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On April 6, 1825, Diario de Avisos began printing a few advertisements in its daily edition; those notices were among the earliest advertising in Spain.

The pioneer Spanish advertising agencies were subsidiaries of newspapers or other businesses: In 1857, Roldós, named after its founder Ruperto Roldós, was formed. The agency initially worked for newspapers but soon started editing brochures and creating some outdoor advertising. Roldós operated independently through 1929, when it merged with businesses in Madrid and Barcelona, becoming Roldós-Tiroleses. In 1939, it became Roldós SA.

Valeriano Pérez, founder of agency Los Tiroleses in 1891, was probably the first creative figure in Spanish advertising. He used historic events—such as Spain's war to preserve its territory in North Africa, the Spanish-American War, the quatercentenary of Christopher Columbus' 1492 voyage and the tricentennial of the birth of dramatist Pedro Calderón de la Bárca-as the basis for ad campaigns. He surrounded himself with talented graphic artists and developed a virtual monopoly on outdoor advertising.

Another key figure in early Spanish advertising was Pedro Prat, who founded the Fama agency in Barcelona and, in 1928, went to Madrid where he also founded Veritas that year and, after the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), Oeste (West).

Multinational agencies began arriving in Spain in the 1920s, among them Publicitas, Germany's Rudolf Mosse, Britain's Crawford, France's Havas and, from the U.S., J. Walter Thompson Co.

JWT introduced "reason-why" advertising in Spain (hard-sell advertising appealing to reason); its ads were different from the poster-art style common in Spain, taking an influence from the modernist aesthetic that then dominated the Spanish art scene. At about the same time, Spanish advertisers also began to use testimonials.

Creativity in Spanish advertising

Art was an important element in early Spanish advertising. From the 19th century to the time of the Spanish Civil War, painters and graphic artists worked together. At the end of the 19th century, Catalan artists were heavily influenced by the French Art Nouveau style. A significant change occurred when modernist and even cubist painters such as Juan Gris began contributing to the popular weekly supplement Blanco y Negro (founded in 1891).

Cosmetics joined medical remedies among widely advertised items and to these were soon added new products such as cameras, typewriters and cars. Women began appearing in ads actively consuming goods that were fashionable. Page ads with spectacular illustrations appeared in the 1920s, and in the '30s color lithography came into widespread use.

Innovation in the graphic arts was fostered by company-sponsored competitions. The first such contest, held in Barcelona in 1897, drew 172 submissions. This contest was underwritten by Anís del Mono, a liqueur marketer; it was soon followed by other competitions sponsored by the sparkling wine producer Codorniu and Amatller, a chocolatier.

The modernist style also dominated advertising in Madrid, exemplified particularly in the work of graphic artists such as Rafael Penagos and Federico Ribas. Another graphic artist of note during this period was Josep Renau, who worked in Valencia. Gal cosmetics, the brand that invested the most in advertising in the 1920s, still maintains its own advertising museum in Alcala, a city near Madrid. Its agency was Veritas. The first ad billboard in Spain was erected by a road near Manresa, in Catalonia, in May 1912.

The 1920s marked the early development of commercial radio advertising in Spain. The broadcaster Unión Radio, established in 1925, initiated an evolution from repetitive and boring messages to a more entertaining radio style. Sponsored programs were introduced. The beginnings of radio in Spain were wholly commercial; only later were government-owned stations introduced.


The end of the Spanish Civil War inaugurated a less creative era than the one that preceded it. The country was very poor and isolated. Advertising was basically political and served the interests of the regime of Francisco Franco.

In the late 1940s, agencies such as Oeste, Roldós, Vila, Publicitas, Valeriano Pérez & Sons, Los Tiroleses, Gisbert and Ruescas started up again. Most advertisers were local, however, and had very small budgets. Only a handful of food, cleanser, toy, medicine and shaving brands advertised nationally. Newspaper circulation was limited by a scarcity of paper, and content continued to be censored. Agencies regressed to become mere sellers of space for newspapers. Very little radio, magazine or outdoor work was done at this time.

After 1952, some multinational corporations such as Nestlé, Coca-Cola Co. and Firestone returned to the advertising scene, having left the country during the Civil War. Radio became the dominant ad medium, with the Sociedad Española de Radiodifusión network dominating the market. Also in the 1950s, motion pictures offered a new advertising opportunity.

The first TV station, government-owned Televisión Española, began programming on Oct. 28, 1956. By the end of 1957, the first commercial had been broadcast.

Multinationals return

The 1960s marked an era of relative prosperity in Spain, with major industrial and economic growth. Consumer spending power increased and new ad markets for home technologies were opened. Tourism became a major industry and itself offered a new advertising opportunity.

In this new environment, many multinationals that had left Spain during the Civil War came back. The Swedish firm of Günther & Backab returned in 1959, attracted by tourism. Unilever brought its in-house agency, Lintas, with it to Madrid in 1958. Leo Burnett Co. (1964), Ted Bates & Co. (1964) and Young & Rubicam (1966) opened independent shops. Others formed joint ventures with local businesses. JWT was associated with Alas between 1964 and 1966 and then worked alone; one of its biggest accounts was Nestlé's Nescafé coffee brand.

Although local shops—such as Star, Colón, Cid, Danis and Carvis—continued to dominate the ad industry, Lintas, JWT and Grey rapidly rose toward the top. JWT, led by Manuel Eléxpuru and Julián Bravo, stood out during the 1970s because of its professionalism and the talent of its personnel. Lintas, under the direction of Manuel Ramiro, was the leading agency by the beginning of the 1980s. Professionalism was also fostered by two trade magazines, Control de Publicidad y Ventas and IPMark (both started in 1962) and the Oficina de la Justificación de la Difusión, a non-governmental auditing body. It was this agency that finally introduced clear parameters for auditing newspaper and magazine circulation. Censorship was abolished by law in 1966. In 1971, Spanish universities began offering degrees in advertising.

Resurgence and growth

By the end of the Franco regime in 1975, Spanish advertising was set to enter its contemporary phase. The Spanish agency MMLB was key in defining the national version of the creative revolution, similar to the U.S. creative revolution of the 1960s. MMLB, a creative boutique rather than a full-service agency, published a manifesto much like those issued by avant-garde artists.

Also in 1975, multimedia audience measurement was improved by the newly formed Estudio General de Medios, the result of an industrywide agreement among agencies, advertisers and media. In 1977, the AEAP (Spanish Association of Advertising Agencies) gave new consistency to the industry by building a partnership between the largest agency networks in the country.

By the 1990s, the Spanish advertising market was No. 5 in Europe and No. 8 in the world in terms of ad spending. Overall ad spending in Spain did not compare with that of the biggest markets, however. Ad spending in the U.S. in 2000, by contrast, was 24 times that of Spain.

In the late 20th century, the European advertising market was characterized by the growth of TV. Digital paid TV, through cable or satellite, started in 1999, and TV's share of ad spending grew from 24.4% in 1984 to 36.8% in 1997.

In the 1980s, overall growth in ad spending was spectacular, as ad expenditures increased an astonishing 25% yearly on average. That boom was followed by an ad recession in 1992 and '93, when there was a real decrease in spending, as ad expenditures grew at 2% compared to inflation's 4%. By the turn of the century, overall advertising expenditures in Spain had reached approximately $6 billion.

Media and markets

The 1990s saw the development of commercial broadcast TV networks and regional stations. At the turn of the 21st century, the TV market in Spain consisted both of national and regional government-owned stations as well as private stations, both national and local. TVE, the most-watched station in the country, depended on the government. The 1990s were also a decade of development for cable systems. The first paid TV channel started in that decade.

Non-traditional media such as direct marketing (either mail-order marketing or telemarketing), sales promotion, sponsorship (especially in sports programming, which was new in Spain) and the Internet, accounted for half of overall ad expenditures in 2000. The fragmentation of the TV and radio audience, along with the increased ability of TV viewers to avoid or bypass commercials, increased the use of non-traditional media.

U.S. advertising shops dominated the Spanish agency scene at the turn of the century. Among the top 20 Spanish ad agencies, 18 were owned by non-Spanish agency networks.

The Spanish ad agency market is heavily concentrated in the creative hubs of Madrid and Barcelona, where large national and multinational clients are based. Most agencies in the Spanish market are still paid by commission, even though the use of fees and other performance-related payments is increasingly common.

Large media-buying conglomerates following a French model have been established in Spain. They are powerful intermediaries that use their influence to obtain impressive media discounts for their marketer clients. They have also started to offer medium- and small-size agencies and advertisers media-planning services and audience research.

In 2000, government advertising was a major factor in the Spanish market, with spending estimated at $105 million. Government-developed campaigns promoted safe driving and informed the public about tax revenues, state treasury funds, the state lottery, the Euro currency and issues such as drug abuse prevention, environmental protection and AIDS education.

Advertising Age estimated that in 2000, Spanish agencies overall had gross income of $638.1 million on billings of $5.24 billion.

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