Book Review

Book Review

Selling Themselves: The Emergence of Canadian Advertising by
Russell Johnston
Russell Johnston is a renowned author in the history of literature and advertising. Having written numerous books on emergence of new trends in the advertising sector, his book, Selling Themselves, vividly describes the trend and history of publishing and advertising sector. His work has been clearly written, convincingly researched, and there is flow of ideas and coherent argument. Although literature work is not always perfect, and Russell’s work is no exception, his work has contributed tremendously on the emergence of communication systems in Canada towards the end of 19th century and early 20th century. As such, Ogilvy (1963) purports that much gratitude needs to be directed to the agency management and advertising sector for their peculiar support to its employees when they are undertaking their chores. The publishers and advertisers reputation has been overwhelming. Consequently, American scholars have vested their interest on the connections that exist between various industries in different countries as stipulated in Russell’s book. Indeed, the scenario is highlighted by one of three main themes of the literature, as it emerges from the analysis of this history.
The relationship existing between the Canadian and American trade is traced, and emphasis placed on how the Canadian ad workers emulated the innovations of Americans but in a way in which it perfectly suits the Canadian culture and clients. The Transformations of the early publishing industry (Chapter 1) is the other theme highlighted by Russell, and later, in his work, he outlines developments in farming and consumer magazines between 1920 and 1930 (Chapter 7). In this latter chapter, the author portrays that American advertising industry was best competed by using farm papers through re-development of marketing formulas that are successful as that of American Consumer magazine. As such, the Canadian government ensured that retaining the Canadian culture and unique content in its farm papers would attract readers. However, this was not to be, as the fate of consumer magazine was unsuccessful, and its consequences are still being felt in the economy.
According to Russell, the challenges facing the advertising agents are numerous, yet convincing on their skills and knowledge to act as candid brokers between manufacturers and media outlets. Apart from the convincing power of brokers, ad workers are required to portray overwhelmingly power to convince manufacturers on the importance in undertaking salesmanship. Johnston in chapter three and four outlines the steps required in satisfying the manufacturers through professionalization of industrial activities—this, according to Johnston, was necessitated by the ad workers who are based in the outskirts of Toronto. With the re-shaping of the organization’s structure, standards and rules were enacted to safeguard the activities of the organization and it included audited circulations, agency agreements, standardized rate cards, and enhancing the success of advertising practices through consultation with specific brokers who represent Canadian advertising and media interests. As such, Johnston has succeeded in highlighting the history of advertising and its consequential development, and the way it fosters cordial relationship between various themes across the book.
Although I was perturbed by what happened to the consumer—the other actor—as the history and trend of organizational structures and relations facilitated industrial development, the book depicts the terrain that is still under analysis. Finally, the author navigates his book around the fourth theme, which outlines the emergence of selling techniques and its subsequent refinement procedure. From the above synopsis of the chapters and the overall description of the various themes, I am convinced that the most interesting chapters were the final chapters of the books that outlined the effect of academic psychology on the success of a copywriter (Chapter 5 through 7), and the emergent of new and modern scientific rationalization, which became a success in the industry through its dependence on risk management strategies and market research. These developments enhanced the emergence of new logic in the advertising sector that is being refined in the current world and has been crucial in the sophisticated and ever-changing economy.
Although I enjoyed dreading most parts of the book, I was dissatisfied with some parts that were under-explored. The author focused so much attention on specific areas in advertising industry and left others unattended. Firstly, while the book aims at providing historical development of advertising, it does not entirely analyze the emergence and development of Canadian advertising. It is only the historical development of Toronto that is deeply analyzed, and Montreal and other prairie provinces are partially analyzed. Johnston has justified that Toronto denotes the core of regional activities and developments for industries that are still development; however, I disagree with his opinion, as development normally varies depending on geographical differences. Anyone who understands the geographical and resource allocation of Canada would contend my argument that communication systems was not evenly developed, but articulated majorly on the influence of local actors and cultures. In addition, Russell purports that, with the current less number of manufacturers and fewer papers, other developed centers did not provide facilities and strategies to enhance innovations, which will then ease the industrial development process. As such, it does not imply that the differences are not worthy to be explored, but rather provide a platform for research, nor does it mean that the agencies and ad workers in Toronto are operating at norm. As most media histories are characterized by undeveloped terrain, Russell’s book does not highlight the less appealing parts; it just focuses on the biggest and appealing experiences, which, ultimately, are experienced elsewhere. However, I do not intend to criticize Russell’s deliberation on Toronto. Most of the history highlighted is new, it is crucial to commence the concentration from the center—that is Toronto. One should also put into consideration the limited materials available in the archives (15). Indeed, it is a bit preemptive and misleading to conform to the argument that advertising emerged in Canada.
Secondly, Russell’s argument that industrial development that was realized in the early 20th century harnessed the emergence of a cordial relationship between agencies, manufacturers, and publishers in the economy is, somehow, misleading. Russell’s argument was vested on the profound social and cultural changes, which occurred after industrialization reorganized the region’s economic foundations. The effects of industrialization are diverse, but Russell chooses to describe demographic changes, cultural and political changes, and urban growth in a scanty way. Only few pages describe these effects. Some of the questions that author left unanswered included: the relationship that exists between changing work schedule to the initiation of advertising strategies, leisure, and trademarked goods; the changes that are felt in the private sphere, which facilitated the shift of activities in the media industry; and the future of the radio that was not concerned with printing. It can be argued that the changes were merely “context” in regard to the world of advertisements, but, in reality, they were the platform in which the owners and agencies were coerced to navigate. These perceptions warrant a balanced treatment as compared to others, citing the crucial developments that were occupied within the wide historical undertakings. When Toronto is taken to be the core of the country’s industrialization—towards the end of 19th Century—vast literature exist that provides an analysis on economic, demography, urban, newspaper, and manufacturing history in Toronto. Russell did not utilize this information; therefore, the book had scanty information on industrialization in Canada. As such, it can be argued convincingly that the literature provided did not exploit industrialization development aspect.
Similarly, Russell focus was an analysis of industrialization development over the past five decades, and this did not incorporate the newly developed areas in the region. From the title of the book to the literature itself, it clearly depicts lack of diversity in exploring phenomenon affecting the economy. Though part of the book’s title—Selling Themselves—denotes the Canadian ad workers, the other part—The Emergence of Canadian Advertising—depicts the history and revolution of the communication system as a way of conveying adverts; a way of economic endowment with clear transcendent qualities of commodities. Most of the works that Johnston’s research is based upon uses a strong industry background and advertising campaigns to demonstrate how the workers were involved in revolution of advertising and media industry into a modern industry (Marchand, 1985). Using this foundation, Johnston is able to provide an historical overview of the whole issue, but fails to convince the readers on the implementation stage. He purports that advertising was aimed at developing a modern Canadian society that will suit with the changing social needs, liberalized Christian world, and the transformed cultural perspectives of the society. For instance, in the modern society, advertising plays a significant role by providing a number of products that would enable the consumers to achieve the desired status and acceptance (17). In spite of this, the advertising campaigns that are discussed in depth aim at promoting advertising and media industry. Russell’s scanty discussion on the development of advertising denotes lack of in-depth analysis on the subject matter (10), though it cannot be used for the author not to provide relevant and enough information on the development of Canadian advertising.
The author’s characterization of manufacturers, consumers, and publishers, could have been analyzed in detail. Limited information is provided on the characterization and nature of immediate increase in the volume of advertising. Russell generalizes most of the concepts and goes on to describe the Canadian history in a general manner. It is vital to note that a student who specializes in history of journalism, one needs to counter most of the arguments available in the historical archives. This is due to the limited volume of information available to the readers. For example, towards the end of 19th Century, the strategies that the advertising sector deployed direct style and “personalized” way of addressing and appealing the reader. This style aimed at attracting the reader to purchase the newspaper, as most of the information provided mirrored their way of living. Unfortunately, Russell does not address the connections that exists between the readers, manufacturers, and publishers, because his history provided in the newspaper is not very strong and lacks convincing power. Finally, Russell was able to pay tribute to the most famous women journalists in the 19th century—Kathleen Blake Coleman—as it was worth mentioning (p.196). In highlighting the name of Coleman, the author appreciates the work done by Coleman in developing the history of advertising in Canada; though Coleman was not born in Canada bur she spent most of her time in Canada. The mistake that the author made was not to undertake research on the tastes of women. It was this limitation that the editors of the Daily Mail, Russell, and the local merchants ran a contest, in 1980, to determine a coherent way that new product can be advertised to women. The ad that promoted the contest was Women’s Tastes are the Advertiser’s Puzzle, (Oct. 25, 1980). As such, it denoted that women were just peripherals to the development of advertising in Canada.
These criticisms, however, should not overshadow the strengths imminent in the work of Russell. Though the critiques concentrated on the omissions and lack of finer details in the work, it is worth appreciating the historical detail that has been provided by Russell’s book. Canadian communication sector have always been sluggish in comprehending the changes and transformations that Canadian culture undergoes. Such cultural transformations are brought about by huge production and consumption of images experienced at the end of 19th century. The book provides an optimistic contribution in developing the history and transformation of Canada culture. In addition, it highlights the additional explorations on the function of historical development of advertising in the society. For scholars who have an interest in the history of Canadian newspaper, they should rely on the book as it contains enough information that the historian would need. However, the scholar would have to contend with the complexity and full knowledge on the changes emerging in the history of newspaper since 19th Century. With over-dependence on newspapers, advertising has been perceived to be crucial in attracting readers. Therefore, the book is a significant component n the history of journalism, consumer history, and development of advertising in Canada.

References
Marchand, R. (1985). Advertising the American dream: Making way for modernity 1920-1940. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Ogilvy, D. (1963). Confessions of an advertising man. New York: Dell.

 

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