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Advertising Prescriptive Literature: 1945-1968

Hartman Center: Prescriptive Literature, 1946 - 1968

  • Philip Ward Burton, Bowman Kreer [and] John B. Gray, Jr. Advertising Copywriting. New York: Prentice Hall, 1949.

    Written in part by a Professor of Advertising, this introductory textbook addresses itself to the new student of public relations. Instead of offering a series of formulas, the authors insist upon a structure that highlights both the best and worst practices that one might encounter in an actual advertising agency. Such a position leads the authors to argue against the trend to present advertising as a scientific field, complete with proven methods. Rather they view it as an art from, one that defies strict rules, but one that also incorporates a large number of unglamorous tasks and challenges. The book offers an overview of the odd jobs that an entry level employee might be asked to undertake at an advertising agency. While the book incorporates broad, almost philosophical definitions of relevant terms, such as copy, and more interdisciplinary inquiries into the relationship between advertising and law, it also accommodate the turn toward analytical scientific data. In a notable section on Copy Research, the authors include information and images relating to scientific efforts to quantify and study audience response.  

  • Perry Shofield. 100 Top Copy Writers and their Favorite Ads. New York: Printer's Ink Pub, 1954.

This large format book with glossy pages, reminiscent of an art catalog, collects 100 advertisements and features small anecdotal reflections from the copywriters who helped create them. In these brief reflections, the writers provide object lessons in the trade, by revealing their own individual rubrics for determining successful copy. In contrast to many prescriptive guides which focus on analytics and mechanical technics, this book tries to imbue the profession with sentimentality. Instead of presenting the advertisement as an anonymous work of public relations, the editors grant it the kind of attention one commonly associates with fine arts, allowing the copy writer or artist to enhance the myth. Notable entries include Bob Colwell on American Petroleum, Rosser Reeves on Viceroy Filtered Cigarettes and Dorothy Parker on General Electric Light Bulbs.

This workbook features 38 units covering various aspects of copy writing and visual layout. Each unit opens with a list of suggested readings, before offering summary points on the general conventions governing the production, editing and placement of print advertisements. Most importantly, each unit concludes with a series of exercises, allowing students to practice the skills covered in the guide. Units of note include Exercises in Brevity, Facts about Consumer, Copy Appeal and Approach, Headlines, Visualization, Lettering and Sketching the Layout. The book closes with a two-page bibliography that lists influential works of prescriptive literature, which focus primarily on the technical aspects of advertising during the postwar era.

Described as “the largest documentation of advertising by the experts and writers” of the 1950s, this edited volume brings together thirty-five essays by various authors to provide the “whole picture” of postwar advertising culture. Divided into five sections: Plans, Products, Media, Research, and Jobs, the book offers everything from impressionistic theories of creativity and valuations of successful “offbeat copy” to instructions for writing television and radio commercials, as well as direct marketing. Essays of note include: “Phonetic Intelligence: Writes Jingles and Songs for Sound” and “Nature’s Gift to Copywriting.”  

100 Top Copy Writers and their Favorite Ads, 1954

Advertising Copywriting, 1949