Making "Pictures in Our Heads": Government Advertising in Canada

By Jonathan W. Rose | Go to book overview

Chapter Two
The Rise of Government
Advertising in Canada

Advertisements are now so numerous that they are very negligently
perused, and it is therefore become necessary to gain attention by mag-
nificence of promises and by eloquence sometime sublime and some-
times pathetick.

—Samuel Johnson, 1758

One writer has gone so far as to compare advertising to the church and school in terms of its social influence.1 While the precise effects of advertising are open to question and is actively debated in the scholarly literature and popular press, it seems difficult to argue with the hypothesis that they are an important element of socialization. Through its various media (print and broadcast), advertising communicates values that are important in a capitalist society. In Canada advertising is a $9 billion industry; in the United States it contributes $183 billion to the economy.2 While the history of commercial advertising has been explored in some depth, and scholars such as Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Edwin Diamond, and Stephen Bates have written important studies on the advertising by political parties, one important actor seems to have been left out of the debate.

Governments around the world are relying on advertising to communicate their successes, reward newspapers for favorable coverage, respond to opposition attacks in the press, or engage in foreign affairs. In 1997 Puerto Rican Governor, Pedro Roseselló, banned all government agencies from advertising in the territory’s largest newspaper, El Nuevo Día, after it ran some stories critical of the government.3 Bribes from advertising agencies for the governing party in Italy helped one firm obtain a $100 million account to advertise AIDS awareness and prevention while providing a reliable revenue source for the government party.4 The governments of

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