Yes, it’s true: Madison Avenue was cranking out advertising well before Donald Draper et al. were doing their thing. The glorious proof comes in the form of The High Art of Photographic Advertising, an exhibit running through Oct. 9 at Harvard Business School.
The website includes the back story:
“The 1934 Art and Industry Exhibition Photograph Collection brings together some of the finest examples of 1930s documentary, public relations, and advertising photography from prominent photographers such as Margaret Bourke-White, Russell Aikins, Alfred Cheney Johnston, Victor Keppler, Gordon Coster, Anton Bruehl, Nicholas Muray and others. This stunning group of black and white gelatin silver prints and color images was originally displayed in a 1934 exhibit sponsored by the National Alliance of Art and Industry (NAAI) and The Photographic Illustrators, Inc.”
Even a photography novice like me can tell that these photos are stunning, original and ahead of their time. (Check out the wild one at the bottom of this page. Something that’s sure to scare the hell out of the kiddies.)
And from a copywriter’s point of view, some of these ads made me a little jealous. Take the one at the bottom of this page, for the Auburn Phaeton motor car: Four meaty paragraphs concluding with …
“You find crowning justification of your judgment in your relaxed comfort and sense of security as you drive one of these New 1935 Auburn Models. This experience you are cordially invited to enjoy.”
These days, you rarely get that kind of space to tell a product’s story in a print ad. And grandiose phrases like “You find crowning justification” generally don’t fly either. (Well, maybe that’s a good thing.)
Anyway, if the TV and print ads you see on “Mad Men” have tempted you to sample advertising from another bygone era, then check out the HBS exhibit.