Frequently Asked Questions

 

1. Why does MMA cover only the years from 1911 to 1960?

2. Why are some health-related products missing?

3. What is the "Competitive Advertisements Collection?"

4. How representative are the ads in the MMA database of advertising as a whole in this period?

5. Why is there only one cigarette ad?

6. Why are there references to ads that are not reproduced? What does it mean that permission to reproduce the ad was refused?

7. Is the scientific information in these historic advertisements accurate? If not, why were companies allowed to make inaccurate or misleading claims?

8. Why are there so few images of African Americans and other racial groups in the ads before World War II? Why do they appear in the 1950s?

9. Many ads seem to focus on relatively minor health problems such as colds and constipation. Why is there so little direct discussion of life-threatening diseases such as cancer or cardiovascular disease?

10. How did health-related ad appeals change over the time period covered in MMA?

11. Will there be more advertisements added to this site?

12. Why am I having trouble getting a clear image when I try to enlarge the thumbnail? Can I print a clear image from this site?

13. How can I get a non-electronic copy (e.g. slide or color photocopy) of an advertisement from this site, or a copy of an advertisement that is in the Hartman Center's collections but not on the Web?

14. I want to publish an advertisement from this site. There is no company contact information listed on the Copyright page. What do I do next?

15. Where can I find information about the companies and products that are included in this site?

16. Does the Hartman Center have other health related advertisements from the 1911-1955 time period that are not on the web?

17. Has Duke created any other web sites on advertising history?

18. How can I find other historical advertisement collections on the web?

19. How can I find out about advertisement collections in other libraries?


1. Why does MMA cover only the years from 1911 to 1960?

The ads in the MMA database are drawn from the J.Walter Thompson Company archives, which has only a small number of pre-1910 advertisements. We stopped in 1960 largely to keep the database to a manageable size. Fortunately, this fifty-year period documents many striking changes in health-related advertising appeals. For examples of a wide array of advertisements from the late 19th century up to the 1920s, including health and hygiene ads, see Emergence of Advertising in America.

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2. Why are some health-related products missing?

In selecting product categories, we were limited by the kinds of advertisements available in the J. Walter Thompson Company's Competitive Ads Collection. (See FAQ 3.) In that collection, some types of products seemed to be missing or poorly represented; for example, we found relatively few pain relievers prior to 1955. We do not know why these gaps in the collection exist. It may be that the JWT Company did not have a client who wanted to market a pain reliever, or that some old files of advertisements were lost before the collection came to Duke.

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3. What is the "Competitive Advertisements Collection?"

Like many advertising agencies, the J. Walter Thompson Company had employees who clipped advertisements from magazines and newspapers and filed them according to the type of product or service advertised. Then the files could be used for reference by agency staff; evidently the primary purpose was to have ready access to the current and earlier work of competing advertisers, hence the title of the collection. The clipping at JWT seems to have begun in the early 1910s and continues to this day. Although many agencies have created similar "tearsheet" files, the very large JWT "Competitive Advertisements Collection" is one of the few that has been preserved over so many decades.

The JWT "Competitive Advertisements Collection" fills many hundreds of cartons. In the earlier years (the "Pre-1955 Files" from which much of MMA is drawn), the clipped ads were arranged by categories with subject headings such as "Coughs and Colds," "Laxatives," "Insecticides," etc. From 1957 on, the clippings are arranged by alphanumeric codes by the PIB (Publishers Information Bureau) scheme. So, for example, in these more recent files, the category D121 is for Dental Supplies and Mouthwash, D211 is for Pain Relievers, Sedatives and Sleeping Preparations, and G111 is for Cigarettes.

Because the "Competitive Advertisements Collection" seems to have been created for a particular purpose, and because it was a working file from which agency staff used to be able to borrow items or whole folders, the collection is not complete. Some subject categories are much more fully represented than others. It is, nonetheless, a wonderful tool for locating specific old ads or studying trends in advertising.

At present, the original ads in the Pre-1955 Files are not open to researchers to consult in person because so many of the advertisements are in fragile condition. The Hartman Center's research staff can perform brief searches in the collection for users who have limited needs. Until we can better protect the original, fragile, and often rare items in the Pre-1955 Files, we cannot do extensive searches or allow visiting researchers to browse in these files.

If you have more questions about the "Competitive Advertisements Collection," please contact the Hartman Center Reference Staff: Hartman-Center@duke.edu

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4. How representative are the ads in the MMA database of advertising as a whole in this period?

The ads in MMA are not a systematic sample of all ads or even health-related ads in this time period. In order to create such a sample, a researcher would have to look at all the ads appearing in magazines and newspapers, and include ads in the same proportions they appeared in the print media. (In "Suggestions for Classroom Use," we give guidelines for doing such a sample.) Instead, MMA is drawn from the JWT Company's collections, primarily of their competitors' ads. (See FAQ #3.) While very extensive, the JWT collection has its own limitations: some product categories are missing or poorly represented, either because some files were lost or JWT did not have a client who made those products. In addition, we selected ads that reflected themes in which we had a particular interest, such as representations of doctors and of medical authority. So while we believe the database provides a broad array of health-related advertisements, it is not a comprehensive overview

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5. Why is there only one cigarette ad?

With one exception, we did not receive permission to reproduce historic cigarette ads in the MMA database. But you can easily find these ads in old newspapers and magazines, which are usually available in most college and university libraries. To get you started finding them, we have prepared a bibliography of cigarette ads with health-related themes. The citations are taken from handwritten notes the JWT staff wrote on the ads; we have not verified that the ads are actually in these issues. Also, in most cases we could not find a page number. But if you scan the issue, you will probably be able to find this and other cigarette ads as well. The brand of the cigarette is given after the headline.

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6. Why are there references to ads that are not reproduced? What does it mean that permission to reproduce the ad was refused?

Some companies did not grant us permission to reproduce historic ads for their products. We regret their loss from our database, but the original advertisements are easy to find in most college and university libraries, which keep either microfilm or original runs of the major twentieth century newspapers and magazines. We have included some references to those advertisements so that interested users may track them down in these other sources. We do not know the page numbers on which these ads appear, since most ads were clipped out of the pages and do not contain that information on them.

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7. Is the scientific information in these historic advertisements accurate? If not, why were companies allowed to make inaccurate or misleading claims?

It is important to remember that the scientific claims made in historic advertisements reflect the state of medical knowledge in their times, not ours. Many advertisements repeated what was then state-of-the-art knowledge thatis now considered completely wrong. Thus the accuracy of advertisements has to be evaluated in the context of scientific thinking at that time. Most mainstream companies sought to stay with the general framework of accepted medical knowledge, knowing that if they did not, they were likely to get negative publicity and regulatory scrutiny. Various "watchdog" groups emerged in the early 1900s that sought to restrain unrealistic claims for health related products. The Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission exercised some regulatory control over product claims. Groups such as the American Medical Association and Consumers' Research Inc. also sought to educate consumers about misleading advertising claims. But many companies continued to overstate their products' benefits to the extent that the law allowed.

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8. Why are there so few images of African Americans and other ethnic groups in the ads before World War II? Why do they appear in the 1950s?

Health-related advertisements show the same pattern of racial stereotyping historians have observed in advertising in general. Before the 1950s, African Americans appear only rarely, and then as maids, servants, or railway porters (see example from Ad*Access). After the 1950s, the success of Ebony, the first mass circulation magazine aimed at black Americans, stimulated more ad campaigns featuring African Americans in a positive way. Companies such as Listerine developed separate versions of the same ad for publication in black-oriented magazines (e.g. Ebony) and white-oriented magazines (e.g. Life).

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9. Many ads seem to focus on relatively minor health problems such as colds and constipation. Why is there so little direct discussion of life-threatening diseases such as cancer or cardiovascular disease?

Most advertisers sought to build and maintain brand loyalty to products that consumers would use on a regular basis. While often minor in their discomforts, common ailments such as colds or irregularity accounted for most of the trade in over-the-counter products. So companies naturally concentrated their advertising efforts in these areas. Moreover, mainstream advertising agencies were very conscious of needing to distance themselves from the old-fashioned patent medicine promoters (see Health and Patent Medicine advertising examples in Emergence of Advertising in America), who often promised miraculous results from their product's use. From the early 1900s onward, the regulatory climate made it increasingly difficult for unscrupulous drug manufacturers to promise to cure potentially fatal diseases such as cancer. The American Medical Association took an especially aggressive role in discouraging supposed cures for serious diseases. The Federal Trade Commission also tried to discourage this kind of deceptive health advertisements. So companies had regulatory incentives to stay away from serious health topics. At the same time, what advertising professionals referred to as "fear copy" - that is, hinting at the potentially dire consequences of neglecting minor ailments - remained very common in the 1920s and 1930s.

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10. How did health-related ad appeals change over the time period covered in MMA?

One of the striking differences between the pre- and post-World War II periods is the use of what advertisers referred to as "fear copy," that is, appeals that tried to frighten people into buying a product. As historians have noted of interwar advertising in general, ads in the 1920s and 1930s often referred, if only indirectly, to potentially serious, even fatal health problems. In contrast, post-1945 ads seem much more low key in their health appeals. The reasons for this overall shift are unclear. One factor may have been the introduction of antibiotics in the 1940s and 1950s, which encouraged an optimistic mood in American medicine and public health; this mood may have helped undercut fear-based appeals in advertising copy. (See "Suggestions for Classroom Use" for some comparative exercises.)

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11. Will there be more advertisements added to this site?

There are no current plans to add additional advertisements to this site. MMA was generously funded by an Ahmanson Foundation grant to the National Humanities Center. With that funding now at an end, we consider the project complete. To learn more about how the content of MMA was determined, see FAQ #1 and #2.

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12. Why am I having trouble getting a clear image when I try to enlarge the thumbnail? Can I print a clear image from this site?

Printing depends wholly upon your system and the type of software and printer you have. Best results are usually obtained by using a laser printer and the 150 dpi "large" images available on the site. Many of the 150 dpi images, however, are too large to fit on just one standard page; most of the 72dpi images will print on one page.

Use your browser's print function to print from this site. If you are viewing a page with frames, select the appropriate frame before printing." To print from Netscape version 3 and above, choose "Print" from the File menu at the upper left. To print from Internet Explorer, choose "Print" from the file menu at the upper left.

Users of Internet Explorer 6 are likely to have initial difficulty getting a clear image when trying to expand some of the thumbnail images to either 72dpi or 150dpi. To resolve this problem, turn off the automatic resizing feature. From the Tools menu, select Internet Options, go to the Advanced tab, scroll down to the Multimedia section, and uncheck Enable Automatic Image Resizing. Click OK (you may also have to reload the page).

Additionally you may choose to save the image and print it from a graphics program of your choice. However, please keep in mind the requirements of our Statement on Use and Reproduction.

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13. How can I get a non-electronic copy (e.g. slide or color photocopy) of an advertisement from this site, or a copy of an advertisement that is in the Hartman Center's collections but not on the Web?

To obtain a copy of an advertisement contact the Hartman Center Reference Staff by phone (919-660-5827), fax (919-660-5934) or e-mail Hartman-Center@duke.edu

Please note that we charge for the cost of reproductions that we make for you. If we do extended searching on your behalf there are hourly research fees, as well, and in some cases rush charges may apply. We can supply a copy of our fee schedule on request.

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14. I want to publish an advertisement from this site. There is no company contact information listed on the Copyright page. What do I do next?

Any use of the advertisement outside the bounds of fair use (see Fair Use section) requires that you gain copyright permission. We have deposited at the Hartman Center a list of the company names and contact people we used in obtaining permission to include ads in MMA. You may contact the Reference staff at the Hartman Center via email at Hartman-Center@duke.edu to get those names. But be forewarned that this information dates very quickly, as companies and product lines change hands. So you may have to do further research to find out this information.

The responsibility for searching out copyright and trademark holders rests with you, the prospective user of the advertisement. Your local public or university library reference staff will be able to assist you with print sources or electronic databases. Duke University library staff can only assist you with copyright searches if you are a student, faculty, or staff member here at Duke.

Below is a list of possible sources for further company research; it is not a comprehensive list but will help to get you started.

Electronic Databases:

  • EDGAR Database of Corporate Information: a database of corporate filings submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission (public companies only).
  • General BusinessFile ASAP: Covers over 850 business, management, and trade journals as well as business-related articles from 3,000 other publications; also includes investment reports and over 100,000 company profiles.
  • Predicasts PROMPT (Predicasts Overview of Markets and Technology): Covers companies, the production and marketing of goods and services, business technology, and markets.
  • The United States Trademark and Patent Office: These on-line databases cover the period from 1 January 1976 to the most recent weekly issue date (usually each Tuesday).
  • Worldscope GLOBAL: Contains business and financial information on 12,000 of the world's largest companies in nearly 50 countries.

Print Sources (a small list - there are hundreds of others):

  • Daniells, Lorna M. Business Information Sources. Berkeley: University of California Press, c1993.
  • A Guide to Finding Business Information at the Library of Congress (compiled by Richard F. Sharp). Washington, DC: Library of Congress, Humanities and Social Sciences Division, 1995.
  • Lavin, Michael R. Business Information: How to find it, how to use it. Phoenix, Ariz.: Oryz Press, 1992.
  • Strauss, Diane Wheeler. Handbook of Business Information: A Guide for Librarians, Students, and Researchers. Englewood, Colo.: Libraries Unlimited, 1988.

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15. Where can I find information about the companies and products that are included in this site?

General background information on many companies and products can be found on the World Wide Web. Search engines such as Yahoo! or Google may provide links to companies or to special interest pages dedicated to a particular company or product. Many companies' official corporate websites include a link to the company history. Books or articles about companies - especially the larger ones or their popular products - are sometimes also available. General reference books, and books written about a particular industry, are also a possible source for information about a product or company. The bibliography for the website includes general works on the history of the pharmaceutical industry.

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16. Does the Hartman Center have other health related advertisements from the 1911-1955 time period that are not on the web?

The MMA project includes only a small portion of the large collection of mainly U. S. magazine and newspaper advertisements created and maintained by the J. Walter Thompson Company for the period 1911 to 1955. (See FAQ 3.) At present, the original ads in the Pre-1955 Files are not open to researchers to consult in person because so many of the advertisements are in fragile condition. The Hartman Center's research staff can perform brief searches in the collection for users who have limited needs. Until we can better protect the original, fragile, and often rare items in the Pre-1955 Files, we cannot do extensive searches or allow visiting researchers to browse in these files.

JWT's "Competitive Advertisement Collection," from which the MMA ads were drawn, continues past 1955, and contains thousands of ads for each year up to the year three years prior to the present. The ad "tearsheets" were (and continue to be) clipped from mainly U.S magazines and newspapers. The ads are arranged by product category using an alphanumeric coding system that was used from 1955 on by the JWT staff who created the collection. In the broadest sense, the categories in the collection are Apparel/Fashion, Business, Drugs and Toiletries, Food, General/Miscellaneous, Household Goods, and Transportation/Travel. Each large category is subdivided in detail, e.g. D121 is for Dental Supplies and Mouthwash, D211 is for Pain Relievers, Sedatives and Sleeping Preparations, and G111 is for Cigarettes. All of the thousands of post-1955 files in the "Competitive Advertisement Collection" are open for research use.

There are several other important sources of 1910s-1950s printed advertisements at the Hartman Center. There are large files of ads for many of the clients of J. Walter Thompson Company in this period (e.g., to name a few, Eastman Kodak, Lever Brothers, Chesebrough-Pond's, and Kraft). The archives of another major advertising agency, D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles (DMB&B), also contains extensive print ads for such clients as Procter & Gamble, General Foods, and Best Foods beginning in 1930.

The Hartman Center holds the archives of three major advertising agencies that contain extensive files of magazine and newspaper advertising that they created for their own clients. The three are: J.Walter Thompson Company (1880s-1990s), DMB&B (1930-1990s), and Wells Rich Greene (1966-1990s). In addition, the Center has several smaller collections that are valuable sources for advertising images. Among these are the Wayne P. Ellis Collection of Kodakiana and the Baden Collection of Print Advertisements. The Outdoor Advertising Archives includes thousands of images of poster and billboard advertisements from the late 19th century nearly to the present.

Many of the Hartman Center's resources are included on its collections page; others are mentioned in issues of the Center's newsletters. All the issues of the Front and Center newsletter, begun in 1994, are on the web. For the J. Walter Thompson Company Archives there is a page of Collection Guides, which provides links with graphics and text describing a selection of JWT collections.

Additionally, you may search the Duke University David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library's Archival Collection Guides for other collections that include items or information about advertising. Contact the Hartman Center for additional reference assistance.

Researchers are welcome to visit Duke University to use any unrestricted collections. For people who cannot come to Duke, the Hartman Center Research staff can do brief searches at no charge or more extended work on a fee-for-service basis. There are charges for photographic reproductions, as well. You may request a fee schedule. Researchers at a distance from Durham who would benefit from a trip of at least two days at Duke to use Hartman Center collections may apply for travel-to-collection grants; see the Library Research Grants page and scroll down for information on the Hartman Center grants.

Please note that the Hartman Center also has extensive files of printed advertisements for the pre-1911 and post-1957 periods. For additional questions please contact our reference staff at Hartman-Center@duke.edu.

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17. Has Duke created any other web sites on advertising history?

Yes, the Library has two other websites on advertising history, which were the models for organizing MMA.

Ad*Access opened in October 1999. It includes over 7,000 print advertisements from mainly U.S. newspapers and magazines covering the period 1911 - 1955. Those 7,000 ads are, of course, a tiny subset of ads printed during those decades. To provide researchers with coherent bodies of images to study, we selected five subject areas to include: Beauty & Hygiene, Radio, Television, Transportation, and World War II.

The Emergence of Advertising in America became available in October, 2000. EAA presents over 9,000 images that illustrate the rise of consumer culture, especially after the American Civil War, and the birth of a professionalized advertising industry in the United States. The images are drawn from over a dozen separate collections in the Hartman Center and Duke's David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

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18. How can I find other historical advertisement collections on the web?

One reason we created MMA is that there are few other advertisement collections that we know of on the web. There is a contents list (no images) of the vast D'Arcy Collection at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on the web. Some companies include a selection of historic advertising on their corporate websites, and some hobbyists have put up sites with ads that interest them. Also a new commercial site, adflip.com, offers what its home page terms "the world's largest searchable database of classic print ads."

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19. How can I find out about advertisement collections in other libraries?

Among the largest collections of 20th century U.S. print advertisements in libraries other than Duke University are:

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