3 Advertising Lessons from 100-yr old Newspapers

I’m convinced that if I were born 20 years earlier I would be the world’s greatest hoarder. I love to save, clip, and pour over old magazines and newspapers. Today, the Internet makes my would-be hoarding habit somewhat manageable.

Still, I love to revisit old OLD news mediums and glean tips from the original American marketers. Let’s examine the evolution of formats and approaches from one such rag — The Daily Dramatic Chronicle — published in San Francisco. You know it better by it’s later name, The San Francisco Chronicle.

Here’s one of the first issues of The DDC published in January 1865:

For the next several years the leading elements of the front page were tied to local theater engagements. General news stories bordered the main frame and the paper itself was just 4 pages long. The type, banner, and format definitely give a flair of western stereotypes we’ve come to know. The advertising is what I’m really interested in.

Lesson 1: Get Above the Noise

The Bay Area gave birth to the modern Internet advertising world and we can see the seeds of early innovations 100 years ago in these pages. Here’s a typical page of ads with some stories embeded on the inside pages of an 1870 edition of the paper.

Notice the Bowen Brothers full column buy which ran for a month or more. Touting itself as: “The Leading Grocery, Wine and Liquor Emporium on the Pacific Coast” the typsetter must have burned some serious midnight oil to set the type for the unique letterset arrangement.

Here’s the copy around the interstitialed letters:

“BOWEN BROTHERS, the wekk-knoen Grocers, have removed to №488 Pine street, between Montgomery and Kearny just avote the California Market, and they now have the largest Grocery Estalishment on the West Coast. Under the Store is their WINE CELLARS, occupying the full length of the building, and stocked with the finest WINES and LOQUORS from all quarters of the world. Is the second story is their WOODEN WARE Department, containing all of the latest styles of PAILS, TUBS, BROOMS, BASKETS, etc. In the main story on the first floor is where their immense stock of GROCERIES is displayed, and there you will find the most rare and costly products of Europe, Asia and America. The Public are invited at all times to call and inspect the Stores, CROSS & BLACKMAN’s Assorted Goods constantly on hand. BOWEN BROTHERS, IMPORTING GROCERS.”

No space is wasted as hyphenated words are interrrupted by the typeset imagery. Much of this reads in the formal nomenclature of the day. I’ve always felt like the rapport of ads from the 19th Century resonated like a high end usher at a theater.

There is no mistaking where the reader’s eye will go on this page. Turns out the modern mantra of “getting above the noise” is an pretty ageless.

Lesson 2: White Space, Type, Words, and Numbers

Take a look at the page below from an 1880 issue of the now re-named San Francisco Chronicle. Scan the page. Where does your eye go?

Don’t let the crazy stack of different fonts make you sick… differentiation was the approach here. My eye went to “KEANE BROS.” with the white space around it. Then “JEWELRY” down right center. Lastly, as I continue to scan, my eye honed in on “25 per Cent SAVED!”

All the elements are here of good advertising layout: white space, type, and use of numbers. (Some studies have shown that using number in an email subject line will increase open rates).

Lesson 3: Imagery and Icons

Some great examples below from subsequent decades of the Chronicle using imagery and icons to call attention to your wares:

I like the copy presented in this stand-out ad:

CMO at large. I live at the intersection of AI, machine learning and marketing. It’s a busy corner! (I need to model that).