Database Terms

In describing billboards and other examples of outdoor advertising, a database was created to include selected fields which reflect the most frequent requests made by users of the John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History. The names of the fields used in this database, and a description of each term, is listed below. Decisions on which information would be entered in the database was based on these definitions, in order to provide researchers with enhanced and consistent access.

Database Terms and Descriptions In Alphabetical Order

Awards: Included in ROAD are a small grouping of images which were identified by adjoining documentation as being award winning; i.e. if they were winners of the OBIE Award process. (There may be additional advertisements included in this database which were also award winners; however, since there was no documentation noting this achievement at the time they were entered into ROAD, they are not noted as award winners in the database.)

Company (Advertiser): The official name of the company whose product is shown in the outdoor advertisement.  Please note that only company names that were expressly listed in the ad, or were definitively  known via the product name, were included in this field. If there was more than one company described, the term 'Various' was applied.

Because company names changed over time, using key words found in a company name is the best way to successfully search for all of a company's advertisements. The entire company name does not need to be entered in a search for a company to be found (i.e. Coca Cola Company advertisements can be found using only "Coca Cola.")

For a comprehensive search of a company or product name, it is useful to also search in the "Description" field.

Date: Date of image (photograph, slide, or negative) taken as noted on the image or related documentation. Types of documented dates include single year (1937), a specific date within a year (April 20, 1985), or a range of decades (1950s-1980s).

There were many images without any date information.  In that case, a bracket around a probable date (e.g. [1930s?]) was used. If there did not seem to be a reasonable guess as to a decade for an image, the acronym "n.d." (meaning "not dated") was used in the DateField.

It is possible to search for a specific month and day along with year, but searches provide more results if you enter only the year, or a range of years in which a specific advertisement was created.

As noted above, many images do not have a specific year or year range listed.  If you are looking for a specific product/company and a year and there are no returns which match, remove the date from your search.

Description: This field was used in three ways.

  1. To list product and/or company names for groups of images in the Slide Library. 

    Due to the large number of slides in the Slide Library, the decision was made to describe groups of similar slides in one database record.  The slides were grouped by Subject type.  The names of either the product or the company for every slide in a group was listed, along with the item number, in the Description field. It is advised that in searching for a specific company or product, please search the company or product field AND the Description field.

  2. To list information specific to an image which could be meaningful to researchers.

    Descriptions of specific aspects of an advertisement that appeared especially interesting or unique are included, along with any interesting aspects in the image beyond the advertisement (e.g. horses on the beach, women in front of billboard, etc.).

  3. To note the time of day (Day or Night) when the image was taken.

    This information is noted primarily to assist in locating neon signs (electric spectaculars) according to if they are "on" or "off" due to the time of day. 

Ethnic: As stated previously, this site includes historical materials that may contain offensive language or negative stereotypes reflecting the culture or language of a particular period or place. These items are presented as part of the historical record.

  • African/African American
  • Asian
  • Eskimo
  • European
  • Middle East/Arab
  • Mexican/Latin American
  • Native American
  • Pacific Islander
  • South American
  • Sub-Continent Asia

Format: The format of the image (e.g. slide, photograph, negative, etc.)

Headline: Line of text in the advertisement which is bolded, or a phrase that draws a reader into the advertisement.

Item Number: A unique letter/number identifier assigned to each image by Duke staff and student assistants.

The letter at the beginning of each item number indicates in which collectionthe item resides.  AAAA and BBBB letters indicate the item is from the OAAA collection.  SLG, SLP, etc. indicate the item is from the Outdoor Advertising Slide Library.  PAV letters indicate the item is from the John Paver collection.  XXX, XXH, etc. indicate the item is from the R. C. Maxwell Outdoor Company collection.

Medium: The physical presentation of the advertisement. The categories created by the outdoor advertising industry to describe the presentation of an advertisement include: Billboard, Electric Spectacular (neon sign typical of those found in Times Square in New York City), Wall Paintings (advertisements painted on the sides of buildings), Bus Kiosks, Painted trucks (sides of trucks that have advertisements or information painted on their side), etc.

People: Inclusion of women or children in an advertisement. If there were women or children within the photograph or slide and NOT included in the advertisement, this information is found in the Description field.

Place: The city and/or state name where the advertisement was located (e.g. Atlantic City, New Jersey).

This information was included only if it was actually written on the photograph or slide, or on documentation with the image.

Placement Company: The outdoor advertising company which physically installed the billboard. This information was only included if name of the posting company was clearly visible in the image.

Product: What the physical advertisement was trying to sell, e.g. San Diego Zoo, Amazing Blue Lipstick, etc. If there were more than two specific products advertised, the term 'Various' was applied. In searching for every case of a company or product name, it is useful to also search in the Description field as well.

Setting: This describes if the billboard or advertisement is placed within a rural scene or a city scene. There are many images that are of the billboard alone, without any other cue as to the area around the billboard and therefore this field was left empty.

Source: The collection in which the item resides. ROAD contains images from the following four collections:

  • Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA)
  • R.C. Maxwell Co.
  • John Paver Collection
  • Outdoor Advertising Slide Library

Further information about these collections is available from the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library Collection Guides listing. These Collection Guides are written descriptions of the collections within the Rubenstein Library.

Subject: The outdoor advertising industry categorizes billboard advertisements into eleven subjects. In creating the database, each ad was described by a specific subject term by the type of product the ad was marketing. A complete listing and description of all subject terms is available.

Tone: This describes the image as either "color" or "black and white."