Advertising Poem: Isn't it funny? Why is it?

By 1923, U.S. newspapers and magazines were promoting advertising with a precursor to what came to be known as the Advertising Poem.  This was their promotional text:

Isn’t it funny?

Man wakes up in the morning, after sleeping under an advertised blanket, on an advertised mattress; takes off advertised pajamas; takes a shower in an advertised tub; shaves with an advertised razor; washes with advertised soap; powders his face with an advertised powder; dons advertised underwear, hose, shirt, collar, shoes, suit, handkerchief; sits down to breakfast of an advertised cereal; drinks advertised coffee; puts on an advertised hat; lights an advertised cigar; rides to his office in an advertised car on advertised tires; where he refuses to advertise on the grounds that advertising does not pay.[1]

In the early 1920s, radio, television, and the Internet didn’t yet exist as advertising media.  Advertising was exclusively through printed media, with the minor exception of electric signs.  Nonetheless, print media was sufficient to promote visions and aspirations, to build strong national brands, and to generate more advertising revenue relative to national economic output than more diverse and technological advanced media did in 2007.  Advertising in the early 1920s was a successful bandwagon.

Traditional promotion of advertising is still rolling forward.  Today one can readily find media-oriented persons and organizations printing and posting “The Advertising Poem”:

Why is it?
A man wakes up after sleeping
under an advertised blanket,
on an advertised mattress,
pulls off advertised pajamas,
bathes in an advertised shower,
shaves with an advertised razor,
brushes his teeth with advertised toothpaste,
washes with advertised soap,
puts on advertised clothes,
drinks a cup of advertised coffee,
drives to work in an advertised car,
and then, refuses to advertise,
believing it doesn’t pay.
Later when business is poor,
he advertises it for sale.
Why is it? [2]

The Advertising Poem is the advertising promotion copy from no later than 1923.  It has been made into poetry in the sense of being lineated.  Some minor changes in the words of the text have been made.  The man doesn’t now powder his face, and now he brushes his teeth. He no longer eats cereal (that’s now for kids, perhaps), no longer smokes a cigar, and no longer enumerates his items of high-status dress (underwear, hose, shirt, collar, shoes, suit, handkerchief).  But capital markets are more developed, and he can attempt to sell his business.

Revolutionary changes in advertising have little to do with the display media for advertising.  Revolutionary changes in advertising come from real-time digital interactivity.  That interactivity allows advertisers to personalize advertising, to monitor individual response to ads, and to measure cost-effectiveness of advertising much better than was possible in the past.

The Advertising Poem:  Isn’t it funny? Why is it? The bandwagon effect and social proof draw upon natural forms of interactivity.  The Advertising Poem describes a single individual.  He is a potential advertiser who, even though he uses many of their products, doesn’t appreciate what other advertisers are doing.  He lacks appreciation for interactivity.  So too for many advertisers today, even though interactivity has long been central to advertising.

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[1] This text appears in the Universalist Leader, v. 26 (1923).  It also appears in the Lodi Sentinel (Lodi, California), Jan. 15, 1924, and the Mountain Democrat (Plaserville, California), Mar. 20, 1925.  The latter observes, “Free speech and a free press don’t mean that your radio will be given to you or that you can go on forever without paying up your subscription to this paper.”

[2] The Advertising Poem is included on the home page for the New York University’s Marketing Society.  In the early 1920s, New York University was a leader in advertising research.

2 thoughts on “Advertising Poem: Isn't it funny? Why is it?”

  1. Hi,

    Thanks for posting this! I have a student who came across the poem, and I’d like to steer her toward this information. Is this based on your own research? If not, it would be great if you could share your source. If you yourself did the research, did you end up publishing it as part of a larger study?

    Thanks for your time,
    Lili Porten

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