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Fancy a history lesson? Head to Fleet Street. Do not pass go. Do not collect £200.

So, you thought the first successful ad campaigns dated back to post-war Coca Cola billboards? Maybe you thought real advertising started with “hip” Nike commercials in the 80s? Or perhaps that it was Trump who first ventured down the path of canvassing political support by selling himself to a big, rather reluctant audience? Well, think again.

In fact, advertising is rooted in Antiquity, when pictures and words were used by politicians to apply for public office and by merchants to draw attention to their goods. These product lists on stone walls are believed to be the predecessors of today’s billboards and posters, which are thus among the oldest advertising media. Back then, when people could not simply hunt down Christmas presents on Amazon, they had to actually leave their house and read about offers in person. Crazy, huh?

The demon barber of Fleet Street?

Later centuries saw the rise of mass paper production, the invention of printing and the emergence of the press, enabling advertisers to regularly reach huge audiences. That’s why some of the first advertising agencies in the world opted for offices near London’s Fleet Street – symbol of the national press. So, rather than worshipping someone’s #nofilter avo sandwich-gram, we should sometimes take a moment to send out a big THANK YOU to inspiring pioneers such as Mr Gutenberg instead, to whom we owe the printing press and our jobs.

While video screens on Times Square and “personalised” google ads are, without a doubt, results of our brave new world, the idea of showing others how they can benefit from your goods and services certainly isn’t. Once again, we can learn a lot from our ancestors. Obviously, we don’t want to pass up on our very own capitalist, yet fabulous, Piccadilly Circus billboards BUT exploring ways to learn from the past is always worthwhile.

In advertising, for instance, going back to our roots can simply mean creating super snappy and concise messages that would fit onto an ancient stone wall. Maybe that’s why less is more? Or appealing to people’s instincts and emotions by addressing them in their own language rather than throwing Vorsprung durch Technik at them in the hope they get the gist.

Nevertheless, the New Age has of course also brought lots of advantages. Social media and digital ads help us find our audience all around the world and new telecommunication channels and modes of transport mean we no longer need to simply admire that beautiful Chanel bag fabriqué à Paris, or that everyone’s-got-one-I-need-it-too Japanese mobile case, from afar – nowadays, you can get them delivered to your own little plot of the world in a matter of days (depending on whether the postman feels like ringing your doorbell…).

Here at Words in Translation, we take our areas of specialisation very seriously. Being advertising experts means a bit more to us than “not muting the TV in the ad breaks”. Whether it’s the past, present or even the future of global advertising – we’ve got it covered.


By Kerstin Rupcic - WIT Project Manager


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