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An ad or two would have livened things up. Prof. Pope (History, Univ. of Oregon) proposes to tell how modern American advertising came of age, between 1890 and 1920, and to tell the story ""as an aspect of business history""--which has become newly do-able since Alfred Chandler's The Visible Hand (1977) transformed modern business history by weighing in the role of management and managerial stratagems. There, we were reminded that mass production and mass distribution begat national brands and national advertising. This course of events changed advertising agencies from space-brokers, merely placing ads (for local stores and patent medicines, mostly) to professional-type institutions, providing a range of services. A third or more of Pope's text is devoted to laying out these developments, mainly with reference to the same few sources, as if they needed to be demonstrated anew. He also spends much time trying to make something out of other flimsy, conflicting evidence (e.g., ratios of advertising to sales), and then admitting failure. A further, peculiar preoccupation--for a book professedly sticking to ""business needs""--is with criticisms of advertising. Does it or does it not increase concentration and create monopolies? Probably, yes. Are such monopolies detrimental ""to consumer welfare""? Well, some still say yes, and some still say no: there is not only ""no consensus,"" there is no evident reason for worrying the subject retroactively here. What is germane is Pope's discussion of why full-service ad agencies prevailed when national advertisers could have done all or part of the work themselves (his explanation, the commission system, makes surprising sense); and there is also some good, if limited, descriptive material on the truth-in-advertising movement that quashed patent-medicine ads, learned to live with federal food-and-drug regulation, and then instituted self-surveillance (the Better Business Bureaus). The limitation is Pope's (consistent) failure to correlate developments in advertising with larger trends. As he notes, ""the vigilance movement cooled"" in 1916. Muckraking collapsed then too. So, say many, did Progressivism. Meanwhile the advertising industry got a huge boost from WW I propaganda techniques. Pope's failure to consider these factors vitiates the book as a serious history of advertising. But even treating advertising ""as an aspect of business history,"" he only rarely gets beyond platitudes and equivocations--in his final, latter-day chapter too.

Pub Date: March 21st, 1983
Publisher: Basic Books