A Carnival of Conspicuous
To paint a picture of the history of advertising and other forms of marketing, you must start with a timeline, a succession of dates and innovations. But this constitutes just the first few brush strokes, mostly in a single direction. Forms of mass communication proliferate. Businesses find an ever-increasing number of tools available to package and sell their wares. Consumers find themselves increasingly courted, even fawned over. One innovation breeds another. It is a broad outline that only begins to resemble its subject as other strokes, other colors and shapes, are added. For example, far from being perceived as an irresistible force of (economic) nature, advertising has often provoked annoyance, disgust, fear, loathing, and despair. It has been condemned as sinful, challenged as wasteful, shunned as disgraceful, and suppressed as harmful.
The selling impulse has been both ubiquitous and controversial in most cultures and civilizations. While it has drawn many vociferous critics from the ranks of clerics, bureaucrats, academics, and intellectuals, some of the most lugubrious rhetoric has come from a surprising source. Advertising, wrote one author in 1894, is misspent energy “which results from competition, and which does no good except to increase the cost of goods to purchasers.” At least half of all advertis-