Duke University offers vintage print ad library

I’ve always been fascinated by print ads of days gone by. Besides their cultural value, they provide a unique insight into advertising tactics.

Vintage Lifebuoy AdDuke University’s Ad*Access Project has collected and scanned more than 7,000 ads printed in the United States and Canada between 1911 and 1955. This is not a collection of direct response advertising. From my brief perusal, these appear to be mass market, brand building ads from newspapers and magazines.

The ads represent five product and subject areas: radio, television, transportation, beauty and hygiene, and World War II.

I don’t know if these ads are representative of all advertising during the time period because they’re from a single collection put together by J. Walter Thompson, which could be skewed by whatever interest JWT had when assembling the ads.

Still, there’s a lot to be learned by studying mass market advertising. Ads of the past also tend to be easier to analyze since they are aimed at sensibilities of former generations, allowing a good measure of objectivity that you may not have when looking at ads directed at you today.

This is an excellent collection worthy of a bookmark. If you know of other quality collections online, let me know.

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