The Weird History Of Babies In Advertising

By | March 8, 2020

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An advertisement for Hoyt’s Cologne, 1862.

It's no secret that babies are popular. As a species, we have about 258 of them every minute, so if we weren't designed to find their squishy little faces adorable enough to withstand their relentless screaming, the situation would get intolerable in approximately three seconds. Given this natural inclination, it's not surprising that once advertising hit its heyday in the 1800s, babies started cropping up faster than a Wiggles concert at Legoland.

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Bronze plate for printing an advertisement for the Liu family needle shop at Jinan, China, Song Dynasty.

When Did Babies In Advertising Start?

Advertising has largely emerged hand-in-hand with humanity's literacy rate. In ancient Rome, China, Greece, and Arabia, advertisements were written or printed, but less literate societies used music or town criers to literally get the word out. As an in-between step, some shops used simple symbols like boots for cobblers or horseshoes for blacksmiths. With the advent of Gutenberg's printing press in 1440 and improvements made to it throughout the next dozen or so decades, written forms of advertisement really started picking up steam in the 1600s. After the first weekly publications launched in Venice and spread to Europe, it didn't take long for publishers to consider defraying costs by offering to let people buy ad space in the paper. The first newspaper ad in England, echoing an ad from ancient Rome, requested the return of a stolen horse. (In Rome, it was a stolen slave. Progress!)