What is Advertising?


Myriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines advertising as the action of calling something to the attention of the public especially by public announcement. While this is an accurate and extremely broad explanation, it doesn’t really tell us a whole lot about what advertising really is. For some people, ad campaigns are mini gateways into our pasts. The icons and characters portrayed, music played and products being served  all trigger nostalgic responses in anyone who grew up with newspapers, radios or television sets. For others, advertising creates a forum for discussion. Whether it be the day after the Super Bowl next to the water cooler or over twitter announcing the views expressed in a political ad campaign, there is no doubt that discussion is part of what advertisers try to trigger from their viewership.

As a child of the 80′s, living in the U.S., the first ad campaigns that comes to my mind are the Nickelodeon bumpers, or the short commercials that show up just before going to a commercial break, just before going back to a broadcast, or both. These are some of the ads that I specifically remember as a youngster while hanging out at my grandmother’s house circa 1986-89:

There’s something about the creativity and excessiveness, (not to mention incessant timing) that allowed for this to be memorable for me. The simple message of “Nick, Nick, Nick, Nick, Nick, Nick, Nick, Nick, Nickelodeon!” was one that was easily remembered, even if it was wrapped around the complex polyphony of an African quartet or lazily sung by a chorus of stuffed picNICK ants. THAT is what the best ad campaigns mean to me; commercials or advertisements that can be easily picked out quickly and that a generation can use as a forum for discussion about life at the time of it’s placement on the public.

OK, so maybe that’s a bit of a long-winded definition, but I guess that is why the great people who work for dictionaries get paid to come up with such concise meanings for seemingly all-encompassing words, so we’ll go back to theirs: “the action of calling something to the attention of the public especially by public announcement.”

Something as broad as this could literally be applied almost to the beginning of time or at least to the time when communication began altogether, but we’ll leave that for another article. With the meaning of advertising fresh on our minds, lets delve a little deeper into the meaning of ADVERTISING.

Advertising is nothing short of a publicly viewed announcement. Therefore, the best original manifestation and simplest form would technically be cave paintings, or more the modern version, billboards. Billboards are posted in a common area and the value of a billboard ad campaign lies in its location; busy cities are going to be more highly regarded than a university common area, but with the audience in mind, both can be equally as effective. That being said, I think the word relevance is important and should be included while defining an advertisement. There is really no reason to advertise when audience doesn’t want to hear the message or it is so irrelevant it does not apply to the audience that is being exposed to it.

I would like to therefore propose a new definition for advertising:  the action of calling something relevantespecially by public announcement, that can be easily remembered and can be used as a forum for discussion about present life and reminisced or remembered by the public at a later date. 

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