April 13, 2010

Getting Outdoor, Digitally. Not Digital Outdoor!


During Advertising Week we couldn't help but think about the "real" classic ad campaigns. Everybody knows about Ogilvy, Bernbach and Burnett. We thought it would be interesting to go back a little further, like 100 to 200 years or so!

So we contacted Jack Rennert, President of Poster Auctions International and asked the world's foremost expert on advertising poster art to bring us up to speed on them. As evidenced above, these ads put to shame the notion that animated Gif's were the first banners!

Jack Rennert is a busy man. He's about to conduct the world's biggest advertising art auction; a total of 900+ vintage advertising posters in Manhattan on Sunday, Nov. 11th. For as much as it will be focusing on the classics, in reality, Rennert has made it state-of-the-art!

If you'd like to attend and are in town, check out PostersPlease.com But, say you're out of town. You can still go! It's a live event. You can be there via the internet and even out-bid everyone in the room if you want.

It's not digital outdoor, easily the hottest up and coming medium around. It's getting your outdoor, digitally; the coolest thing in town!


Kennert's got it all figured out so you can be in the game in the comfort of your own chateau or condo. Place your bid/bet on a "Toulouse-Lautrecs" during half-time. Kick back and and pick up a "Cheret" while enjoying your favorite Dubonnet cocktail; almost as much as our friend above!

Between now and then, the posters are on display at the International Poster Center, 601 W. 26th St. New York City.

The exhibition is free and it begins in two days. Make plans to go this Friday, 10/26 or sometime through Saturday, November 10. It's going to be great. Thanks, Jack for taking time out to keep us up to date on these classic ads.

The Editors

We read in the advertising trades about new high-tech billboards, from the multi-million dollar extravaganzas in Times Square and on Hollywood Boulevard. We see state-of-the-art mobile signs atop taxicabs that direct you to the nearest Dunkin' Donuts or McDonald's, using GPS technology that lets the signs get localized down to the exact corner they happen to be on.

But with all the technology and glitz, out-of-home as we know it now traces its roots to the streets of Paris in the 1880s and 90s. That's when posters as an advertising medium really began to develop.


Technically, out-of-home goes back to the ancient Greeks, who came up with kinetic notice boards called axons that could be placed anywhere, with messages on them. It's unlikely those early signs promoted the local tailor, baker or burger joint. Instead, they carried public notices of meetings, taxes due and official edicts. Out-of-home also took the form of what we'd now call graffiti. Excavations of Pompeii found more than 1,600 written proclamations on walls buried in volcanic ash.

Posters could not appear, of course, until there was plentiful paper available and until someone invented printing. The earliest printed public notices, leaflets for the church and the state, were seen in England in 1477. By the 16th Century, public notices routinely appeared on any available wall space, as well as on fences, large trees and boulders. As the messages began to crowd each other, France enacted a law in 1539 regulating the use of vacant space for printed notices. By this time, primitive posters were being used for private commercial use. Even doctors advertised their practices with posters.


The idea to convey a message to a wide audience is as old as mankind. The Greeks came up with kinetic notice boards called axones that could be placed anywhere. Announcements of public events were written on any handy surface. Excavations at Pompeii, buried in volcanic ash, uncovered more than 1,600 written proclamations on the walls.

Posters could not appear on the scene, of course, until there was paper was plentiful and someone invented printing. The first printed public notices were leaflets for the church or state, dating back to 1477 in England. Those early posters announced public meetings anted other public occasions, and they generally used large typography to attract attention.

By the 16th century, public notices were routinely appearing on walls, as well as on fences, large trees and boulders. Posters began using artwork like ornamental borders to attract attention, and private use of these primitive posters began to proliferate, with even doctors advertising their practices. Messages began to crowd each other in what was the first form of commercial clutter. By 1539, Frances I in France formulated the first known law regulating use of vacant space for printed notices.

An advertising milestone was reached in 1855 when Berlin painter Ernst Litfars obtained permission from the authorities to erect round pillars expressly or the purpose of displaying posters. From these street kiosks, it was but a logical step to billboards, a medium that adapted well to the vast open spaces of the New World.

The real beginnings of poster art can be traced to Austrian Alois Senefelder, who developed lithography in 1796-1798. This technology enabled advertisers to replace wood or copperplate engravings with much less costly lithographs. It also enabled printers to introduce color to posters.


Jules Cheret (1836-1932) was responsible for the next great leap in poster development. The French poster designer found a way to use lithography to produce a rich, vivid effect with only a few ink blocks, or lithographic stones. He learned it in the 1850s while studying poster design in England, and it revolutionized the trade - so much so that Cheret has become known as the "father of the modern poster." His developments also made it possible to produce much larger posters, often fitting several sections together seamlessly to achieve virtually any dimensions desired.

Cheret's posters, featuring lightly clad damsels, seemed to fill every wall in Paris, as the golden age of the poster took off. Major artists like Toulouse-Lautrec were commissioned to do posters, and his ads for acts at the legendary Moulin Rouge nightclub, and for periodicals like Chap Book have become treasured art commanding incredible prices for printed pieces. The very first Toulouse-Lautrec poster, done in 1891 for the Moulin Rouge, is up for sale in November at the semi-annual vintage poster auction in New York's International Poster Center. The pre-sale estimate ranges from $180,000 - $220,000.


Cheret's disciples covered the walls of Europe's cities. Italian-born Leonetto Cappiello, working in Paris, became Cheret's heir-apparent as the 20th century began. In England, John Hassal and Dudley Hardy used Cheret's technique, as did two talented innovators using the pseudonym Beggarstaff Brothers.

Outdoor advertising reached its peak in the U.S. Its most avid promoters were show people - minstrels, traveling circuses and the Buffalo Bill wild west shows. Posters were hung in areas of dense traffic. In addition to advertising shows and entertainment, they publicized rewards for bandits wanted "dead or alive," announced cattle sales and even, before the Civil War, promoted slave auctions.

But outdoor advertising really came into its own in the U.S. with the arrival of the automobile and highways. Billboards sprung up along busy highways to catch the eye - and wallet - of passing motorists. The classic Burma Shave posters were actually a series of posters alongside the road, spaced 50 or 100 feet apart, with each poster spelling out part of a messages that always end with "Burma Shave." It wasn't until perhaps 80 years later that advertisers picked up the idea of serialized ads, with the famous Grey Poupon couple falling in love on TV. But it started with posters.


More than 400 years after Frances I laid down laws governing poster clutter, tourist-conscious Hawaii became the first state, in the 1960s, to ban roadside billboards, as they virtually covered the landscape and obstructed natural views.

Yesterday's advertising has become today's art treasures. Posters dating back to the 1880s, with sky-high prices like those commanded by Toulouse-Lautrec classics, to contemporary posters that many of us can recall seeing on subways and buses, such as the Levys' Real Jewish Rye Bread series popular in New York in 1960s and 70s, are sold by dealers and at auction.


Posters are popular - and valuable - based on a number of factors. The popularity and reputation of the artist, of course, impacts the value. The artistic style, be it Belle Epoch, art deco, the heavy WPA-era look, is a factor. The subject matter - spectacular racing cars along the backdrop of the Monaco Grand Prix, or the stylish designs of the time advertising the Swiss retailer PKZ, or Steinlen's endearing images of children and cats for chocolates or milk. Also popular and valuable are posters advertising entertainers, from Paul Colin's groundbreaking posters for singer Josephine Baker in Paris in the 1920s, or the psychedelic graphics of the 1960s and 70s San Francisco rock posters, expected to command a price at the upcoming auction of upwards of $80,000 for a rare collection of 301 posters.

Yes, advertising is art. As art, posters live long beyond the expected time span of the insertion order. Thousands of poster enthusiasts around the world can attest to that.

Jack Rennert is President of Poster Auctions International in New York. Besides events at PAI, Rennert has organized exhibitions of posters in museums and institutions around the country, including the Lincoln Center Museum for the Performing Arts, The Metropolitan Museum, Radio City Music Hall, the French Embassy and several Japanese museums among other venues. For more info or to contact Mr. Rennart, call 212 787-4000 or visit www.posterauctions.com


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