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Advertising Lessons from the 1920s: A Look Back at a Transformative Era

Some things never go out of style.

Roaring 20s

Ah the 1920s... It was bananas! Or so they say.


Also known as the "Roaring Twenties," the 1920s was a decade marked by significant social, cultural, and economic changes. The advertising industry, in particular, underwent a transformation as mass production, new technologies, and a shift in consumerism took hold. The era saw the rise of iconic advertising ads, some of which continue to influence the industry today.


So, what '20s advertising wisdom can we apply today?


The importance of triggering emotions (one of the most important advertising lessons)


In the 1920s, advertisers began to understand the power of tapping into consumers' emotions, leading to the creation of emotionally charged advertisements.


One prime example is the Listerine campaign, which played on people's fears of halitosis (bad breath) by positioning the product as a solution to a widespread social problem.


Today, brands continue to use emotional appeal in their advertisements to create a lasting impact on consumers and build brand loyalty.

Listerine 1920 ad

Lesson: Emotionally resonant advertising is a timeless approach that continues to be effective in influencing consumer behaviour.


The power of simplicity


The 1920s saw a rise in simple, yet powerful slogans that are still memorable today, such as "A Diamond is Forever" by De Beers and "M&M's melt in your mouth, not in your hand." These slogans demonstrate the enduring power of simplicity in advertising.


Creating a simple and memorable message allows consumers to easily recall and identify a brand.

"A Diamond is Forever" by De Beers 1920

Lesson: Keep advertising messages simple and concise for maximum impact and memorability.


The influence of celebrity endorsements


The use of celebrity endorsements became popular during the 1920s, as advertisers sought to leverage the power of popular figures to boost product sales. One notable example is the Lucky Strike cigarette campaign, which featured celebrities of the time endorsing the product.

lucky strike cigarettes 1920s celebrity advertising

Today, celebrity endorsements remain a popular tactic for brands looking to establish credibility and increase their appeal.


Lesson: Celebrity endorsements can provide a significant boost to a brand's image and sales, provided the celebrity aligns well with the brand's values and target audience.


The rise of radio advertising


The 1920s marked the beginning of radio advertising, a medium that allowed advertisers to reach a large audience simultaneously. Brands such as Pepsodent and Palmolive successfully capitalized on radio's widespread reach by creating catchy jingles and sponsoring popular radio programs. This early foray into audio advertising laid the groundwork for modern podcast and streaming platform ads.


Lesson: Advertisers must continually adapt and explore new channels to reach their target audience effectively.


The power of storytelling


During the 1920s, storytelling became a popular method to sell products, as evidenced by Procter & Gamble's serialized radio dramas, which later became known as soap operas. By weaving product placements into engaging narratives, advertisers were able to create a deeper connection with consumers. Today, brands continue to use storytelling in their marketing efforts, from social media campaigns to branded content.


Lesson: Engaging consumers through storytelling can create a lasting impression and build a deeper connection between the brand and its audience.



The advertising industry has come a long way since the 1920s, but many of the lessons learned during this transformative era continue to hold true. From emotional appeal and simplicity to celebrity endorsements, radio advertising, and storytelling, these timeless strategies can still be applied to modern advertising campaigns. By understanding the historical context and evolution of the industry, we can better appreciate the foundations upon which contemporary advertising is built and continue to innovate for the future.


But that’s just me… thinking out loud.


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