This resource has been generously supported by Optus. Through the Digital Thumbprint program and Kids Helpline @ School, Optus supports digital knowledge and the positive use of technology.

Advertising surrounds us, whether we like it or not. It aims to inform and influence how we live, what we buy and how we spend our leisure time. It may not reflect our reality, yet it can affect how we remember the past. Usually, it is designed to have an impact and then be forgotten, recycled or replaced. By nature, advertising is a record of a moment, captured mid transaction, when someone has something to say or sell and uses words and/or images to get their message across. As a primary record of the past, advertising is also incredibly valuable. It is what people see or hear as they go about their lives.

This timeline gives an overview of the development of Australian advertising from the colonial period to the modern era.

  • 1790s to 1851

The advertising produced after the First Fleet’s arrival in Australia drew on existing European conventions and tools—playbills, newspapers, trade cards and broadsides for example. Likewise, the availability of technology and skilled people affected the advertising that could be produced in the colony. Although a printing press was brought out with the First Fleet, it was not used until 1795, a year before the earliest surviving document to be printed in Australia was created, also an advertisement.

  • 1851–1901

The discovery of gold in Victoria in 1851 resulted in increased population and wealth in the colonies. This led to greater competition between businesses and greater complexity in their advertising. Melbourne boomed and overtook Sydney as a centre of commerce. Earlier advertising traditions of trade cards, newspapers and ‘wanted’ posters continued. Advertisements were still largely monochrome but there was a greater reliance on imagery.

  • 1901–1919

The first two decades of the twentieth century saw major changes in Australian society. The colonies federated in 1901, women got the vote in 1902 and Australia followed Britain into the First World War in 1914. Advertising of this period reflects these changes as well as the continuing expansion of options for informing and influencing the public. Advertising was becoming more sophisticated, with greater use of colour and image. It was often clever and attention-seeking, unafraid of bold statements. Women were increasingly its prime target.

  • 1920s–1930s

The 1920s saw a new confidence in Australia, in its products and way of life. The Commonwealth Government poured money into advertising campaigns to attract migrants (predominantly white) to Australia and participated in programs to encourage trade between Commonwealth countries. Companies increasingly promoted their Australian-made products to women. The impact of the Great Depression from 1929 was severe, but it did not stifle advertising. Women's fashions and menswear were promoted and some of Australia's iconic advertising campaigns were established.

  • 1939–1969

Between the outbreak of the Second World War and the year Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a language of advertising was confirmed in Australia. Following wartime restrictions, the 1950s and 1960s were prosperous and advertising reflected domestic ideals and gender roles and expectations. Men were strong and reliable; women were beautiful and happy. Consumer culture boomed and advertisements drove it, often glamorously. Travel was an experience to be enjoyed, whether by train, car or aeroplane. Celebrities endorsed products on calendars, in magazines, on posters and in theatre programs.

  • 1970s–1990s

In the closing decades of the twentieth century, advertising both reflected changes in Australian society and projected influential images of Australian culture. Community standards and expectations had evolved, and the standards and regulation of advertising did likewise. Australians responded to advertising with grassroots campaigns and art. Advertising was used for major health and anti-litter campaigns. Tobacco advertising went from pervasive to banned in this period and gender roles and body issues in advertising were increasingly reassessed. Television and magazines continued to be the prime media for advertisers, although campaigns were often carried out across multiple platforms. By the late 1990s, the Internet was opening up as a market for advertising.

The Sell: Australian Advertising 1790s to 1990s gives us examples of some of the earliest ads in Australia.

  • Have students familiarise themselves with advertising throughout history by finding examples of the world’s earliest ads from the ancient and pre-modern eras.
  • What is the range of media used in modern advertising?

Ads don’t just appear. Have students think about the process involved in developing a piece of advertising, between the creation of a product or service and its eventual sale to a consumer.