The Classified Revolution

Nol Wickand

Dr. Johnson, in one of his non-lexicographical moments, said of advertising that it had reached such a state of advancement that it was hard to imagine how it might be improved. He was talking, in effect, about classified advertising. There was not, at the time, any other kind to talk about. Creativity, to the advertisers of the mid-eighteenth century, meant setting out their copy in a way which made interesting, even meaningful, patterns on the page – an intelligent use of white space which the newspapers, determined even then to control the one percentage point of society on which they had any influence at all, promptly forbade.

Advertising was a verbal activity. Promise, large promise (as the Great Lexicographer also remarked) was the soul of an advertisement. In those early days, some of the promises were very large indeed. Lord Byron, no less, may have been a copywriter for a notorious company called Warren’s Blacking. Mrs Warren herself hinted at the relationship in the modest phrase ‘We keeps a poet’. Byron may also, to judge from a heavy read of recent productions in preparation for this article, have been the last literate Englishman to have anything at all to do with classified advertising.