Indian Advertising starts with the hawkers calling out their wares right from the days when cities and markets first began. Concrete advertising history begins with classified advertising. Ads appear for the first time in print in Hickey’s Bengal Gazette, India’s first newspaper (weekly) . To ‘advertise’ meant merely to ‘inform’ until the end of the eighteenth century, and the early newspapers and periodicals announced births, deaths, arrivals of ships from England, sale of household furniture, etc. some journals like the Bengal Journal (first published in 1785) even offered to print government advertisements free.
The front page of most such journals carried only advertisements. But before long persuasive copy began to replace mere information. This is evident from the appearance of punch lines such as ‘superior to anything of the kind hitherto imported’ and ‘warranted to the first quality’. Discounts and special services also began to be offered by the beginning of the nineteenth century. Later, new products and services established themselves on the market through the advertisement columns of the newspapers and periodicals. The power of advertising increased rapidly with the growth in trade and commerce.
With the increasing impact of the industrial revolution on our country, the number of advertisements from British business houses rose sharply. ‘Agents’ flourished at the time as space contractors, obtaining advertisements for newspapers and periodicals on a commission basis. Leading newspapers like ‘The Statement’ and ‘The Times of India’, which had their own advertising departments, offered their own facilities to ‘agents’. This was of great advantage to both the advertiser and the publisher, for the advertiser, it saved the bother of preparing a suitable layout for the advertisements, for the publisher, it assured a certain uniformity of standard in the advertisements appearing in its column. This practice was responsible for turning advertising into a distinct profession. These ‘agents’ were forerunners of the ‘advertising agencies’.
Advertising in the early 20th century
Two main events responsible for growth of Indian advertising agencies were: the Swadeshi Movement (1907-1911), which gave rise to indigenous industries, and the second, was the installation of first rotary linotype machine by the Statesman of Calcutta in 1907.
In few years, other papers too installed the new machine, which made it possible to produce a cheap newspaper with a large national circulation. The first Indian Ad Agency, the Indian Advertising Agency, was launched around this time, and is still going strong. The main functions of these agencies were to secure advertisements and to get them published in the press. The major British agencies during this time were: Alliance Advertising Associates, Publicity Society of India, L.A. Stronach and Co, and others. They catered to the need of the affluent British and Indian elites living in the metropolitan cities. They rarely advertised Mass consumer items like tea and cigarettes.
During the war, press advertising was exploited to raise funds for the war effort. Ad Agencies established during this period-included Alliance Advertising Association Ltd, at Bombay, started by the British India Cooperation of Kanpur, to sell its manufactured goods. Mr. L.A.Stronach, the manager of Alliance, bought up the Bombay branch of the agency and started in 1922 his own agency, with a branch in London. It provided production and media services to advertisers (unlike the space-selling agencies) and so even manufacturers of competing products or brands had to use these services.
The Inter-War Years
During the inter-war years a few Indian agencies too sprang up, the most notable being the modern Publicity Co. in Madras, the Calcutta Publicity, and the Oriental Advertising Agency in Tiruchirapalli. The Vasudevea Publicity Service was started in Delhi to carry out outdoor publicity campaigns in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Delhi. In 1931, the first full-fledged Indian Ad Agency, the National Advertising Service, was established. Among the other Indian Agencies to be launched during this period were: New India Publicity Co. 1930, Paradise Advertising Agency of Calcutta (1928), the Indian and Eastern Newspapers Society (IENS), and others. The IENS was set up as a central organization of the newspaper owners of India, Burma and Ceylon. The society looked after the interests of newspaper publishing houses; an indirect effect of the formation of the IENS was the standardization of Ad agency practices. The IENS also sought to foster better publisher agency relationship.
The establishment of the Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI) in 1945, and the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) in 1948 helped to bring some order to the competitive field. The AAAI came to be recognized as a representative body of the profession, with the authority to represent its interests and problems. The ABC gave some credibility to the claims of newspapers regarding their circulation.
Following World War II and the Indian Independence, the British-owned agencies were sold to Indian business. Several agencies, however, retained an ‘affiliate’ status with the main branches of the agencies in London. They continue to enjoy this status even today, though American multinational agencies have replaced affiliation with British agencies.
At independence the advertising business was well on its way to growth and expansion. Partition did not touch the business at all. The introduction of multi-color printing, improved printing machines (like offset and web offset), and the development of commercial art gave the Ad business a further leap. Agencies began to offer, besides space selling, many more services, such as artwork, organization of fairs and exhibitions, market research, public relations consultancies.
The phenomenal growth in the media, especially television and cable has given a boost to Indian advertising. Market research and readership surveys have led to the further professionalization of the business. Individual publishing houses like ‘The Hindu and The Times of India’ first conducted readership surveys. Now, National Readership Surveys (NRS) and Indian Readership Surveys (IRS) as well as regular Television Rating Points (TRP) measurements provide advertisers with statistical data on which to base their media plans.