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Advertising in the 20th Century

Commerce and advertising go hand in hand, and both are age-old. For much of history, the main forms of advertising were the town crier’s announcements, the travelling salesman’s pitch and posted notices. In the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution led to mass advertising that grew in step with new means of production. Competition drove businesses to invest more and more in publicity in order to stand out and raise their profile. Where advertising had once been mainly informative, the focus now shifted to enticing consumers and creating desire for the product.

The early 20th century brought diversity to advertising approaches. New mediums demanded new methods, as advertising turned to radio in the 1920s and to film in the 1930s. Its importance for industry was evident at the 1937 Paris International Exposition of Art and Technology, where an entire pavilion was dedicated to advertising. There were exhibits on the art of display, the great poster designers, the inner workings of advertising, and Alexandre Alexeïeff’s commercials for movie theatres. The advertising business was taking shape.

In the United States, advertisers began enlisting the help of psychology in the 1920s. Surveys and market research were conducted to gain insight into the conscious and unconscious motivations for consumer behaviour. The objective was to define the message that makes the product become a desire. Advertising used human sciences to refine its approach, and advertising workers developed specialties. As the media diversified, specific professions sprang up in the advertising, communications and marketing sectors. 

Black Horse Advertising Strategies

The Dawes brewing family began operating in Lachine, in the southwest of the island of Montréal, in 1826. Black Horse, their flagship beer, was marketed from the late 1800s until 1952. In expanding from artisanal to industrial production, Dawes Brewery contributed to the emergence of the consumer society. To capture attention, earn trust and rally consumers, the company developed advertising strategies in tune with its time. A giant illuminated sign appeared on the roof of the Dawes plant in 1930, just a few years after the Citroën sign lit up the Eiffel Tower. The promotional film Ale and Artie was released in 1935, at the same time Alexeïeff’s commercials were playing in Europe. What’s more, Dawes had been using live horses to promote its brand since the late 19th century, well before the American Budweiser Brewery began doing so.

The choice and systematic use of the black Percheron as an emblem, the humorous D’j’ever? ads, the huge illuminated sign and the distribution of Black Horse promotional items were among Dawes Brewery’s most striking strategies. But its real advertising innovation was to establish a Percheron stud service, in the early 1930s. Over the next twenty years, thousands of mares produced foals carrying the bloodlines of the famous Black Horse Percherons. Thanks to enthusiastic farmers and breeders, these living, breathing ads were seen all across the province and the Black Horse brand emblem became part of the Quebec landscape. The brewery’s large-scale breeding operation proved to be an unparalleled publicity coup. 

The Eiffel Tower as Billboard

The French carmaker André Citroën (1878-1935) was a keen marketer who kept a close eye on American advertising methods. As a result, his strategies differed from those of his compatriots. In 1925, at the Paris World’s Fair, he had an enormous advertising sign installed from top to bottom of the Eiffel Tower spire. It was launched with 250,000 light bulbs, in six colours, forming nine displays that culminated with the name “Citroën” spelled out in stylized Art Deco lettering. Citroën is considered a forerunner of modern advertising techniques, not just for his giant sign but also for producing model toy vehicles and parading his cars through French cities and rural areas. Furthermore, he wanted to make each of his employees a spokesperson for the company’s values and invested in tools to ensure good internal communication, including the in-house Bulletin Citroën, introduced in 1924.

A few years later, these same strategies were being used to promote Black Horse beer. The immense, horse-shaped sign stood on the roof of the St. Maurice Street plant, branded items were widely distributed, the black horses paraded in competitions and through the streets, and National Breweries began publishing the NBL Review for its employees. 

Resource References:

nbl_notre_publicité.pdf: The Review. Published in the interests of the employees, vol. 11, no. 3, March 1948, The National Breweries Limited, Montréal, P.Q., pp. 1-4.