target of critics in the second half of the century, when self-regulatory and legal controls began to be put in place. Sentiment against outdoor advertising was so strong that the National Society for Controlling the Abuses of Public Advertising was formed in 1893.
In response, the ad industry took steps to regulate itself. To defuse public outcry and avert regulatory legislation, owners of bill-posting sites, or hoardings, in 1890 established a committee to evaluate and screen poster content.
Legal controls on advertising gradually increased over the 19th century. Parliament's Vagrancy Act of 1824 addressed obscene advertisements, subjecting violators to imprisonment. London's Metropolitan Paving Act of 1817 and the Metropolitan Police Act of 1839 required licenses for the placement of posters and regulated projecting signs and sandwich-board men. The London Hackney Carriage Act of 1853 dealt with ad cart obstructions by permitting ads only on vehicles that carried goods or passengers. Parliament's Indecent Advertisements Act of 1889 attempted to curb the activities of medical quacks. And Parliament's Advertisements Regulation Act of 1907 empowered local authorities throughout the U.K. to regulate hoardings and signs.
The courts also got involved in ad issues, with decisions that found comparative advertising to be legal, provided the advertising did not misrepresent a rival product. One significant case, Carlill v. The Carbolic Smoke Ball Co. (1892), served as a warning to advertisers and agencies to exercise care in making claims about products or services. The marketer advertised that its smoke ball prevented influenza and offered a payment to any consumer who contracted the flu after using its product. The plaintiff, one Mrs. Carlill, did fall ill with influenza after using the product and applied to the marketer for payment. The company refused to pay and the courts ruled in favor of the plaintiff, finding that an advertisement could constitute part of a contract.
War and peace
World War I marked a turning point for the ad industry in the U.K. Suffering from strained production capacity during the war, marketers virtually ceased advertising, shuttering their ad departments and terminating agreements with ad agencies, bill-posters and printers. Some smaller agencies went out of business. National newspapers suffered a newsprint shortage, and advertising volume dropped.
Advertising for luxury items and travel all but disappeared, while military outfitters, department stores and cigarette marketers continued to advertise. New, discount cigarette brands challenged established ones; American car advertising filled the gap left by British manufacturers; and theaters in London's West End promoted themselves as diversions from the war.
The government became a major advertiser, using a wide array of war-related appeals. In 1917, the Association of British Advertising Agents was formed to assist with the war effort. Its keynote slogan, "Wake up, England!" appeared in all media to rally the nation. Ads encouraged men to volunteer for the army and small investors to buy war bonds.
The period between the world wars was a golden age for British advertising. Ad expenditures grew from £31 million in 1920 to about £57 million in 1928. The Association of British Advertising Agents was renamed the Institute of (Incorporated) Practitioners in Advertising in 1929 in part to represent advertising agents as professionals. The Newspaper Proprietors Association, established in 1906 and later renamed the Newspaper Publishers Association, rid the industry of one shady practice by requiring all new agencies to sign an agreement that banned the rebating of commissions. And the Advertising Association, which represented British advertising interests and raised standards of practice, emerged in 1925.
Two agency heads—Charles Higham of Charles F. Higham Ltd. and William Crawford of W.S. Crawford Ltd.—dominated advertising in the 1920s. The British ad industry began using census data and research analyzing print media readership to segment consumers into groups of prospective buyers.
The media, however, were entering a period of transition. Radio became widely popular, but commercial broadcasts were prohibited in the U.K. Advertisers, however, placed messages on overseas stations that could be received in England and which were popular with local audiences. The cinema's role as an ad medium also grew.
As advertising became more pervasive, many social critics denounced it as an effort to sell people products they neither wanted nor needed. But more often their complaints were directed at ad claims.
To address those problems, the Advertising Association drove unethical advertisers out of newspapers by investigating claims and revealing to agencies clear examples of fraudulent ads. Individual media outlets also imposed standards. But such actions did not eliminate all concerns over fraudulent claims made by advertisers.
In 1936, the Proprietary Association of Great Britain, a body of reputable medical marketers, introduced voluntary advertising standards that were adhered to by its members. Those rules were extended to all medical advertisers in the 1948 British Code of Standards Relating to the Advertising of Medicines & Treatments.
During World War II, the Advertising Association encouraged major advertisers whose products were unavailable due to war shortages to maintain brand awareness and build consumer goodwill. Patriotic symbolism was widely used, ranging from idealized images of the armed forces and brave British housewives to caricatures of Adolf Hitler.
The government dominated advertising between 1940 and '45, spending nearly £10 million. Government advertising communicated essential information to the public about ration books, gas masks, identity cards and air-raid shelters. People were admonished to walk, eat and spend less, and to say nothing. An animated character, "Squanderbug," reminded the public to save money.
The planned, systematic approach to advertising adopted in the 1930s was largely forgotten during the war. Access to the media was limited, and advertisers bought what was available rather than what was strategically appropriate. Larger ad agencies with little work in the consumer-goods sector turned their attention to technical and industrial journals, and advertising in these publications increased.
Rivalry with U.S. agencies
The loss of staff and expertise during wartime had a serious effect on British agencies. In the U.S., advertising was widely integrated into marketing, but British companies developed no comparable marketing programs. Because of this, and the fact that British agencies were rarely held accountable for advertising effectiveness, British marketers and their agencies were unprepared for American competition after the war.
Advertising did not expand significantly immediately after the end of the war. Many goods were still rationed, and wartime controls were only slowly dismantled. But as the transition to a peacetime economy began, the industry started to thrive again. Ad expenditures, estimated at £76 million in 1947, grew to roughly £120 million in 1952. After 1952, as controls were lifted on coffee, tea, biscuits, sugar, eggs and gasoline, ad spending increased by more than 10% a year for the remainder of the decade. Demand for TVs, refrigerators and washing machines grew along with the demand for construction of new homes.
The most significant change in British advertising after World War II was the advent of commercial TV, which began broadcasting in 1955. A novelty, TV advertising produced significant sales increases, leading many retailers to prefer to offer consumers products that were advertised on TV. Agencies championed TV's creative versatility and the incipient audience-measurement techniques. Television Audience Measurement and A.C. Nielsen offered systems that relied on viewing diaries and meters attached to a sample of household TV sets.
Beginning in the 1950s, U.S. companies using sophisticated marketing techniques—Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive Co. and General Foods Corp., among others—expanded into Britain, using it as a beachhead for further expansion into Europe. American agencies followed their international clients, most often buying existing agencies in Britain, such as Compton Advertising's 1960 purchase of S.T. Garland Advertising Service.
To compete with American rivals, British companies went to their ad agencies for guidance on marketing policy, research and planning. But British agencies lacked expertise in marketing, and so British companies began to hire American agencies instead. In response, British agencies offered clients their services for no charge-including marketing, public relations and research-and hired American ad professionals who already had this much-needed expertise.
In that highly competitive environment, more new consumer brands were introduced than ever before. British agencies struggled to distinguish those brands from established ones and, in their efforts to do so, many were influenced by U.S. advertising concepts.
Upheaval and self-regulation
Amid the general economic uncertainty of the mid-1960s, ad expenditures declined, causing the industry to cut costs: Some agencies merged to slash overhead, many reduced their staff and others disappeared altogether. Some British agencies sold out to bigger, better-financed U.S. based agencies. Most prominently, Mather & Crowther merged with Ogilvy, Benson & Mather, New York, in 1964.
Adding to a variety of emerging ad media in the U.K., such as taxi and bus exteriors as well as stadium and arena signage, was the advent of independent commercial radio, finally approved by Parliament in 1971. But commercial radio had little effect on British advertising, as U.K. national advertisers and their agencies were slow to embrace the new medium.
In the mid-1970s, British agencies saw further competition emerge in the form of media-buying consultants and in-house ad departments developed by marketers. Creatively, agencies developed an indigenous style of British TV advertising based on aspects of the national culture such as class divisions, affection for eccentricity and understated humor.
TV advertising had been closely monitored by the Independent Television Authority. But with the advent of commercial radio, the ITA was renamed the Independent Broadcasting Authority and made responsible for all broadcast advertising. The Broadcast Act of 1990 revised that structure, creating a separate Radio Authority and Independent Television Committee, each of which regulates advertising through its own code of standards and practices.
In 1961, the Advertising Association introduced the British Code of Advertising Practice to prevent statutory oversight from being applied to non-broadcast ad media. The code's basic principles stated that all ads should be legal, honest, decent and truthful; be responsible to the consumer and society; and follow the principles of fair business competition. Specific aspects of advertising were also addressed, such as claims for healthcare products and advertising aimed at children.
Critics, however, complained that the association's code was biased in favor of ad industry interests and in 1962 created the independent Advertising Standards Authority. The code and ASA were strengthened in 1974 by a revision to the code itself, as well as a widespread campaign that urged the public to complain about advertising that violated code and implemented a system to monitor advertising of product categories such as cigarettes and other tobacco products.
Britain's creative counterrevolution
In the 1980s, British agencies centered in London—such as Saatchi & Saatchi; Bartle Bogle Hegarty; Boase Massimi Pollitt; and Abbott Mead Vickers—gained international acclaim for their creativity and as pioneers of "account planning." The London office of J. Walter Thompson Co. and Boase Massimi Pollitt were the first to develop account planning.
Account planners work from the perspective of the consumer in the ad planning process, focusing the creative team on objectives and strategy. They combine intuition, observation, lateral thinking (i.e., the application of different perceptions, concepts and approaches to solve problems by unorthodox, even illogical methods) and formal research to understand consumer wants and needs.
While account planning slowly caught on in the U.S., the Saatchi brothers and Martin Sorrell spearheaded a more significant British invasion that changed the face of advertising on both sides of the Atlantic.
Charles and Maurice Saatchi founded Saatchi & Saatchi Co. in 1970 and reached the top ranks of the world's advertising networks. The agency attracted early notice with its campaign for the Health Education Council featuring a sulking man with a bulging belly over the caption, "Would you be more careful if it were you who got pregnant?" Its 1979 ads for the Conservative Party, depicting a long line of unemployed Britons with the headline "Labour's not working," won international acclaim, as did the agency's work for British Airways, tagged, "The world's favourite airline," which won a Clio award for its "Manhattan Landing" spot. With the agency's success, the brothers looked overseas beginning in 1977 to build an international agency network.
Saatchi & Saatchi shook the U.S. ad industry with its acquisitions of Compton Advertising in 1982, McCaffrey & McCall in 1983, and Dancer-Fitzgerald-Sample, Backer & Spielvogel and Ted Bates Worldwide in 1986. However, difficult economic times in the early 1990s hit Saatchi & Saatchi hard. New financial management and pressure from shareholders forced the Saatchi brothers out of their agency in December 1994. They subsequently formed M&C Saatchi and were followed out of Saatchi & Saatchi by major clients British Airways and Mars Inc.
Similarly, WPP Group, run by Martin Sorrell starting in 1986, stunned the ad world in 1987 with a hostile takeover of the much larger JWT Group, including the venerable J. Walter Thompson Co., for $566 million. WPP Group then bought Ogilvy Group, owner of Ogilvy & Mather, for $864 million in 1989.
In the 1980s, Britain was seized by a media mania that continued into the 21st century. A longstanding distaste for commercialism became appreciation, even reverence, for advertising as culture. Copywriters became celebrities, and BBC TV broadcast the ad industry's award ceremonies. American ad professionals began looking to Britain for creative inspiration, emulating the U.K. industry's humor and cinematic quality.
As part of Britain's creative resurgence, other London shops attained prominence. One of the first was Collett Dickenson Pearce. Another was Boase Massimi Politt; under the creative guidance of John Webster, the shop made a creative imprint on British advertising in the 1970s and '80s. BMP's reputation was launched on its long-running "Martians" campaign for Cadbury's Smash potatoes.
Bartle Bogle Hegarty, founded in 1982, built a reputation for creative excellence under John Hegarty's direction; its defining 1985 work for Levi Strauss & Co. increased European sales of Levi's 501 jeans from 80,000 to 600,000 units.
The first Gulf War and economic recession in Britain in the early 1990s hurt the British ad industry as big advertisers cut their spending. Layoffs, mergers and general malaise were the rule. But by the mid-1990s, the industry's vitality returned and other shops stepped forward.
Abbott Mead Vickers, formed in 1977, was named agency of the year in 1996 and '97 by trade publication Campaign. AMV, perceived as lackluster in the 1980s, sold a minority stake to BBDO in 1991 and serves as the U.S. agency's London outpost, creating advertising for such well-known brands as British Telecom, The Economist and cereal marketer Weetabix Co. Top multinational clients include Pepsi-Cola Co., Gillette Co. and Pizza Hut.
Issues of criticism and control continued in the 1990s. Perhaps the highest profile case found the ASA confronting Benetton and its agency, JWT. Benetton sought ASA clearance for a poster campaign depicting a newborn baby covered in blood, umbilical cord still attached. The ASA judged it to be offensive, but Benetton proceeded with the campaign. Within days the ASA received more than 800 complaints. Though Benetton voluntarily withdrew the campaign, the incident cast some doubts on the effectiveness of self-regulation.
In 2001, the U.K. was the No. 4 ad market in the world for the third straight year and expected to remain so in 2002. For 2001, ad spending hit $15.2 billion and was projected at $15.3 billion for 2002. The top five agencies in 2001 were McCann-Erickson U.K., Young & Rubicam, Euro RSCG UK, Abbott Mead Vickers/BBDO and J. Walter Thompson Co. Top advertisers that year were the Central Office of Information, P&G, British Telecom, Ford Motor Co. and Renault U.K.