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Advertising Technology’ Changes in the 1980s Essay


Advertising is an important part of any industry. It has become part of people’s daily lives. Man has always practiced advertising since the beginning of trade. This practice has progressed to other areas. Various methods and techniques of advertising have been tried all over the world. However, each method has a different underlying principle. The different periods in history have ushered in a new way of advertising that suits the existing generation and the products or activities to be promoted. Advertising is a major part of marketing communication. Albert Lasker defines it as the salesperson driven in print. However, advertising has undergone a series of modifications that have changed the definition from that stated by Lasker to a form of communication that is aimed at promoting a business or commercial activity (Pope 2003).

The current forms of advertising such as the use of print and electronic media have helped define the practice of advertising. Ordinary people are exposed to hundreds of adverts in their daily lives. These adverts are meant to influence their decision-making. The techniques used to achieve these effects are dependent on the intended outcome. The most significant changes in advertising took place in the 20th century. These changes were occasioned by the numerous inventions that occurred during this period.

The economic, social, and legal changes in this century also meant that the techniques used in advertising would change. Another factor that led to changes in the advertising techniques used in the 20th century was the stiff competition that was evident between major companies and organisations. One of the periods in the 20th century that marked a big turning point for advertising is the period of 1980s, which can be said to constitute a radical break in advertising technique and strategy in the way in which it spoke to its audience. This essay uses examples to illustrate, outline, and critically evaluate some of the significant changes and shifts in1980s advertising techniques.

Before the 1980

Advertising was largely innocent before 1980. Many definitions existed even before this period. Advertising is both an art and a science. It attempts to convince and persuade the audience to buy goods or services (Pope 2003, p. 1). Apart from the promotion of sales, advertising has been used in other areas to promote positive appeal for companies to their audience, promote political ideas and individuals, and to promote favourable behaviours (Pope 2003, p. 1). Some individuals attempted to distinguish advertising from salesmanship by stating that advertising has a target audience as opposed to salesmanship that only has an individual to convince.

Some of the changes that affect advertising in different parts of the world including the US consist of modifications in the media, business demands, technologies, and culture (Pope 2003, p. 1). In the 18th century, advertising was mainly in the form of announcements of the goods that were at hand. This period in the United States was marked by considerable importation of goods for the colonialists (Pope 2003). One of the earliest forms of advertising that was used here is the newspaper. An example is the Pennsylvania Gazette that consisted of tools such as headlines, adverts, and illustrations that were placed in the midst of the editorial content (Pope 2003).

The 18th century advertising was marked by controversy mainly because of the existence of the slave trade where traders would advertise for sale of slaves (Pope 2003). There were also adverts for the rewards being offered for to any individuals who would assist in capturing slaves who had escaped from their masters. At the start of the 19th century, the use of advertising was still rampant. Individuals were beginning to accept the different forms of advertising to present their appeals. The ‘Market Revolution’ marked this century. However, no marked changes in the use of advertising were witness since advertising was still in its early days (Pope 2003).

According to Pope (2003), advertising was still using the appeals that were practiced in the 18th century, with small columns being the main modes. The magazines that had now begun production, just like other forms of print media, did not have a high regard for advertising. Most of the adverts were being placed at the back pages (Pope 2003).

The 19th century was not good for advertising. Nevertheless, this claim may be explained by the nature of manufacturing that was present during this period. Many companies were still producing goods in small proportions. They had not adopted the practice of mass production. One of the industries that used advertising to attract customers is the health profession, especially the medicine manufacturing companies. Pope (2003) says that the conventional medicine during this era was seen as incapable of providing cure for the different ailments. Hence, drug-manufacturing companies competed for the available spaces in the magazines and other forms of advertising. The techniques they used during this period involved making promises to customers. They also produced colourful and sometimes dramatic adverts (Pope 2003).

However, some changes occurred in the 1980s following the concurrent changes in the production and manufacturing areas. The manufacturing industry adopted new techniques of production during this period, with industries such as those used in the manufacture of soaps, cigarettes, and canned foods making more products at shorter times (Pope 2003). This necessitated increased use of advertising to promote the products to the potential customers. This led to the emergence of ‘National Advertising’ as a concept, with companies introducing branded products that were to be sold on the national front (Pope 2003).

The late 19th century also saw the origin of large stores that were involved in the sale of different kinds of products. These stores pioneered in the use of different forms of advertising (Pope 2003). They were opened in major cities and other parts of the United States that were rapidly growing. Organisations had to adopt national advertising to reach larger markets. The Montgomery Ward pioneered the use of mail-order catalogues, which served the rural inhabitants that had poor access to the major town centres.

With the adoption of national advertising as a technique, most of the agencies that were previously engaged in the peddling of the few available spaces in the few magazines had to change to the national trend. Pope (2003) confirms that the advertisers eventually started working for the new national advertisers. These agencies designed adverts while looked for places in the national media where these adverts would attract the necessary audience (Pope 2003). Some of the greatest concerns that affected advertising in the wake of the late 19th century changes included concerns on the ethical and social implications of the techniques being used at the time (Pope 2003).

At the beginning of the 20th century, ethical and social concerns in advertising were still dominant. However, advertising was still growing in value and size. In the 1920s, the population easily accessed credit on a number of items such as vehicles, radios, household goods, and other services. Therefore, increased spending on the parts of consumers marked this period (Pope 2003). Consumers also easily accessed credit on leisure activities such as sports, movies, and other activities during the 1920s. Therefore, advertising grew significantly in this period since it was used to promote services and goods on offer at a time.

The early 20th century also saw the increased use of radio as a form of advertising. Advertisers had the chance to use motion pictures as a form of advertising during the same period. The use of magazines in advertising also grew in importance, with more companies seeking space to advertise while offering greater payments. Magazines adopted advertising as the chief source of revenue. They dedicated some of their pages to commercials and classifieds (Pope 2003).

Advertising has grown significantly since the 1920s, with the current spending in advertising being ten times of what was spent during this period (Pope 2003). Between the 1920 and 1960, advertising companies had to change tactics to reach greater audiences and/or promote individual products. This period saw the introduction of market segmentation in advertising, with advertising companies changing from the previous technique of advertising products that were mass-produced for the public to marketing specific products for specific groups of the public. According to Pope (2003), these companies started shifting from the marketing of consumer items to undifferentiated markets and later to the advertisement of specific products that were targeted to particular groups (Pope 2003, p. 3). This practice in advertising was popularly referred to as the ‘Creative Revolution’. Many advertisers used the technique.

Changes in the 1980s

There were numerous changes in the advertising techniques used in the 1980s. According to Pope (2003), this period was largely dominated by the traditional forms of advertising, which innocently conveyed their intended messages. Some of the researchers that evaluated the changes in the 80s advertising include Gisbergen, Ketelaar, and Beentjes (2004) who discussed the changes particularly in the advertising language that was used in the magazines. In their research, these authors used over 500 articles from magazines in the 1980s and 2000. They compared the advertising techniques used in these articles and made conclusions on the possible changes during this period.

The changes in advertising techniques that were observed in the 1980s included the use of openness in the adverts where the advertisers were free to use different forms of advertising (Gisbergen, Ketelaar & Beentjes 2004). The advertisers also increased their use of visual prominence in their adverts (Gisbergen, Ketelaar & Beentjes 2004). According to Gisbergen, Ketelaar, and Beentjes (2004), openness is the level of guidance that adverts provide for the different products that are being advertised. These researchers state that open adverts offer less guidance for their audience on the products that they are marketing (Gisbergen, Ketelaar & Beentjes 2004).

These types of adverts are aimed at compelling the audience to look for more information regarding the products being advertised. Therefore, the audience participates in the advertising process and gets to learn of the products themselves together with how they are used.

Openness grew in the 1980s, with different advertisers using different forms of it to market their products. The consumer who is the main target for the open adverts has to participate in the construction of the right interpretation for the message that the advert is providing (Gisbergen, Ketelaar & Beentjes 2004). The most noticeable change in advertising technique that took place in the 80s is the use of rhetorical figures (Gisbergen, Ketelaar & Beentjes 2004). Gisbergen, Ketelaar, and Beentjes (2004) reveal that advertisers began to use puns and metaphors in their adverts. This strategy provoked the audience on the intended messages in the adverts.

The other observed change in advertising techniques is where the adverts increasingly became more ambiguous (Scott 1994). Ambiguity occurs when advertisers create adverts that are interpreted in several ways, apart from the appearance that first-time audiences get. Gisbergen, Ketelaar, and Beentjes (2004) say that ambiguity means that the adverts will be open to many interpretations, and that some of the adverts exhibit a deficiency in their meaning.

The 1980s also saw significant changes in the use of special kinds of adverts that did not have words as the main methods of conveying a message. Berger (2001) states that the adverts that were used before the 1980s were reliant on words to pass the message to the audience. The changes involved the use of fewer words in advertisements, with the audience being expected to augment the wording to suit their own needs and those intended by the advertisers. According to Scott (1994), the use of fewer words in advertising enables the audience to have different interpretations for the same adverts according to their own differences.

In most of the adverts that were analysed between 1985 and 1990, there was already an element of openness. Leigh (1994) confirms that 74% of the 2183 advertisements that he analysed had headlines with a rhetorical figure. Some of the other researchers that analysed articles to establish the differences in advertising techniques between the 1980s and other periods were McQuarrie and Mick (1992). In their research, McQuarrie and Mick (1992) found out that 15% of the 1286 print adverts that they analysed has an element of resonance. This means that a considerable number of the adverts had word play in the headline. The potential audience could make more than two interpretations of these adverts depending on the existing conditions and interests.

Some other researchers also analysed advertisements from different sources. They found that a considerable percentage of them were ambiguous. According to Faier and Unger (1987), 45% of the 162 print adverts that they analysed had an element of ambiguity, with most of them demanding closure and further explanation. Most of these adverts were from between 1985 and 1986. This change may be explained in a number of ways depending on the researcher or scholar (Faier & Unger 1987).

Visual prominence is another of trend that emerged in the 1980s adverts, which were more focused on the creation of imagery in their audience. They provided the desired results to the audience. According to Faier and Unger (1987), increased use of imagery and openness in advertising led to an increase in ambiguity. Many researchers conducted studies to investigate whether the use of increased visual prominence in adverts was associated with an increase in effects such as attention (Chamblee & Sandler 1992). Some of the researchers who conducted these studies concluded that the increased use of visual prominence in adverts was not directly linked to the attractiveness of the potential audience and the public (Chamblee & Sandler 1992).

Chamblee and Sandler (1992) claim that the use of openness in adverts has progressed over the years, with advertisers attempting to use more illustrations and fewer words. The 1980s saw increase in the complexity of the messages being passed through adverts, which accorded more meaning to the adverts. Many products that are being advertised will be focused on a single group, which has different characteristics from other groups.

Some of the companies that have used different forms of advertising include Coca-Cola and Pepsi. These two companies have tied in terms of competition throughout the previous century. The two companies have gone through the various changes in advertising that are evident in the last century. They constitute good examples that may be used to demonstrate changes in advertising in the 1980s. For Coca-Cola, the company initially used many words to market the products that were being processed in the United States (Chamblee & Sandler 1992). With the changes described above in the 1980s, the company increased its use of visual advertising to pass its messages to consumers. On the other hand, Pepsi was offering stiff competition to Coca-Cola. It employed different strategies in advertising to outdo its long-time competitors (Chamblee & Sandler 1992).

In the 1980s, the competition between Pepsi and Coca-Cola was still evident. The advertising strategies applied by both organisations were also shifting with the advertising changes in this decade. Pepsi also increased its use of ambiguity in adverts, thus leaving audiences to interpret the intended messages on their own (Chamblee & Sandler 1992). Coca-Cola also used more or less the same strategy, which was informed by the changes in advertising at the period.

Another example that can be used to demonstrate the changes in advertising techniques in the 1980s is the advertisement technique that was used in Disneyland (Bryman 2004). Alan Bryman (2004) captured the changes in advertising techniques in Disneyland in his book ‘The Disneyisation of Society’. Bryman (2004) reveals how advertisers used some terms to describe equivalent common terms in Disneyland. These terms were focused on producing ambiguity. An example is where the common terms such as a supervisor were be replaced by terms such as lead whereas accidents were referred to as incidents (Bryman 2004).

Advertising also became more focused on the needs of customers and buyers in the 1980s, with an example being the advertising strategy used in Disneyland. As Bryman (2004) confirms, most of the individuals working in Disneyland had to hold their smiles for long periods to please customers and hence promote the company. Disney reprimanded people who were unable to hold their smiles for long periods, with others losing their jobs (Bryman 2004). The occurrence of this form of advertising was a major concern for advertisers and other companies that are involved in advertising.

In the ‘System of Objects’ (Baudrilland 2006), there was a marked change in the consumer outlook where the traditional drive to production was replaced by an increased desire for consumption. Competition increased during the 1980s, with companies looking to outdo each other in the market in producing the most preferred products and services. Baudrilland (2006) asserts that consumer focus changed, with newly produced product models being considered superior to the older models. Advertisers had to use a strategy that would present the latest products to their market. They frequently got involved in the institution of changes to increase product variations.

Another tactic that advertisers and manufacturers used to promote their products is the use of different names for the products. According to Baudrilland (2006), manufacturers and other product makers used different product names that were regarded as brand names. They were meant to increase the consumer preference on the products, with some researchers finding that there was no effect on the overall consumer attraction to the products being offered (Baudrilland 2006).

The use of different forms of advertising was evident even before 1980. However, the period that followed was significant in advertising following the onset of more methods of advertising such as the use of colour television (Baudrilland 2006). Consumers could get to see the actual product that was being sold. This method was recognised as a way of increasing the attraction to the products. The 1980s also saw the increased use of colour printing, with many of the magazines and newspapers being printed in colour (Baudrilland 2006). These new developments in advertising meant increased use of visual appeal by advertisers who would often captivate their audience by the use of different colours and themes.

The periods before the 1980 were dominated by the use of print media in advertising. This industry was worth billions of dollars. Many large companies also dominated the industry. Most of them had billions of dollars in revenue (Chamblee & Sandler 1992). Mergers and entry of international companies in advertising also dominated the decade. The most significant shift in advertising strategy for the different products was brought about by the use of motion pictures. Companies took to the use of television and radio.

The first adverts to be aired on television were mainly reliant on the use of words to convey the intended message and/or appeal to the prospective customers. The 1980s saw a shift in strategy where advertisers used imagery to create an impression on the audience in an effort to influence their thoughts and mentality. Most of the commercials on television were aimed at promoting the use of the products being advertised. The motor vehicle industry was among the biggest spenders on television advertising (Chamblee & Sandler 1992). The entry of colour television in the market meant that advertisers could use more of imagery and less of wording in the commercials.

Innocent forms of advertising dominated the period before the 1980s. These forms include the newspaper and magazine articles and columns (Chamblee & Sandler 1992). The many companies that advertised on the columns targeted readers of these magazines. Such companies used additional columns to market their products by explaining to the audience about these products. With the introduction of colour printing and colour television, most of the magazines, television stations, and companies aimed to attract manufacturers and independent companies to advertise on their platforms.

Kern-Foxworth (1994) has referred 1980s as the start of the post-industrial age. During this period, people became aware of the environment and the diminishing natural resources together with how man had contributed to their destruction. This led to a new form of movement where companies were leaning towards the provision of ecologically friendly goods and services (Kern-Foxworth 1994). Companies realised the importance of ecological conservation and the reduction in pollution because of the energy shortage that occurred between 1970 and the 1980 (Kern-Foxworth 1994). This led to the development of the term ‘Demarketing’ in advertising where producers would use marketing principles such as advertising to slow the demand for products that were deemed harmful to the ecology while reducing the consumption of oil that was in short supply (Kern-Foxworth 1994).

During the energy crisis in the 1980s, some energy companies used demarketing to reduce the consumption of energy by the people (Kern-Foxworth 1994). Demarketing later became a strategy for use by manufacturers and business people to reduce competition, for politicians to defeat their political opponents, and as a tool to solve some of the social problems (Kern-Foxworth 1994). Examples of demarketisation that are currently in use include the numerous adverts that are meant to show that tobacco smoking is harmful to the health of individuals.

Another strategic change in advertising that occurred in the 1980s is the merger and acquisition in the advertising agencies. Some of the dominant agencies included the New York-based Young & Rubicam and the Japanese Dentsu (Kern-Foxworth 1994). The two advertising agencies were later surpassed in dominance by the London brothers Charles and Maurice Saatchi whose company ‘Saatchi & Saatchi’ acquired several other advertising agencies in the world (Kern-Foxworth 1994). These mergers and acquisitions continued to dominate the advertising industry in the 1980s, with multi-billion institutions being created as a result. Some print and broadcasting companies were also established to cater for advertising only. It is during this period that the use of the internet was being experimented. The tool that was largely under government control was turned over to the public.


Based on the expositions made in the paper, it suffices to declare advertising one on the most vital marketing strategies that companies have embraced since time immemorial. Following the changing market demands and audience, advertising has had to be modified in an effort to capture the most treasured audience, namely the client, without whom many businesses will be closed. It is meant to create awareness of the various products and services that companies have to offer. Therefore, advertising has gone through numerous changes. Most of the changes are in the applied strategy and techniques. The 1980s were monumental in the field of advertising since several tactical and strategic changes in advertising took place during this decade. This essay has looked at some of the changes that took place in the 1980s.

It has established that before this period, advertising was largely dominated by print media where words were used to convey messages to the audience. The 1980s saw changes to the use of words in advertising, with most of the adverts in this period adopting openness and ambiguity. Another change is the demarketisation, which involved advertising on the reduced usage of the product for particular reasons. Advertising companies also started using colour in advertising. The main aim was to visually appeal to the audience. There were also many mergers and acquisitions of advertising companies during this period. Some of the examples detailing these changes have been provided in the essay.


Baudrilland, J 2006, The system of Objects (radical Thinkers) (Paperback), Verso, France. Web.

Berger, W 2001, Advertising Today, Phaidon Press, New York, NY. Web.

Bryman, A 2004, The Disneyisation of Society, Sage, London. Web.

Chamblee, R & Sandler D 1992, ‘Business-to-Business Advertising: Which Layout Style Works Best?’, Journal of Advertising Research, vol. 32 no. 6, pp. 39-46. Web.

Faier, J & Unger L 1987, The Use of Closure as a Global Advertising Technique, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC. Web.

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Pope, D 2003, Making Sense of Advertisements, History Matters, The US Survey Course, Routlege, London. Web.

Scott, L 1994, ‘Images in Advertising: The Need for a Theory of Visual Rhetoric’, Journal of Consumer Research, vol. 21 no. 1, pp. 252-273. Web.

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