Canadian Advertising Art

Canadian Ads

Each week, we publish image sets from the newest Early Canadiana Online titles on Flickr and Facebook, platforms that support sharing, visualization, and community feedback. This latest series showcases advertising from lavishly-illustrated Canadian magazines, digitized and preserved as part of the Early Canadian Periodicals project.

Canada’s advertising industry began with a bang, sparked by the spectacular growth of consumer culture that would define our 20th century. Faced with a sharp rise in foreign competition as U.S. publications began dominating the newsstands in the late 1890s, Canadian editors took note of their neighbours’ marketing savvy and began shifting emphasis from subscription to advertising revenue. To beat the Mad Men at their own game, or at least to stay competitive, Canadian periodicals devised a successful combination of American-style ads (some issues of the Home Journal coming packed with 100 pages of ads) with home-grown articles devoted to local, regional, or trade issues. Ideally, this approach raked in revenue while cultivating a loyal readership.

In the 1910s, Canadian magazines began unlimbering themselves from the rigidity of the British highbrow-literary journals whose publishers had imposed a strict segregation of advertising and editorial content. (Britain’s gentlemanly influence was virtually eliminated from the newsstand as the British market share plummeted from a respectable 20% in 1900 to a lowly 1.7% in 1920.)

Professional ad agencies sprung up in the larger Canadian cities, spearheaded by a new class of professional advertizers based in Toronto. Several familiar practices emerged in this period: serialized stories were “tailed” across several pages, forcing readers to navigate through a flurry of ads to reach the thrilling conclusion; concerted brand campaigns and slogans unrolled with rhythmic intensity, as such household brands as Ford and Quaker Oats burst onto the consumer arena; and ethically-dubious advertorials blurred the line between advice and product placement – Everywoman’s World claiming to bestow “vital information about [the reader’s] everyday needs and desires” in a way that “entertains, elevates, and points to new fields of freedom and accomplishment.”