Creative Teams and Agencies

In the late 19th century, with the growth of daily newspaper circulation and technical improvements to printing presses, print ads, which had been text only until then, became more elaborate. At the same time, the print shops responsible for designing and laying out newspapers, including the ads, began to work with ad salesmen. A new relationship was formed, and a new profession emerged. The salesmen were not concerned with the creative aspect; they simply bought space in the papers and resold it to advertisers for a profit.

Little by little, the job of conceiving and designing ads was shifted from print shop teams to creative teams in specialized independent firms. True advertising agencies began to appear. The first one in Canada was the A. McKim and Company founded in Montréal in 1889. The Canadian Advertising Agency, the first to operate in French (despite its English name), was founded in 1908. These firms had two divisions: the sales department solicited major clients and booked orders, while the art department, composed of graphic designers, illustrators and typographers, created ads and campaigns.

From 1920 on, advertising saw profound change. The results of market research, psychological studies, surveys and other audience measures began framing the work and methods of advertising agencies.

For its extensive Black Horse marketing program, the brewery used an array of creative talent working in different mediums. Some, such as illustrators, cartoonists and sculptors, produced commissioned work. Others, like several landscape painters, for example, allowed the company to reproduce and use their original work to advertise the beer. All of them contributed to defining the Black Horse brand image and ensuring the product’s success. 

Style: Tradition and Modernity

Even though echoes of the various art movements proliferating in early-20th-century Europe (Cubism, Dada, Constructivism, Futurism and others) reached Quebec, the local art world remained fairly conservative, until the Automatiste group proclaimed its firmly avant-garde stance in Montréal.

Graphic design was showing the influence of movements like Art Nouveau, and yet almost all of the material produced to promote Black Horse beer was grounded in tradition. The images were resolutely figurative, narrative and realistic in style. The illustrations, with or without the emblematic black Percheron, were traditional, with no attempt at novel graphic embellishment. In this sense, the Black Horse ads reflected the tastes of the times and were in line with what the other breweries were doing. They had a somewhat more modern look when they evoked moving images or involved the use of photography.

Over the years, photography came to play an increasingly important role in designing ads, alternating with illustrations or preceding them for reference purposes. In some cases, the photomontage technique brought a touch of modernity to the composition. Eventually, photographs replaced illustrations and hand-done drawings. Photography was no longer simply a technical means to serve an idea, and the photograph became a work of art in its own right.