Was this man the Father of Advertising?

24 January 2010

Charles Babbage is seen as the father of computers. Vinton G. Cerf is seen as the father of the internet. Norman Borlaug is seen as the father of the green revolution.

Who is the Father of Advertising?

Emperor Ashoka who lived 2,200 years ago, says Prof A.V. Narasimha Murthy, former professor of ancient history and archaeology at the University of Mysore.

Reason: the emperor who lorded over a vast kingdom practically consisting the whole of undivided India, parts of the north-west frontier province and Kandahar, Afghanistan between 272-232 BC, used inscriptions to get the message across to his subjects.

And the inscriptions, the professor says, were akin to modern-day advertisements.

Over 100 have been found on polished pillars which were set up on what would now be considered highways, which were used by elite travellers and tourists. The rural masses were targetted through inscriptions on boulders.

Tellingly, emperor Ashoka used the language that the target group would understand in different parts of his vast, far-flung empire: Northern Brahmi, Southern Brahmi, Aramaic, Greek, Kharosthi.

Typical examples of Ashoka’s “advertisements”:

“Dharma is not the prerogative of the rich; even a poor man can achieve dharma.”

“All men are my children; Just as in regard to my own children, I desire that they may be provided with all welfare and happiness in this world and in the next; the same I desire of all men.”

“King Priyadarshi wishes that all religious sects should live harmoniously in all parts of his dominions. They should perform their duty.”

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One Response to “Was this man the Father of Advertising?”

  1. mysore peshva Says:

    with all due respect to respected professor a.v. narasimha murthy:

    the three requirements of a modern advertisement are that it must

    (1) engage in commercial speech,
    (2) use a purchased medium, and
    (3) persuade an audience to purchase a good or service.

    none of listed “typical” examples seems to meet any of those requirements, so i am not sure we can consider them to be advertising in our current understanding of the term.

    the earliest ads probably were the communications to western europeans by promoters of the american colonies in the 17th century. those ads were full of half-truths, if not outright lies (as, probably, have been most ads throughout advertising’s 400-year history in the West).

    benjamin franklin, writing for the pennsylvania gazette in 1729, was probably the first copywriter worth the title. but advertising really came into its own in america during the penny press years of the 19th century.

    political advertising emerged in america’s presidential election of 1840 with william harrison’s famous “log cabin campaign.”

    retail/product advertising probably emerged with the “new advertising” era of the late 19th century when joseph pulitzer and william hearst were battling for america’s east coast reader.

    around that same time, francis wayland ayer established the first advertising agency in philadelphia. but modern ad agencies acting as intermediaries between retailers/manufacturers and media organizations did not take root until the 1930s.


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