Tag: Henry Crawford Hartnell

Paying the Bills: Irish mass media and the advertising industry

Long before the start of the 20thC, advertising was financially essential for mass media in Ireland as elsewhere. As competition for readers grew more and more ruthless, and the target demographic for many publications stretched down the socio-economic ladder, fewer and fewer publications could afford to support themselves principally by their cover price. The penny and even halfpenny weeklies (as well as halfpenny daily newspapers like the Irish Independent), which appealed to a broad readership, could not cover their costs at that price and so were increasingly dependent upon advertising just to survive. At the same time, advertising itself changed dramatically during the late 19thC, as branded goods became the norm for many kinds of commodity, especially relatively cheap household products. The development of branding meant that goods such as tea and soap, once bought from a trusted retailer who measured them out by weight and wrapped them in his own packaging, were instead now asked for by product name. This required the invention of modern packaging, brand names and logos, but above all else it required advertising in order to establish the brand sufficiently for customers to remember it, recognise it and ask for it in shops. The effect of this was to shift advertising conventions away from mainly informational announcements by retailers of new stock or improved premises, and towards the promotion of individual brands by their manufacturers. Along with this the style of advertising changed too – it became less wordy, and more focused on the brand name and logo of the product in order to embed it in customers’ imaginations. This kind of advertising also needed to be more frequent, in order to maintain brand recognition, and as time went on the adverts themselves became even less informational and more focused on the impact the product would have on customers’ lives, promising abstracted effects such as happiness, confidence and self-fulfilment, rather than just the practical qualities of the products themselves.

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All of this combined to create a symbiotic relationship between the popular press and advertisers. The press needed advertising revenue to survive, and advertisers needed access to their readerships, all the more so as different publications appealed to different demographics, who could then be targeted by advertisers keen to reach specific potential markets for their products. The result of this was that the number of advertisements in all kinds of publications had increased dramatically by the start of the 20thC, as did the size and visual impact of those ads, as they began to use more white space and illustrations, larger and more elaborate typefaces, colour and (eventually) photographs in order to draw the reader’s eye. The other important change was behind the scenes, to the business of advertising itself. Until the very late 19thC, advertising ‘agencies’ as we understand them, did not exist. Instead ‘placing agents’ bought space in newspapers and magazines and then sold it on to companies looking to advertise – this was a much more limited service, and did not include the planning of campaigns nor (usually) the provision of design services or any kind of market research. This gradually changed during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as some placing agents expanded their firms and the services they provided. The most famous (if fictional) representative of Irish advertising, Joyce’s Leopold Bloom, was an advertising ‘canvasser’ for the Freeman’s Journal, and as has been pointed out by several critics, was by 1904 a very marginal kind of figure in the rapidly-developing landscape of ‘full service’ agencies.

 

In Ireland, one of the first advertising companies to begin that change was Wilson, Hartnell and Co., established in 1879 by Crawford Hartnell. As discussed in a previous post here, Wilson, Hartnell and Co. developed an innovative business model during the 1890s, when they established an entire publication, Lady of the House, on behalf of their clients, the upmarket grocery chain Findlater and Co. A women’s magazine aimed primarily at the suburban middle-classes who might well have a monthly account with Findlater’s, it published stories, fashion columns and household tips, as well as discussing a surprising range of social and economic issues for a publication of its type. Distributed free to those who did have a Findlater’s account (and costing a shilling per month for other readers), it also included the grocery chain’s full monthly price list in its back pages and was, despite appearances, primarily a platform for their advertising. Wilson, Hartnell and Co. had other accounts as well however, and with an impressive circularity, used Lady of the House to place advertisements for those too. They held the Irish advertising accounts of several big English household brands, most notably Mazawattee tea (then one of the most widely-recognised brands), for whom advertisements appeared in almost every issue of Lady of the House. If the magazine itself operated as an extended advertisement for Findlaters and Co., it also provided a useful platform for Hartnell to place advertisements for other products likely to appeal to a middle-class Irish readership.

 

An enormous range of products were advertised in Irish newspapers and magazines by the early 20thC, but some categories of goods were especially dominant in advertising – for example almost no publication ever appeared without advertisements for soap, or for some of the apparently infinite range of patent medicines. Soap was one of the products which first became branded and heavily advertised, and with its connotations of cleanliness, health and freshness – all especially powerful in a world without either antibiotics or many labour-saving devices, and when dirt was a constant and dangerous presence in people’s lives. Soap was heavily promoted in campaigns which helped to invent the modern form of advertising itself, with its reliance upon connotation and associative qualities. Sunlight Soap, Wright’s Coal Tar Soap, Pears Soap and Lifebuoy Soap (‘makes health infectious’) all took regular illustrated whole page advertisements in publications as varied as Lady of the House, Ireland’s Own and Irish Society, and they were the pioneers of lavish illustrations (including some of the earliest full-colour advertisements) which were intended to associate their products with sturdy children, rosy-cheeked young women and cheerful, bright homes. Indeed, these large weekly soap advertisements may have been the principal financial support of penny papers such as Ireland’s Own by the start of World War One.

 

Far less respectable (and often less lavish), but at least as numerous, were the many ‘patent medicines’ being sold in an unregulated market in which it was perfectly legal to advertise pills or potions which claimed to simultaneously cure impotence and migraines, despite the fact that they often consisted mainly of entirely inactive ingredients (for which customers should perhaps have been grateful). Some of these products barely skirted the 1889 Indecent Advertisements Act, others simply traded upon people’s health problems or personal insecurities. Pills claiming to cure haemorrhoids, restore thinning hair or cause dramatic weight loss proliferated across all kinds of publications. While many (especially those offering barely legal products) were small and relatively discreet, their sheer quantity and frequency provided valuable income for newspapers and magazines. And some of the more successful used full-page illustrated advertisements every bit as eye-catching as the ads for Sunlight Soap. Holloway’s Pills (which promised to cure ‘indigestion, feverishness, dizziness, loss of appetite and energy’) and Beecham’s Pills advertisements were especially lavish – and in Beecham’s case were the medically-dubious but very profitable foundation of the pharmaceutical giant which still uses the Beecham name today to market cold and flu medications. The recurring themes, styles and promises of these advertisements tell us a great deal about the culture and preoccupations of the era, and some of them will be the subject of more detailed blog posts here in the future. In broader economic terms, however, the important point is that more frequent and more lavish advertisements became the financial underpinning of the entire mass media industry, from daily newspapers to monthly magazines, allowing them to sell copies below cost-price, and thus expand (and maintain) their readership.

 

As advertising grew and became more sophisticated, more and more agencies opened in Dublin. By the start of the 20thC, Wilson, Hartnell and Co. had competition from the Parker agency established in 1888 on Dame Street (just down the road from the Hartnell offices), and in 1892 they were joined by Kevin J Kenny’s agency which opened on Amiens Street and initially traded under the truly wonderful name of ‘Multum in Parvo’. Others would soon follow, including the legendary McConnell’s agency which was founded (with timing its founder was very proud of) during Easter Week 1916. Some of these agencies would go on to be among the dominant forces of 20thC advertising in Ireland, at least one of them lasting into the 21stC. For all the enormous changes their industry continued to see during that time – including the ascendancy of new media platforms such as radio, television and the internet – it was the late 19thC and early 20thC era which established the structures of modern advertising, its shift from an informational to an emotive form of address to consumers, and its absolutely inextricable economic links to mass media.

 

References

Matthew Hayward, ‘Bloom’s Job: the Role of the Advertisement Canvasser in Joyce’s Dublin’, Modernism/modernity, Vol.22, No.4 (2015), pp. 651-666.

 

Hugh Oram, The Advertising Book: the History of Advertising in Ireland, MO Books: Dublin, 1986.

 

Thomas Richards, The Commodity Culture of Victorian England: Advertising and Spectacle, 1851-1914, Stanford University Press: Stanford CA, 1991.

 

Juliann Sivulka, Stronger Than Dirt: A Cultural History of Advertising Personal Hygiene in America, 1875-1940, Prometheus Books: New York, 2001.

Lady of the House, 1890-1923

Lady of the House magazine was a curious publication. Begun in 1890, it claimed to be the first Irish women’s magazine, and its initial issue announced that ‘The want has long been felt of a high-class Irish Journal solely devoted to Fashion, the Beautifying of the Home and Person, Scientific Cookery, the Toilet, the Wants and Amusements of Children, the Garden and Conservatory, and the hundred-and-one matters which interest educated women. This want, we repeat, has been felt, but has not hitherto been filled, except by the English Ladies’ Journals which enjoy an immense circulation in this country’. The magazine, which was published monthly, did indeed cover all of these topics, and from a specifically Irish perspective – reporting on Irish fashionable society, Irish products and shops, and developments in social issues as they affected Irish women. Many of the stories were illustrated with photographs, as readers of more up-market publications were coming to expect by the 1890s. Priced at one shilling per issue, Lady of the House appeared every month for more than 30 years, until shortly after Irish Independence when following a brief flurry of name changes, it became Irish Tatler, a publication which continues to this day.

All was not entirely as it seemed, however. Lady of the House was published by the firm of Wilson, Hartnell and Co., and its editor was the owner, Henry Crawford Hartnell. But Wilson, Hartnell and Co. were not journal or magazine publishers – they were in fact one of Ireland’s first advertising agencies, having been established in 1879 (and will be the subject of separate blog post at some point in the future). Lady of the House was actually an extended advertisement for one of the agency’s largest clients, Findlater & Co. Findlater’s was a wine merchant and grocery business with several branches in Dublin (including ones in Rathmines and Howth as well as Upper Baggot Street and South Great George’s Street in the city centre). They were expensive, and were grocers to the middle and upper-middle classes of the city. Each issue of the magazine ended with about 10 pages of that month’s price list for Findlater’s, showing the cost of wines, sherries, and grocery items. The first issue of Lady of the House had a 20,000 print run (which was very large for an Irish magazine) and was free to Findlater’s account customers. In other words, the first 40 pages of articles, photographs, short stories and readers’ letters were merely the window-dressing for a grocer’s price-list. If it is a truism of commercial media that its object is not to deliver content to audiences, but to deliver audiences to advertisers, then Lady of the House was an early and extreme example of an entire publication being a thinly-disguised advertisement.

This was certainly a very novel approach to advertising, and also a very innovative business plan for a women’s magazine. The magazine itself, in design, content and tone, was in every other respect a fairly typical turn-of-the-century women’s magazine – deeply concerned with fashion, childcare, and romance as well as the more serious ‘women’s issues’ of the era such as employment and education. Nevertheless, its position as an advertising vehicle for Dublin’s largest wine merchant was used against it in an 1892 attack by the Dublin Figaro, a particularly bad-tempered and very conservative society magazine (which I’ll also write about in a future blog). The editor of the Figaro sarcastically commented that, ‘I am afraid that the readers of Lady of the House have to take too much drink with their literature. The wine list attached is voluminous enough to intoxicate the entire staff…It is impossible not to sympathise with the ‘gentlewomen’ who have to write in such close proximity to a monthly price list so suggestive of a gigantic public house’.

The Figaro’s sarcasm was motivated by a number of factors. Firstly, that Lady of the House was real competition in the fairly ruthless Irish publishing market. It may have begun purely as an extended price list, but it rapidly became a great deal more than that. It is very clear from both the longevity and content of Lady of the House that it quickly acquired a community of readers who – perhaps even to the surprise of its own editor and publisher – enjoyed it and actively engaged with its letters columns and competitions. This made it competition to other magazines not only in terms of readers themselves, but also for the advertising copy which paid the bills of all publications, as those advertisers sought out popular publications in order to reach their readers. The second reason for the Figaro’s vitriol was indicated in their sly reference to the ‘gentlewomen’ writing it. This was in part a comic acknowledgement that like most women’s magazines of the era, it was probably written mainly by men, either anonymously or using female pen-names. But the Figaro may also have had doubts that the readers of Lady of the House were quite ‘gentlewomen’ either, at least by its own deeply-conservative and upper-class standards.

At first glance, Lady of the House appears to be fairly ‘posh’. It had advertisements for expensive department stores like Switzer’s, short stories set in titled high-society and columns advising on social etiquette. And of course, very many of its readers were account customers with Findlater’s, whose liveried delivery vans were something of a status symbol in the leafy south Dublin suburbs. This combined with its enthusiastic coverage of charity bazaars and tennis competitions indicate that most of its readers were women from the Protestant middle-classes. However, more careful reading indicates that the magazine was actually pitched for the precariously-privileged. By the standards of poverty common in Ireland in the late 19thC and early 20thC, these readers were indeed prosperous, but these things are all relative, and it is obvious that Lady of the House was aimed less at the upper-middle-classes than at the more ‘ordinary’ middle-class readership, who could just about keep up the necessary appearances of middle-class status, but for whom budgets were tight, sometimes perhaps desperately so. This is clear, for example, from the large number of articles giving advice on household management – these included advice on ‘fancy’ cookery or even the cleaning of ostrich feathers. These might seem a mark of privilege us as modern readers (who probably own very few ostrich feathers), but what it actually reveals is that Lady of the House readers had to do such tasks themselves rather than having sufficient servants to do it for them. This was very common in the less-wealthy middle-classes – while there was one servant to do the basic cooking and cleaning, the women of the household had to do a great deal of very ungentile labour (discreetly and behind closed doors) in order to maintain any kind of middle-class standard of living. Advice columns on cleaning or housework of any kind are therefore an indication of its readers’ experience of domestic labour, rather than of their wealth. Even more revealing of the sometimes precarious class position of Lady of the House readers were its frequent articles on ‘acceptable’ ways by which middle-class women could make money, sometimes even after marriage. While unmarried middle-class women were increasingly entering the workforce by the 1890s (something which Lady of the House strongly supported), it was still a crucial marker of class identity that ‘gentlewomen’ did not work after marriage. But as early as 1893, Lady of the House was running articles on ‘pursuits for gentlewomen’ which included activities such as bee-keeping and ‘poultry for profit’, both of which could be discreetly engaged in by married women whose household budget was under strain. And by the following year, the magazine encouraged readers to contribute to a debate in their pages on the question ‘Should Married Women Augment Their Husbands’ Income?’, making it clear from the start that they supported the proposal.

This was in line with the magazine’s general tone and editorial position on women’s issues of the day. One of the most noticeable, and rather startling, features of Lady of the House throughout its decades of publication was its progressive stance on many social issues. It steered aggressively clear of the party and national politics of the era, using and reusing the phrase ‘…writing no politics, for we profess none’ whenever it skirted an issue connected to party politics or the ‘national question’. On social issues however, the magazine took a consistent and sometimes surprisingly progressive line. They were firmly in favour of women’s education, including to university level, and frequently celebrated women who achieved it. They took a similar approach to women’s entry into the professions, publishing admiring profiles of ‘lady doctors’ and ‘lady lawyers’. Many articles about other employment possibilities – such as typing, nursing or even agriculture – appeared each year, always encouraging women to train, acquire skills and qualifications, and to undertake paid work. They also supported women’s participation in sport, as well as defending that classic icon of the ‘new woman’ movement, the female cyclist. They were careful not to declare a position on the very divisive topic of women’s suffrage, but the fact that for many years they ran a discussion column (in which a topic would be proposed for debate and readers’ responses would be published the following month) called ‘Women’s Parliament’ indicated tacit support for it. The ‘Women’s Parliament’ column tackled many controversial topics over the years, including ‘Is Independence Good for Women?’, ‘Is Vegetarianism Right?’ and even ‘Would Associated Housekeeping Be a Desirable Step?, which debated the extent to which communal neighbourhood kitchens would liberate women from domestic labour and therefore allow them to enter more into public life. The magazine was progressive rather than radical – it was bourgeois and determinedly respectable, unlike the feminist paper Shan Van Vocht of the same era, for example. But where Shan Van Vocht ran for only a couple of years and would have had a tiny readership, Lady of the House reached tens of thousands of women over several decades, and its progressive politics were sometimes more far-reaching than we might have predicted.

This is especially true considering its origins as an advertising vehicle for Findlater’s wine and grocery chain, and this is what makes Lady of the House a curiosity in Irish media history. How did what was essentially an extended grocer’s price-list become a widely-read publication for several decades, let alone one which consistently expressed support for women’s higher education as well as their legal and employment rights? To some extent this must have been driven by the views of the editor, Henry Crawford Hartnell, the founder of the advertising agency which operated the magazine. Given its inherently commercial original purpose, however, it seems unlikely that Hartnell would have pursued such progressive positions over many years if they had been unpopular or even controversial with his readers. Instead, we must conclude that these positions broadly reflected the views of many of his readers – women who were predominantly Protestant, middle-class (but not always very wealthy) and mainly if not entirely concentrated around Dublin. Like the magazine itself, few of these women were actively involved in suffrage activism, or any of the other radical politics of the era. And yet, the consistently progressive politics of Lady of the House, especially with regard to women’s work and education, point towards interests and aspirations among its readership which went well beyond ‘beautifying of the home and person’, and all under cover of an extended grocers’ price list.