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What is Advertising?: An Anthology of Scholarship about Advertising and Society

This inaugural issue of Advertising & Society Review presents 25 articles and selections from books that deal with issues central to the mission of this journal. Taken as a whole, the contents of this issue define the scope of this journal - namely, to examine the role of advertising in society, culture, history, and the economy in the United States as well as in other cultures and nations, in the past, present, and future. This is a broad mission indeed, but it is my belief, and that of the Editorial Board, that advertising must be studied from many perspectives if we are to understand its place in our world and in our lives.

The approaches and methods represented here are as broad as the backgrounds and orientations of the authors who include scholars and popular writers as well persons working in the advertising industry. The politics, analyses of issues, and remedies range from strongly critical to supportive of advertising. It is my belief that all perspectives deserve representation and that the marketplace of ideas will determine which perspectives readers will adopt as their own. In my own teaching, I have found it valuable to present both the critical perspectives of scholars and popular writers (who dislike advertising and blame it for any number of social ills) and those of persons who work within the industry (who tend be to strong advocates of advertising and emphasize its positive contributions). Only when the various perspectives are laid before them do students have an opportunity to decide for themselves which arguments and perspectives are more valuable.

I have a similar goal as inaugural editor of Advertising & Society Review. I want to lay out the various issues and perspectives on advertising and society before readers of this journal and allow them to decide which authors convince them and which ideas they accept. I believe that it is my role, and that of the Editorial Board that I have asked to help me, to decide which issues, which authors, and which arguments deserve the attention of our readers. I invite readers to write about their reactions and views as the medium for this journal allows special opportunities for discussion of the ideas that are raised here.

In this first issue, I have tried to represent some of the classic and key issues about advertising and its place in society, culture, history, and the economy. What is advertising? Where does it come from? Are its origins ancient or modern? Does it have parallels in precapitalist societies, or is it an artifact of capitalism? The articles in Part 1 provide some perspectives on the issues raised in these questions. Presbrey finds advertising's origins in Ancient Greece and Rome whereas Williams, Schudson, and others see it as profoundly connected to capitalism and distinctly unlike the technique of marketing and selling found in earlier times and non-capitalist economies. Jhally, Pollay, and Twitchell explore the distinguishing characteristics of advertising and consider its broad connections to society, culture, and public institutions.

The articles and selections in Part 2 deal with the history of advertising in the United States in the period since the late 1800s when advertising, in its modern form, developed. The points of view of Ewen, Lears, and Marchand have influenced and shaped understandings of the role of advertising in American history and are valuable for both the historical depth and the interpretive approaches they provide. Ruffins and Belk deal with two important aspects of the history of advertising in America: the role it played in the development of Santa Claus and Christmas celebrations (Belk) and the way ethnicity has been portrayed in advertising (Ruffins).

Part 3 contains selections from two well-known books about advertising: Vance Packard's The Hidden Persuaders (1960) and Ivan Preston's The Great American Blow-Up: Puffery in Advertising and Selling (1975). No person is more responsible for the public fear of and distaste for advertising in America than Vance Packard. His book sold millions of copies and became the basis for anti-advertising public sentiments in the second half of the 20th century. Ivan Preston's book is more scholarly in its approach and explores the various claims in advertisements and how American law has dealt with exaggeration, deception, and puffery.

Part 4 focuses on subliminal advertising - the single issue about advertising that has attracted more public attention than any other. Wilson Bryan Key's claims circulated widely in the 1970s and 1980s through his books and public lectures, and the subject is far from dead today, as exemplified in the "RATS" commercial that aired in the 2000 political campaign. Jack Halberstroh, intrigued and suspicious of Key's claims, set out to find the culprits in Key's most famous example the letters S-E-X that are alleged to be embbedded in an ice cube. The results of his search are reported in his article.

In Part 5, the authors add comparative perspectives on advertising and society through case studies of advertising in specific cultural contexts (Japan, Papua New Guinea, and the Caribbean) and globally (international Coca-Cola advertising). These articles by no means exhaust the lessons to be learned from the cross-cultural and cross-national study of advertising. Rather they indicate the value comes from studying advertising comparatively across place as well as time. It is my intention to devote a future issue of A&SR to a broader consideration of international and global advertising.

In Part 6, the articles show the role of personal, social, and cultural factors in consumers' interpretations and understandings of advertising messages. They also examine how advertisers attempt to take these factors into consideration when designing advertising messages. I am indebted to Michel Pham, a member of the Editorial Board of A&SR, for his role in selecting the articles in this section for the inaugural issue.

In Part 7, Judith Williamson lays out a method for deconstructing and interpreting advertisements. Her book, Decoding Advertisements, first published in the 1970s, is the classic model for the interpretation of social and cultural messages in advertisements. In addition to the insights her readings of ads provide, Williamson's approach is valuable because it incorporates the perspectives of many critical theorists and thereby brings a rich variety of social theory to bear in interpreting advertising messages.

Readers will note that from the location that follows my signature below that I am currently on sabbatical and living in Italy. Odd as this may seem to some, it is entirely appropriate that the readers of this journal are spread widely on a geographic scale. Advertising & Society Review is published on-line and will not exist in printed form. The medium of the Internet not only allows the Editorial Office of this journal to be located at Duke, its sponsor to be located in New York City, its Production Office to be located in Baltimore, Maryland, the members of the Editorial Board to be located at various institutions around the United States, and me to be living and working abroad. The Internet also provides us with a special medium for discussing advertising because we can easily include advertisements (print and television) along with the articles that we publish. Some of the articles in this issue (for example, Marchand and the interview I conducted with Marcio Moriera) are richly illustrated. Future issues that contain original articles will include the advertisements that are discussed as a part of the articles. This represents a radical break with what scholars writing about advertising have had to contend with up to now. I invited potential authors to send us their manuscripts for consideration and we will help in the process of illustrating the text.

Finally a word about the peer review process and the publisher of this journal. Original submissions to A&SR will be peer-reviewed by members of the Editorial Board and other qualified scholars to ensure that they conform to high academic standards of scholarship. This means that every article will be read by at least two scholars who will be asked to submit written evaluations of the articles. I will make, in conjunction with the Editorial Board, final decisions about publication.

This journal is sponsored and published by The Advertising Educational Foundation, Inc., in New York City. It was the Foundation's idea to institute this journal and to publish it online. It will be produced and distributed by The Johns Hopkins University Press thorough its Project Muse. A&SR is editorially independent of both The Advertising Educational Foundation and The Johns Hopkins University Press. The editorial policy is set by the Editor and the Editorial Board of this journal.

William M. O'Barr
Editor

 

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