Monday, April 30, 2007

Betraying the Reader into knowledge of the shop where the best Puffs and Powder are to be sold.

Extracts from Samuel Johnson's
The Idler, 1759
One of the oldest articles written about advertising.

The practice of appending to the narratives of public transactions, more minute and domestic intelligence, and filling the News-papers with advertisements, has grown up by slow degrees to its present state.

Genius is shewn only by Invention. The man who first took advantage of the general curiosity that was excited by a siege or battle, to betray the Readers of News into the knowledge of the shop where the best Puffs and Powder were to be sold, was undoubtedly a man of great sagacity, and profound skill in the nature of Man.

Whatever is common is despised. Advertisements are now so numerous that they are very negligently perused, and it is therefore become necessary to gain attention by magnificence of promises, and by eloquence sometimes sublime and sometimes pathetic.

Promise, large Promise, is the soul of an Advertisement. I remember a Wash-ball that had a quality truly wonderful, it gave an exquisite edge to the razor. And there are now to be sold, for ready money only, some Duvets for bed-coverings, of down, beyond comparison superior to what is called Otter Down, and indeed such, that its many excellencies cannot be here set forth. With one excellence we are made acquainted, it is warmer than four or five blankets, and lighter than one.

The true pathos of Advertisements must have sunk deep into the heart of every man that remembers the zeal shewn by the Seller of the Anodyne Necklace, for the ease and safety of poor toothing infants, and the affection with which he warned every mother, that she would never forgive herself if her infant should perish without a Necklace.

The trade of advertising is now so near to perfection, that it is not easy to propose any improvement. But as every art ought to be exercised in due subordination to the publick good, I cannot but propose it as a moral question to these masters of the publick ear, whether they do not sometimes play too wantonly with our passions...

There are men of diligence and curiosity who treasure up the Papers of the Day merely because others neglect them, and in time they will be scarce. When these collections shall be read in another century, how will numberless contradictions be reconciled, and how shall Fame be possibly distributed among the Tailors and Boddice-makers of the present age?

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