Indian Advertising – A peek into the journey

Indian kulfi stall

With today’s ultra modern, snazzy, foot-tapping advertisements, it’s easy to be fooled into thinking that advertising is a fairly recent phenomenon. But, a peek into history will surprise you – advertising is as old as trade itself.

Did you grow up hearing the kulfi seller clang the distinct kulfi bell? Or did you observe your mother rush to stop the vegetable vendor bellowing in the street advertising his fresh wares? – this was the first form of advertising – calling out and announcing your wares. Even in today’s cosmopolitan world, its not uncommon to hear the echoes of an ‘idiyappam’ seller or the ‘kabadi wala’.

The earliest print advertisements are credited to a newspaper called Bengal Gazette. They were more announcements than advertisements; deaths, births, arrival and departure of ships (mostly from and to England) and some minor sales. But, soon mere listing began to be replaced with interesting taglines; these were followed by discounts and free gifts – a precursor to today’s foolproof formula.

What was predominantly British – advertising, soon began to turn indigenous. In 1907, because of the Swadeshi Movement, advertising in India began to take root and the first Indian ad company – The Indian Advertising Company, was formed.

India was a decade away from Independence, but several ad companies had already established themselves – The Publicity Co. in Madras, Oriental Advertising Agency in Trichy, Vasudevaa Publicity Service in Delhi to name a few. Soon, advertising became an immensely competitive field and in 1945, the Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI) was formed followed by the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) to bring order into the field.

It seems like it was eons ago that multicolor printing and a few lines of a jingle on Air India Radio (AIR) were the norm. The advent of television and Internet has not just changed, but re-defined advertising – every day new methods and formats for advertising are born, and each more innovative than the other.

Advertising began a long time ago, but its end is nowhere in sight. As long as there is anyone who wants to sell anything – it will thrive.